4 out of 4 stars
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The Buried Secrets of the Peonies is a harrowing collection of eight short stories that narrates the tale of people who lived, lost loved ones, and inevitably had to kill loved ones under the rule of the supreme leader Khomeini in Iran during the nineteen eighties. I was initially unaware of the massacre that threatened one of the Asian countries a few decades back. After reading this book, I understood why. The government refused to acknowledge the martyrs and survivors of the Islamic Regime. Families were denied the knowledge of the burial locations of their dear ones who were executed. More than three thousand people were ruthlessly killed and questioned about their loyalties to the Islamic Theocratic government.
The book starts with a section titled How it began.... Dorgoly gives us a fair amount of background information in his prologue, and points out the political and national ignorance of the mass massacre that prompted him to pen down this book. His love for his country is evident in the way he voices his thoughts. The eight stories are all fictional, varying in length and narrative. There is a wife waiting for her husband who will never return, a woman who’s trying to wash off the lingering pain of sexual harassment she was subjected to in prison, a mother who is still pining for her daughter who is possibly dead, a daughter reminiscing her mother in light of her own pregnancy, and a few others. The stories are filled with distress, hope, and nostalgia.
The writing style of this book is impeccable. Dorgoly’s voice is fresh and stimulating, which reminded me of Khaled Hosseini. I especially loved the first and the last chapters. The first chapter titled Petunias is a striking tale of two prison inmates who develop a bond while confined to their cell. It was a beautiful story; the companionship and the intense relationship between the two strangers were tear-jerking. The last chapter titled Peonies is a heart-touching epistolary. A pregnant woman writes a letter to her mom who was executed shortly after her birth. This touching story explores the emotional woes of a woman who never got to know her family when they were alive. This book evinces love and other uncontrolled emotions during the trying times of war. What makes it stand out is the overall sense of hope throughout the tales of grief; I didn’t feel depressed and grieved. Quite to the contrary, I was awarded a sense of optimism and empathy.
I was surprised and quite vexed by the lack of exploration of faith in this book. While this isn’t a big problem, I hoped the stories would provide a glimpse into the Islamic ways of life, since it is set in Iran, and most of the characters are Muslims. The only substantiation was the mention of Adhan, which is the Muslim call for prayer. Otherwise, the stories gave away nothing about the characters and their beliefs.
Considering my general aversion towards short stories, The Buried Secrets of the Peonies impressed me a lot. It is stunningly written, and the stories are deep and meaningful. I picked up this book mainly because it was about the struggles of ordinary Muslims, people like me, in a country ruled by a strict Islamic Regime. This is a story of importance, a voice that needs to be heard. As such, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. There were very few noticeable errors, which clearly indicates that the book is professionally edited. I would recommend this book to everybody, regardless of their age, caste, and gender. However, one of the stories titled Mirrors is about a sexually harassed woman, so people who are sensitive to the topic are forewarned.
The Buried Secrets of Peonies
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