Published by Curbstone Books
Publication date: August 31st 2012
The Lemon Grove takes place in Iran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. Behruz Pirzad returns from America to help his family after learning that his twin brother, Ruzbeh, was injured. He suffers from post-traumatic shock and often wanders off, leaving his wife and their mother alone in their hometown of Shiraz. Ruzbeh’s wife is their childhood friend Shireen and when Ruzbeh disappears for months, Behruz and Shireen begin an affair. They are caught one night when Shireen comes to the house to see Behruz. Islamist vigilantes take her away, while Behruz hides inside the locked home. He later escapes and returns to the abandoned family farm outside Shiraz, the Naranjestan, best known for its acres of lemon trees. He has no idea what has happened to either Ruzbeh or Shireen and in his despair and guilt he drinks pesticide. He is saved by an old family friend who happens upon him.
This is a slender novel both in page count and impact. If author Ali Hosseini’s goal is to mirror the weakness in Behruz in the novel itself, then he succeeds. Behruz’s passivity permeates each page. His fear and concern for his brother and his brother’s wife is real but he is more immersed in a world of dreams than in actually doing something to help them. He rediscovers his brother when wandering through the Naranjestan, and only then does he head back to Shiraz to try and find out what happened to Shireen. Once there, it is his friends who take care of him and give him not only information but a concrete plan of action. It is everyone around him who saves and gives action to Behruz. There is never any sense, aside from his suicide attempt, that he can act and it’s enervating.
Hosseini’s prose is as spare as the un-watered lemon trees in the grove and in that way beautifully conveys both the physicality and emotionality of Iran. One feels the deadening heat and the terror induced by the new regime. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough development of the characters to give the novel the depth it could have.
The America I found was a land of ideas and a can-do attitude…History seemed to lay lightly there, the scars of the past never dimming hope and optimism toward the future. Iran by contrast seemed an old nation not able to break with its past, a past that is a heavy load not just dragged behind but also controlling the future.