The Woman Who Read Too Much

The Woman Who Read Too Much

A Novel

Book - 2015
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Gossip was rife in the capital about the poetess of Qazvin. Some claimed she had been arrested for masterminding the murder of the grand Mullah, her uncle. Others echoed her words, and passed her poems from hand to hand. Everyone spoke of her beauty, and her dazzling intelligence. But most alarming to the Shah and the court was how the poetess could read. As her warnings and predictions became prophecies fulfilled, about the assassination of the Shah, the hanging of the Mayor, and the murder of the Grand Vazir, many wondered whether she was not only reading history but writing it as well. Was she herself guilty of the crimes she was foretelling?

Set in the world of the Qajar monarchs, mayors, ministers, and mullahs, this book explores the dangerous and at the same time luminous legacy left by a remarkable person. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani offers a gripping tale that is at once a compelling history of a pioneering woman, a story of nineteenth century Iran told from the street level up, and a work that is universally relevant to our times.

Publisher: Stanford, California : Redwood Press, [2015]
ISBN: 9780804793254
Characteristics: 326 pages ; 23 cm


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Sep 11, 2017

I realize my assessment of this book is far out of step with most readers but I had several serious problems with it. First of all, the time-scale and sequence of events is so badly scrambled that it becomes almost impossible to follow the plot; there are several events that could not possibly have occurred as as described. Likewise, the actions of more than one character are at times blended together so seamlessly, even within a single sentence that it makes no sense. This is not being clever, it's being sloppy.
And then there's the problem of characters: When ALL of the main characters are venal, self-seeking, vicious, brutal, totally engaged in power struggles, there's no relief, no bright star, no breath of fresh air to overcome the stench of cruelty and misery. Of course, you will argue that the Poetess is a good person, the heroine of the piece, the individual around whom the tale revolves; but that's just my point: the tale revolves and revolves around her but she remains an almost mythic figure. We hear of her qualities second or third hand, she's a thing of rumor. But she never emerges as a whole person and she is frankly not believable.
The concept was very promising -- a mysterious figure of legendary accomplishment, a setting in 19th century Persia, palace intrigues, popular uprisings, meddling European powers. But there were so many flaws in execution that for me it failed to come off.


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