Strand of a Thousand Pearls

In her first novel, published in translation as Persian Brides (1998), Dorit Rabinyan followed the fortunes of a nineteenth century Jewish family living in a Persian village. Strand of a Thousand Pearls is set among Persian immigrants to modern Israel, but like the earlier work, it is the story of a matriarch who believes that only in marriage and childbearing can a woman find fulfillment.

What Iran Azizyan does not realize is that she has been exceptionally lucky. Her husband happened to be gentle, considerate, and dependable. Moreover, the initial physical attraction the two felt for each other has not dwindled during their many years together. Ironically, what finally puts their marriage in peril is the fact that Iran blames herself for her children’s disasters.

It is true that she spoiled her only son, Maurice, and brought up her four daughters to have unrealistic expectations of marriage. However, it is not Iran’s fault that the beautiful Sofia is so preoccupied with her sickly child that she neglects her husband or that he is more concerned with making money than with his family. The other three daughters are doomed by their very natures. Marcelle is obsessive and so mercurial that she falls out of love the morning after her wedding. Lizzie is sexually insatiable. The youngest girl, Matti, is possessed by her stillborn twin brother.

Although this might seem the stuff of tragedy, the author’s empathy with her characters and her capacity for seeing the humor in their actions and interactions make Strand of a Thousand Pearls a very readable book. However, it is also an effective argument against the traditional attitudes that over the centuries have doomed so many women to unhappiness.