Dorit Rabinyan Criticism - Essay

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 December 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Persian Brides, in Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1997, p. 1804.

[In the following review, the critic praises Rabinyan for his colorful portrayal of Jewish life in a turn-of-the-century Persian village in Persian Brides.]

[T]his raucous and colorful first novel by Rabinyan, an Israeli journalist and playwright, convincingly re-creates the complex texture of life in the Jewish quarter of a Persian village at the beginning of the 20th century. The major characters, 15-year-old Flora (who's pregnant, and abandoned) and her younger cousin Nazie (who longs for Flora's brother, to whom she was promised at birth) mature quickly as members of a vigorous subculture of women hardened by their unfair share of the burdens of the world and their combative relationships with men and "tradition." Rabinyan's portrait of their "almond tree alley," often reminiscent of Sholom Aleichem, is distinguished by knowledgeable descriptions of the rituals of birth and burial and peopled with such memorable supporting characters as a prostitute rumored to be the lover of a village demon. A very assured and entertaining debut performance.

Molly Abramowitz (review date January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Persian Brides, in Library Journal, Vol. 123, No. 1, January, 1998, p. 144.

[In the following review, Abramowitz lauds Rabinyan's storytelling in Persian Brides.]

Two Jewish girls are the center of this first novel, [Persian Brides,] which describes in almost magical fashion the inhabitants of a small Persian village at the beginning of the century. Fifteen-year-old Flora Ratoryan is pregnant, and her cloth-merchant husband has abandoned her. Her 11-year-old cousin, Nasie, consoles her while wishing for her own marriage to Flora's brother, Moussa, to whom she has been betrothed since birth. The story only covers a few days in the lives of these girls, but the background of the inhabitants of this almond tree alley in the fictional village of Omerijan rounds out the picture. Vivid descriptions of cruelty (Miriam Hanoun, Flora's mother, kills cats; Moussa beats Flora unmercifully because he can't stand her laughter) and sensuality mix with the descriptions of everyday life. This may be too heady a mixture for some readers, but the storytelling is superb.

Publishers Weekly (review date 12 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Persian Brides, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 245, No. 2, January 12, 1998, p. 45.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that in Persian Brides, "Rabinyan's brisk, fetching prose expertly summons a long-vanished land and renders it dazzling and delicious."]

It may be true, as Tolstoy wrote, that all happy families resemble one another, but it would be next to impossible to find a family anything like the Ratoryans, the 19th-century Jewish clan engagingly depicted in this first novel[, Persian Brides]—or a writer who could conjure them up more vividly than Israeli journalist Rabinyan. The members of this passionate, superstitious family inhabit a traditional Persian village where, for women, marriage and childbirth are paramount and the news that a girl has begun menstruating is disseminated by carrier pigeon. Flora—voluptuous, adorable, foolish and very pregnant at 15—casts spells every day and sings magic songs every night until her voice grows hoarse, hoping to bring her errant husband, a wayward cloth merchant, back to her. Downstairs, her 11-year-old cousin Nazie dreams of marrying Flora's brother. Episodic but not merely pastoral, the novel tells one poignant, bewitching story after another, seducing us with vivid language and outrageous tales of deception, devotion and magic. Rabinyan crams every page with evocative details: Flora spending the three days before her wedding delousing her fiancé's scalp; a woman smearing her husband's glasses with a thin layer of goat's butter to keep him from discovering her ugliness; a cloth merchant who can't fall asleep without rubbing fabric between his fingers. Rabinyan's brisk, fetching prose expertly summons a long-vanished land and renders it dazzling and delicious.

Nancy Pearl (review date 1 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Persian Brides, in Booklist, February 1, 1998, p. 900.

[In the following review, the critic praises Rabinyan's mixing of elements of a fairy tale with facts about Jewish life in Persia in Persian Brides.]

First novelist Rabinyan's earthy and sensual fairy tale[, Persian Brides,] is filled with stories of love affairs, curses, child brides, evil husbands, marriages, demons, violence, and childbirth. At the turn of the century in the Jewish quarter of Omerijan, a small Persian town, 15-year-old Flora Ratoyan, hugely pregnant and deserted by her cloth-merchant husband, is comforted by her orphaned cousin, Nazie. At age 11, Nazie herself is eagerly awaiting her own wedding to Flora's brother, Moussa. Over the course of three days in the lives of the cousins, Rabinyan introduces a colorful pageant of other inhabitants of the village. These include Miriam Hanoun, Flora's mother, who had to appease the cats of the village in order to have her babies live more than a few days. Rabinyan mixes these fairy tale elements with information about local wedding ceremonies, food, childbirth, and the sorry and constrained role of women and female children in a society far away from ours in both time and place.

Merle Rubin (review date 10 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Migration That Leads to Self-Discovery," in Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 1998, p. 14.

[In the following excerpt, Rubin complains of the lack of plot in Rabinyan's Persian Brides, and asserts that Rabinyan's focus is on colorful descriptions instead of the narrative.]

… Only the adolescent girls featured by Israeli journalist, playwright, and poet Dorit Rabinyan in her first novel, Persian Brides, are firmly rooted in their ancestral culture. And judging from Rabinyan's vivid evocation of their fetid, cloyingly closed-in lives in the Jewish quarter of a Persian village in the early years of this century, one would have to conclude that migration is good for the soul….

A sense of vividness, a kind of larger-than-life hyperreality, may quite possibly have been what Dorit Rabinyan was aiming at in her novel, Persian Brides. Rabinyan transports us to a household in the Jewish section of a small village in Persia early in this century, and a rather peculiar household at that.

Miriam Hanoum's neighbors all consider her the worst and laziest housekeeper in the entire village. But she is also a great beauty, because she avoids scrubbing, cooking, cleaning, and all the tasks that roughen one's skin and dishevel one's appearance, and concentrates instead on covering herself and her daughters in costly oils and cosmetics. This paradox is the most amusing thing in the novel.

In her quest for vividness, Rabinyan stuffs her novel with pungent, graphic images: shrieks, wails, cackings, and an endless parade of what seems like every bodily fluid or function imaginable. Indeed, the story seems to be little more than an excuse for all these colorful, noisy, odoriferous descriptions. There is very little in the way of a plot, and the narrative keeps circling back over the same events.

Outlandishness is heaped upon outlandishness: Miriam permanently stows her mother-in-law in a basket. Miriam's spoiled daughter, Flora, maintains her fleshy figure by gobbling down mountains of food, even while her heart aches with longing for the man she recently married, a shifty peddler who has impregnated her and disappeared.

The characters and their creator seem to revel in the squalor. So did the critics whose raves are quoted in the blurbs, which just might be a phenomenon even more bizarre than anything depicted in this book.

Michael Lowenthal (review date 15 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Family Honor," in New York Times, March 15, 1998, p. 27.

[In the following review, Lowenthal, an American author, praises Rabinyan's authentic detail and rich prose in Persian Brides.]

Despite the near-microscopic scrutiny to which our politicians' love lives are currently subjected, we may still be astonished to encounter a culture in which ordinary girls' sexual intimacies are known by every neighbor, mothers probe their sleeping daughters' private parts to confirm the "family honor," and a girl's first menstruation is announced from the rooftops. Dorit Rabinyan, an Israeli journalist, poet and playwright, has conjured precisely such a society in Persian Brides, her lush, lyrical and disturbing first novel. Set in a Jewish community in a village in turn-of-the-century Persia, the story contrasts the experiences and aspirations of two young women: Flora, a 15-year-old pining for her deadbeat husband, a cloth merchant who ditched her with "a baby in her belly and lice in her hair," and Flora's 11-year-old cousin, Nazie, desperate to achieve her menses so she can be wed to Flora's brother. Nazie and Flora's frantic longing for married life is artfully contrasted with the reality of what's in store for them: wives and mothers in their world are violently mistreated by their husbands, spat upon, even threatened with death for bearing female children. With unwaveringly authentic period detail, Rabinyan grounds her themes of sexual politics in scenes mingling exotic beauty and gritty horror. Only 23 when her book was published in Hebrew, she writes with the wise and leisurely assurance of a town bard recounting communal myths. In this translation by Yael Lotan, Rabinyan's marvelously digressive style and rich prose give the story the feel of a nightlong wedding feast. Persian Brides is an auspicious debut.