Négar Djavadi


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Disoriental Summary

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Disoriental by Négar Djavadi is a novel about the modern impact of diaspora and political resistance on a French-Iranian family forced to flee their home country in the 1980s. Narrated by twenty-five-year-old Kimiâ Sadr, the novel flips back in forth in time and space between a present-day fertility clinic in Paris and the Iran of Kimia’s youth. Kimia introduces many of her family members, including long-dead ancestors, and tells the story of her own life and the life of her father and mother as they made a home in a new nation after protesting the practices of their government in Iran.

As the novel opens, Kimia is in a fertility clinic in her adopted home country of France. Kimia lives in Paris – almost immediately, memories and stories of her ancestry intercede on the contemporary scene, and the reader is thrust back into Iran.

Kimia begins with an anecdote about her own birth; she says that she is the granddaughter of a woman from a harem. Kimia then recounts the struggles of her grandmother, Nour. Nour, a blue-eyed woman born during a violent sandstorm, later went on to give birth to six boys in an arranged marriage. Nour is a wild-card – a woman who reads Russian and existentialist novels despite her position and the politics of her nation, and who eventually leaves her husband to make a new life for herself. Kimia reveals afterward that Nour died the day Kimia was born.

Other relatives appear as well, including a great-grandfather who was obsessed with having blue-eyed children, and a series of uncles whom Kimia refers to primarily by their numerical birth order. Underlying this family saga is the much more contemporary story of Kimia’s family history and their flight from Iran to Paris. Kimia recalls the actions that lead to their dangerous departure from Iran. Her father, a political revolutionary and journalist, was targeted by the government for speaking out against the shah, and later Khomeini. Kimia recalls their home being the target of a bombing coordinated by the secret police and fearing for her life.

Soon after the bombing, her father, Darius, left Iran to go to Paris. When Kimia was ten, she and her sister and mother traversed the mountains on horseback, hoping to escape with their lives. They met Darius in Paris, where they sought protective status as refugees. From then on, Darius’s political work continued in their small Parisian apartment, bringing a string of political dissidents and exiles through their home.

Eventually, Kimia did what many teenagers do – she rebelled. She began to find meaning in her own life by getting into punk music and the punk scene in Paris, traveling around Europe, and generally finding her own place in the world away from her father and his politics. Nevertheless, violence follows the family to France, and Kimia is forced to deal with the aftermath despite believing for so many years that her family was safe.

The novel is told in a non-linear style, with interludes where the narrator encourages the reader to continue on this journey despite the confusion and dissonance. Ultimately, the entire story is about how an unraveling brings a new truth. As the narrator says of a life in exile, “To really integrate into a culture…you have to disintegrate first.”

Negar Djavadi was born in 1969 in Iran. Much like her main character Kimia, she was born into a family of revolutionaries and intellectuals, who opposed the regimes of the Shah and Khomeini. When she was eleven years old, she traveled on horseback over the mountains of Kurdistan to seek refuge in France from the secret police. Disoriental, her first novel, is considered a work of autofiction based loosely on her own experiences not only traveling from Iran to Paris but also as a woman in exile.