33 Arches and a Teahouse is a thoroughly engaging piece of autobiographical fiction which offers a child’s-eye view of the Iranian Revolution and a family’s flight to Germany. Its wealth of political, geographical and cultural detail is presented with a light touch, and the universal experiences throughout the narrative will speak to all readers.
The novel opens with the narrator’s positive memories of early childhood in her home city of Isfahan. After the Islamic Revolution, however, all secular pastimes are banned and strict laws are imposed with severe punishments for the slightest infringement. Worse is to come with the Iran-Iraq war, and the family finally leave their privileged life and flee via Turkey to Germany. Their arrival in Germany is polarised by the magic of Christmas celebrations and a first encounter with snow, set against the bleak, dehumanising experience of life in a huge refugee hostel.
This is a timely as well as timeless perspective on the refugee experience which readers will want to recommend over and over again. Zaeri-Esfahani’s book will appeal to thoughtful young readers as well as adults and has the potential to become a classic in the mode of Judith Kerr or Esther Hautzig.