• Saturday, March 27th, 2021

Marjan Kamali was born in 1971 in Turkey to Iranian parents. Her father being a diplomat, the family moved around the world a great deal and left Iran three years after the 1979 Iranian revolution and moved to Queens in New York.

Kamali studied English Literature at Berkeley University of California and received a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children.

Kamali had had a chance meeting with one of her old professors from Berkeley, the late Leonard Michaels, who had read the short story she had written about the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker and remarked: “You know what this is, don’t you? It’s the first chapter to your first novel”.

Kamali took her professor’s advice and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts for Creative Writing Program at New York University. Moreover, in her partly autobiographical first award-winning novel, Together Tea, published in 2013, which has been translated into several languages and adapted for the stage, she did not forget to include the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker, the method the mother used to find a suitable husband for her daughter.

The story of Together Tea starts in 1996 after the Iranian Rezayi family emigrates to New York. The novel focuses mainly on the mother, Darya, and her twenty-five-year-old daughter, Mina, their relationship, determination and self-confidence.

Mina, who: “knew how to swing her legs on that hyphen that defined and denied who she was: Iranian-American. Neither the first word nor the second really belonged to her. Her place was on the hyphen, and on the hyphen, she would stay … like a seasoned acrobat; she would balance there perfectly, never falling, never choosing either side over the other, content with walking that thin line”. So she carries the heritage of her family’s past, while her future, combined with her success, belongs to her adopted country.

Unlike Parviz, her husband, Darya, Mina’s mother, finds adapting to her new life and surroundings insurmountable. She is a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to speak her mind. She is Iranian born and intends to remain one by maintaining her culture, practices and customs. Moreover, now that her daughter has reached twenty-five, she is very keen to find her a suitable Iranian husband, and Darya being a good mathematician, prepares a spreadsheet for eligible Iranian-American suitors.

Narratives from the viewpoint of mother and daughter alternate between chapters. They both have similar characters but opposite outlooks on life; Darya, being brought up in a conservative family in Iran and out of respect for her parents, had to marry the husband chosen for her, while Mina, who came to the West as a child, has a different attitude and wants to marry the man she approves of without disrespecting her parents.

In an interview, the author explains her choice of title for the novel. She says: “The title is actually a phrase that my Farsi-speaking mother-in-law uses when she speaks English. She says, “Would you like to have together, tea?”. I used this phrase as the title because tea is such a huge part of Persian life. Throughout the novel, many characters meet over tea and pivotal conversations between Darya and Mina, Darya and Sam, Mina and Ramin, Darya, Parviz and Sam etc. are conducted over tea”.

Together Tea is a book about an uprooted family fleeing the theocratic government in their country and how each family member overcomes the cultural shock in his or her way and tries to adjust to new surroundings in their adopted country. It is a challenge not uncommon to the majority of migrants all over the world.

The author says about her novel: “I was really inspired because I had been reading books about multicultural experiences and experiences of families immigrating (sic) to the U.S., but I felt I had never read a book that kind of reflected the experience of my own family’s journey … I wanted to write a story that explored the Iranian American experience”.

Together Tea is a touching, enjoyable, entertaining story with an insight into the Iranian lifestyle before and after the 1979 revolution. A colourful description of Persian traditions, culture as well as several appetising details of culinary dishes of which Kamali says: “I did not set out to include so much food – it’s just impossible for me to write about an Iranian family without including the preparation of food and the huge Persian feasts that occur at parties and family get-togethers!” (sic).

In Together Tea, the author illustrates the power of love bonds, peoples sufferings, hopes, resilience, and the search for new identity and belonging. The characters are well depicted and inspire readers’ empathy, and the dialogue does not lack spice.

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Category: Book Reviews
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