- Niloo Hamidi – In 2009, Niloo is 33 and living in Holland. She left Iran when she was eight and became an American citizen after years of seeking refuge while living in Oklahoma City with her mother, Pari, and brother, Kian. She has her father, Bahman’s, sense of humor. She studied at Yale, which was where she met her husband, a French lawyer, Guillimere, and moved to Holland with him to teach dental anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Niloo is very work and career-oriented and spends most of her life trying to prove herself to others as both a scholar and as a person of value. Her choices in life are always deliberate, and she gives an example of choosing Gui to marry was deliberate, too. She is a saver of things—food and what others may consider as waste, because she grew up with so little. At the beginning of her career in Amsterdam she does not have any friends besides Gui, until she finds a second home in a Persian squat, Zakhmeh, where she makes another life for herself and finds another identity in the people who share her original Iranian heritage and cultural values. Of the 17 chapters in the novel, 11 are told from either her third person perspective in Amsterdam, or her first person perspective as she visits Baba in different cities.
- Dr. Bahman Hamidi – Dr. Bahman Hamidi (Baba) is Niloo and Kian’s father. He is described as being a thick man, but with a tiny mustache that he meticulously groomed each morning. He ate stingily, slept militantly, consumed enough water to run a small mill, yet had a distended stomach. At the start of the novel, he is going through his third divorce with his younger wife Sanaz. Prior to marrying Sanaz, he was married first to Pari and then to Fatimah. Bahman spends most of his life worrying about his children, but at his core he is an opiate addict. He has been for years. He is a dentist and spends his life in the dental office, but he also has a love for poetry (specificially Rumi), food, and education. The longer he is away from his family, the more he feels disconnected from them, specifically his daughter Niloo. He ages throughout the book, each time becoming more gray and walking with a hunched back and cane and missing more teeth.
- Dr. Pari Hamidi – Dr. Pari Hamidi (Maman) is Bahman’s first wife. She is the mother of Niloo and Kian. She is educated and charming. Pari was a once-esteemed Iranian doctor and academic, social renegade, and a woman who respects all scholarship. Pari emigrated to America with Niloo and Kian after being tracked down by the moral police for converting to Christianity as well as for being a physician. She did not want to leave Iran, but was forced. Pari is from a somber and determined family in Tehran.
- Gui – Gui is a French lawyer who is married to Niloo. He is often controlling of his wife. He throws her clothes out and invades her personal space often. He was brought up in New York and Provence richly sheltered. He is an atheist. His life is very career oriented, and often both Gui’s career and Niloo’s get in the way of their relationship. Pari Hamidi often calls him "Gay" because she has trouble pronouncing his name, Gui, which is short for Guillaume.
- Mam'mad – Mam’mad is a refugee from Tehran. He left his wife and his daughters in Tehran four years ago. Niloo meets him in Zakhmeh. He goes there to listen to stories from other refugees and talk to activists who come to talk late at night. He is a scholar who is accomplished in both mathematics and literature and he has taught them both at a University level. Mam’mad is a trusted friend and mentor to Niloo in Holland. He commits suicide by means of self-immolation
- Kian – Kian is Niloo’s brother. He went to school to become a chef. He is constantly judging, has a bit of a temper, and doesn’t like being told what to do. He is present in three out of the four visits with Niloo and his father, Bahman, over the years.
- Sanaz – Sanaz is Bahman's third wife, who he is trying to divorce at the start of the novel. She is much younger than Bahman. Bahman also accuses her of losing her mind and being violent with rage.
- Fatimah – Bahman's second wife and mother of Shirin. She is also one of Bahman's dental hygienists.
- Siavash – Siavash grew up in America but his parents are from Tehran, Iran. He is part of a human rights group in Amsterdam and he meets Niloo in Zakhmeh. He has scars on his face that he received from a chemical burn on a trip to Iran as well as long hair that is often tied into a loose topknot. He is selfless and puts himself out in the open to make sure his friends are okay. He is five years younger than Niloo.
- Karim – Karim is an asylum seeker in Holland. He has several petitions for asylum but he is homeless on most nights. He goes to Zakhmeh for food. He is a quiet man who is an addict to his wife, Iran, and probably opium. He has rough hands that indicate he has worked on farms throughout his life. He is two years older than Niloo.
- Nader – Nader is Pari’s presumed lover. He came to America from Kermanshah, Tehran before the Iranian revolution. While Niloo and Kian were living at home, Nader always cooked for the three of them. He disappeared dozens of times from Pari’s life over the decade that Niloo knew him, and Niloo described him as “forever a wandering boy.” Pari eventually claimed that she stopped talking to him, but she continued conversations secretly over the phone. Most of his relationships were quick and superficial. Nader passed away from stomach cancer, which he hid from Pari for a long time, as he feared indignity from the disease.
- Shirin – The daughter of Bahman's second wife, Fatimah. Bahman adopted Shirin and cared for her. While she was really Fatimah's daughter, Bahman paid to have papers changed to establish that Shirin was not born to Fatimah, but adopted by her, for legal reasons.
- Family – Through its analysis of the evolving relationships between Bahman and Niloo, Gui and Niloo, Nader and Pari, and Bahman and his many wives, Refuge: A Novel considers what it means to be family and how important the relationships are between characters. Each family member's individual relationship with one another shapes who they are and who they grow into as people, both positively and negatively. Family in Nayeri's novel addresses broken relationships and how they endure over difficult circumstances, in the case of Niloo and her father after she is forced to flee Iran with her mother and brother. Refuge: A Novel shows that across culture the concept of a family differs, from Gui and Niloo's work oriented relationship, to Iranian marriages that require wedding gifts and subordinate the woman in the relationship. Most importantly, though, the concept of family can shift and break when it is forced cross culturally. This is evident by the fact that Bahman and Niloo's relationship is strained after she is no longer living in Iran, as well as Niloo still keeps some of her Iranian heritage which pushes her away from Gui in some aspects, such as relying on keepsakes from her culture to keep her somewhat connected to it.
- Addiction and Suffering – Addiction plagues Bahman Hamidi throughout the novel. It is a source of conflict for him and his daughter, Niloo. Other characters in the book also suffer with addiction.
- Bahman says that statistically every working-class twenty-something man in Iran was an addict, noting how relevant the abuse of the drug was in his home country. But, opium caused Bahman to sneak away at night and would lose his temper in awful ways, causing strained relationships with others, like his first wife and children.
- During the family’s first visit with Bahman in Oklahoma, Niloo had found him passed out on a closed toilet lid in a bathroom due to an overdose. This caused Niloo to loathe her father and grow distant from him, who she called a stranger.
- Bahman finally detoxes from opium, because it has caused so much brokenness in his life and relationships.
- Immigration – Each character in this book has their own immigration story. Niloo experienced a traditional Western education and experience only after suffering through being forced to flee Iran with her mother and brother and fight to gain citizenship. Still throughout the novel, the struggle of immigration is truly internal for both Niloo and the other characters, as they struggle to find where they belong and how to fit in.
- Niloo is hard on the exterior to protect her from what she calls the “forever refugee feeling” of suspicion that she is truly unwelcome wherever she goes.
- The political climate in Amsterdam is largely negative. Geert Wilders is an anti-Islamic politician that makes many Iranian refugees living in Amsterdam vulnerable to his politics. It forces Mam’mad to perform self-immolation because they deny his plea for asylum.
- Work and Life Balance– Throughout the novel, Niloo and Gui’s relationship hinges on a delicate balance between their relationship with one another and their respective relationships with their jobs. Niloo herself is a dedicated worker and often is found putting more time into her organizational plans and academia than she is spending time with her husband. The conflict both characters face between work and life causes arguments and eventually forces Gui and Niloo to have to write rules for their marriage.
- Gui prioritizes his law school mentor who landed him a job in Amsterdam, putting pressure on Niloo to look very presentable and be on her best behavior for him when he comes. However, Niloo is late to get ready because she is finishing up last minute work, which causes Gui to be upset.
- Gui encourages Niloo to get out and trade a few hours of work for something useless and to meet people. He suggests she go to the Persian squat and arts space, Zakhmeh, nearby.
- Art, Community, and Belonging – In Amsterdam, Niloo finds a Persian squat and arts space, Zakhmeh, that is filled with exiles who read poetry, tell stories in their native Farsi, eat ethnic foods, and protest Geert Wilders’s nationalism. At Zakhmeh, Niloo begins to relocate herself amongst who she refers to as the “misfits with whom she shares noses and dark hair, restless fits and native tastes.” Niloo finds a community in this place with people from her culture, which puts her at ease and allows her to open up and create ties with others.
- The more time Niloo spends with refugees, the more she sees herself as an Iranian immigrant and child refugee. She shares a story about how she met a man once and didn’t want him to classify her as an Iranian, but with the other Dutch people who have never suffered.
- Niloo meets her friends Mam’mad, Siavash, and Karim at the squat and confides in them.
“What I don't tell him is that I don't want to see him. My real Baba is a thirty-three-year-old storybook hero: untouchable, unquenchable, a star. When we meet, a weight drags down my shoulders, like the time a shelf broke and a row of books crashed into my arms. My fingers tremble and my mouth fills with sour. All I see are more details erased from my original Baba, replaced with slackening cheeks and rotting teeth. And then I'm a different Niloo, not a sensible academic who toils and believes that she's made herself over into something great, but a kid who just saw her father age twenty years in a second. That other Niloo, the one with the plaque on her door, would never admit these things. She'd never say: I don't want to see Baba because I'm afraid of decaying too.” ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 27
If one were to write Niloo's story, one shouldn't dwell on that black interlude night. Except that it returns every time she wastes an hour, a dollar, an opportunity. It returns when life offers a break from the striving. The very fact of that night (and the two wandering years that led to it) warns her that she can never be too vigilant. ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 37
"It would be unfair to say that by fourteen, I had forgotten my Baba." ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 99
"He's shorter," I whispered to Maman. She didn’t hush me or tell me to watch my manners. She looked at Baba in a daze and said, "You're taller." ―Refuge: A Novel, pg. 100
Kian refused help in the kitchen, but we heard him chop and sauté as Baba recited verses and tales, the music of their talents mingling, these two intense, artistic souls, strangers to each other, making everyone forget that we were Iranians in the first days of an altered world. ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 188
In Farsi, there's an expression of longing, my teeth itch for you. It covers many animal urges. Lovers say it to each other. Parents say it to especially delicious toddlers… Lately Niloo's teeth have begun to itch: for the new community she's found, its hearty stews and vintage songs, for work, for the apartment she is building with Gui, for Amsterdam, and for everything Iranian. ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 205
Narrator [about Niloo]:
For decades she's tried to make homes for herself, but she is always a foreigner, always a guest– that forever refugee feeling, that constant need for a meter of space, the Perimeter she carries on her back ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 222
When you learn to release that first great windfall after the long migration, when you trust that you'll still be you in a year or a decade, even without the treasures you've picked up along the way, always capable of more — when you stop carrying it all on your back — maybe that's when the refugee years end." ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 252
All good things end, and I no longer believe that reduces their worth.― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 288
The atmosphere of your heart matters; you draw your border around that and keep it clean. If you dispose of a love too brutally, you scorch the surrounding heart flesh where they lived, and then that atmosphere is ashen. ― Refuge: A Novel, pg. 312
Dr. Hamidi's Difficult Divorce
Isfahan, Iran – June 2009
In divorce court, Bahman is divorcing his wife, Sanaz. He had been married twice before, to Pari, the mother of Niloo and Kian, and Fatimah. Bahman talks about the politics of an Iranian divorce while he is watching other divorce trials before his own. He says that his current wife Sanaz is mentally unstable, that she has taken to rants and rages where she would scream and have violent fits. Bahman talks of his children. He is proud that he has sent his oldest daughter Niloo to Yale to be educated. Though she is successful, Bahman has only seen Niloo four times since she left Iran as a child. Bahman is concerned for Niloo still, though he does not see her much. He wonders if she feels like she belongs in the foreign land she is in.
Me and Baba and Ardestoon
Niloo discusses how she has only seen her father four times in the last twenty-two years. From Niloos perspective, her father ages each time she sees him, but she always changes him back to how she saw him as a child. She reflects on her brief life in Isfahan before she flees the country with her mother and brother. Her mother converts to Christianity, and the moral police are after her, causing them to seek asylum in America. Pari did not want to leave Iran, but she wanted she and her children to be safe. Niloo was eight when she had to leave Iran. At that young age, she was panicking that her father could not come with them. Bahman gave her photos to look at for her memories.
The Other Dr. Hamidi
Amsterdam, Netherlands — August 2009
Gui's law school mentor, Dr. Heldring, is coming over to dinner. Dr. Heldring was the man who suggested Amsterdam to Gui and made calls and recommendations that led him to his current job. Niloo is late to get ready because she spends the extra time getting last minute work done. This upsets Gui, because dinner with Dr. Heldring is important to him. With Dr. Heldring, they discuss Niloo's former refugee status, life in Amsterdam, their work, and their apartment that they're renevating to move into. The narrator explains how Niloo met and decuded on Gui as a partner. She needed a boyfriend and Gui met her standards that included good looks, manners, intelligence, drive, and size of family, so she chose him among others she was dating. Their relationship was centered around an understanding formed on details and conflicts between them. Niloo reflects as her life as a refugee upon first coming to America. She explains the "Perimeter," a space where she keeps items that are important cultural keepsakes that Gui is not allowed to tamper with or enter. As she's further integrated into different cultures after getting an education at Yale, in America and moving to Amsterdam, she realizes that her sense of original home and culture are fading from her life. Niloo has a close relationship with her mother, but often bickers with her, which is a cultural component of Iranians relationships that Gui does not understand.
After Dr. Heldring leaves, Gui and Niloo go to the grocery store and Niloo's card is declined. She sees this as an insult because the cashiers should recognize her as a high functioning and honorable member of society. As her card continues to not work, Gui tries to use another card and she becomes increasingly frustrated because she wants to figure out what is wrong. Once Gui and Niloo get home, he lashes out all of his frustrations for her stubbornness at the store and they do not speak for the remainder of the night. She shuts herself in her Perimeter, leaving Gui in the other room, and writes new rules for her marriage.
The Village Crumbles
Isfahan, Iran – June 2009
Bahman is still in divorce court waiting for his own trail while he listens to others'. Bahman begins his trail explaining that he wants a divorce from his current wife because he believes she has a borderline personality manifesting as a sort of hysteria. The judge questions Bahman about his family life and children when their trial is interrupted by a ruckus outside the door. Bahman continues explaining his family history and fabricates details about it because he believes it is embarrassing that his second wife cheated on him. He has become an expert at lying in divorce court over his lifetime living in Ardestoon. Sanaz suddenly bursts into court and tells the judge that Bahman is lying. She tells the judge that her husband believed what the Green Movement people believed and that she has suffered from it. This results in Bahman's arrest. He gains awareness of what his arrest means and wants to flee.
Amsterdam, Netherlands —August 2009
Niloo drafts an email to Gui regarding the rules of their marriage. They are extensive and include doing kind things for one another throughout the day, talking on the phone for 15 minutes a day, eating dinner together, and being able to call a time-out after 10 minutes of fighting. She concludes that they must add more rules if more fights ensue. After she sends the email to Gui, she receives an email from her father in half Farsi and half English asking to meet him in Dubai. This is Bahman's third time trying to contact her in the past month because he wants to organize another visit– the fifth since she left Iran in 1987. Niloo has no desire to see her father again, because the visits are draining and painful for her and she believes she is bad at them because she keeps offending or hurting Bahman.
Later that day, she goes looking for Zakhmeh, which is a Persian squat and arts space she found a few weeks back while walking with Gui. The place is named after zakhm, the Farsi word for wound. The people standing outside invited her to read poetry with them. When she gets there, she waits for the right moment to enter, steps inside to a place that smells like incense and lentil soup. The place was filled with a mixture of dreadlocked Dutch and Middle Eastern hippies, artsy Persians, some hijabi women, and men in all kinds of dress. Niloo was most intrigued by the artsy people with long hair and Green Movement wristbands because she left Iran too young to experience the creative scenes, clubs and shows that occurred. She meets a man, Mohammad, who requests she call him Mam'mad and asks her to read at the event. The stories at the event range from cultural to sexual, and tragic to hilarious. One woman tells a story of ripe bananas. Niloo goes up nervously and tells a story about how a Chinese man ripped her favorite jacket at the dry cleaner and tells the crowd about the Perimeter and how she keeps the jacket there. At the dry cleaner, she is short tempered with the man and yells at him, eventually feeling bad and bringing him baklava. He gently responded to her, "your clothes are my clothes." She felt the need for the dry cleaner to accept her, another person far from home, and classify her with the other Dutch people who have never suffered. Niloo gets home from Zakhmeh and apologizes to Gui. She talks about how she went to lunch with Mam'mad and is proud that she has found a hobby with other refugees, like Gui had wanted for her. The chapter concludes with the two of them trying to make amends in their marriage.
Niloo has a classification system for Iranian exiles in the West. It is divided into four mutually-exclusive-collectively-exhaustive groups (MECE):
Group one: Money Persians
Those that took their money and settled in California, mostly in Real Estate. They are well off and thriving in the West
Group two: Academic Persians
Those that are scattered in small colleges and university towns that have fled westward because they value the freedom to think, create, and study what they are interested in.
Group three: Fresh-off-the-boat Persians
Those who have been in a new country for many years but they are still very much living like they are in Iran in terms of their cooking and dressing and hygiene.
Group four: artists and activist Persians
Those that are firey, wandering, and have no ambition beyond tipping the world off its axis. They all drink a lot, smoke a lot, are against religion and sleep with strangers.
The First Visit
Oklahoma City, 1993
Pari, Niloo, and Kian all go to the airport in Oklahoma to pick up Bahman from the airport. At this point, the three of them are living in a small apartment in Oklahoma. Pari is questioning her kids about their outfits and Niloo discusses how Pari had feared that she would become a "broken girl," an Iranian term for someone who is sexually free. This acquisition comes because Niloo is Bahman's daughter and Pari assumes that she will be like him in this way. Niloo discusses Pari's "friend," Nader, who cooks the three of them meals often. Niloo explains that she doesn't like Nader, not because of her Baba, but because she believes him annoying.
Before this trip Niloo had thought of her father often, but she stopped missing him and stopped hoping that he would join them, because it felt like he never would. Niloo became more focused on falling in love, and on not falling in love because she would soon have to flee Oklahoma like her mother had fled Iran. They had just gotten their green cards for the US.
Upon Bahman's arrival, Niloo wanted to jump back when he touched her cheek because of the unfamiliar feeling. Bahman inspected her teeth and her horrified look caused him to respond that she was very grown-up, in a hurt tone. Bahman is concerned that in America his children are not speaking Farsi or reading poetry. Bahman was growing older and Niloo had began to see the pain in his eyes from being apart from his family for six years. She wanted to be alone.
While in the apartment, Bahman wanted to call his friends. Pari had tried to stop him from doing this, but he succeeded. After he gets off the phone he asks Niloo to find photos. Nader shows up and asks Bahman if he wants to smoke. The two of them go outside and return speaking to one another incessantly of food and Pari and children. The next day, Bahman disappeared and Pari got angry that he left and ransacked his belongings, and when he returned the two of them fought and Pari tossed him out the next day. He continued to be in America and try to take Niloo and Kian out on excursions. Niloo was embarrassed of Bahman's actions in public, mainly his loud Farsi. While on one of her outings, Niloo found her father passed out in a motel room overdosed on opium. It made Niloo resent her father because she loved oblivion more than poetry or medicine or oblivion. She questioned his motives and how he acted when he was without them in Ardestoon.
Isfahan, Iran – June 2009
Bahman spends one night in a jail cell quoting the poet Rumi to himself and reflecting on his life. He had been thinking that he would write and mail a letter to Niloo to help figure out a way to get him out of Iran. He though realized that his actions have shamed his daughter away, and she is no longer the same Niloo that adored Bahman so much in her childhood. Sitting in court, Bahman thought that the judge would forgive him after receiving an apology and a gift. The judge says they will sit on the verdict and reflect, and that he believes Sanaz had financial motives for divorcing him. The judge invites Bahman's second wife, Fatimeh, to come to court. Fatimeh brought her daughter, Shirin, who reminded Bahman of a young Niloo. Because they did not come to a verdict in court, and while they sort out the matter, they are subjecting Bahman to house arrest. Both Sanaz and Fatimah are to take care of him. This requires the judge granting a temporary marriage to Fatimeh so that she can live in his house and take care of him. The marriage would dissolve in three months with no payments necessary at the end.
At the house, Fatimah and Sanaz bicker over chores they will do in the house. Sanaz said that it was "her house" so she will make dinner for Bahman. Simultaneously, while they argue, he becomes ill from opium withdrawal. Bahman stays in his room watching the news about how a young Iranian woman died in the streets in front of her father. She was a protestor of Iran's stolen election.
The Hospitality of the Dutch
Amsterdam, Netherlands – August 2009
Gui keeps insisting that he comes along to Zakhmeh with Niloo, but she doesn't oblige. Niloo talks to her mother on the phone who is encouraging her to call her father. She boils Bahman's identity at this point down to not being her father, but just another sad Iranian addict.
Niloo meets with Karim who is a decade-long Iranian refugee. Karim offers her a treat from home and engages in conversation with her and Mam'mad, who is also present. They discuss their pasts and their lives. Mam'mad suggests that Niloo can help Karim with his asylum petitions as he is both unskilled and illegal and therefore not well off. Niloo reflects on her own story of how she got asylum in the United States. Back in Iran, Karim was accused of smuggling opium, which worries Niloo because of her father's addiction. They discuss how different Dutch culture is from Iranian culture. Niloo accompanies Karim to visit his caseworker that is helping him get asylum and Karim confides in Niloo, asking her if she thinks everything will really work out for him.
Niloo goes back to Zakhmeh this time with Gui. She worries that Gui will look out of place. Iranians value flashy when they can afford it, so it satisfies them to see American Iranians in tattered clothes, which is what Niloo is wearing to the event, because it makes them feel better about themselves. Gui meets Mam'mad and her other friends. He offers to help Karim with his asylum applications. Karim goes up to share his story. He speaks in Farsi, so through a translator he relays his message. He delivers a sad reality about his life, saying that he may be roaming the streets without his wife forever if his asylum petition gets rejected. Mam'mad and Siavash get in a fight over their status and cultural differences.
The chapter ends with Bahman asking to meet with him again in Dubai, but she is hesitant.
The Second Visit
Niloo had just graduated Yale and was travelling to London with her brother, Kian, to meet their father. Bahman had rented Niloo and Kian a hotel in London and he was going to stay outside town. Niloo wondered whether or not this was to feed his opium addiction or simply because he couldn't afford two rooms. Kian is in the hotel room accusing Niloo of not understanding art or respecting his art, cooking. He accuses of her of only respecting scientific data from journals and grants she receives for research. The first time they see their father is at breakfast, where they recognize their father as visibly older: graying hair, a thinner mustache, and an arched back that walked with a cane. This meeting is eight years since Bahman last saw Niloo and Kian. They were now 22 and 19, respectively. The three talk at breakfast switching between Farsi and English, when Niloo and Kian want to talk about their father without him knowing. When the food arrived, Bahman was being rude towards the waitress and Niloo and Kian were trying to make up for his lack of cultural adeptness. Kian thinks that Bahman will judge him for choosing cooking as a profession, but Bahman respects it and says it's an art. They talk of Iran and family history, and Bahman tells them that he is getting remarried to Fatimah and tells them about Shirin, his and Fatimah's daughter.
Karin leaves Niloo and Bahman to chat, where they discuss the hardships in life. Niloo gives her own insight about how she does not believe that having an easy life is everything. A few days later, Bahman asks Niloo if he could go ask a few questions in the American embassy in London, where she tried to refuse because she argued that going into the embassy without an appointment would take hours.
The 9/11 terrorist attack occurs during this visit while Kian, Bahman, and Niloo were having drinks in a pub near Hyde park. Everyone around the three of them were upset, while Bahman's initial reaction was that the USA will bomb Iran. Bahman became conscious of his ethnicity, and became more uncomfortable. As a fairly unreligious man, Bahman blames religion for 9/11.
The three of them discuss Pari and her strange relationship with Nader, who she claimed to have stopped speaking to years ago. However, after Kian got off the phone with Pari, he found out that she had traveled to Thailand to care for Nader, who had fallen ill with stomach cancer a few months prior. Pari loved Nader.
Bahman travelled to his friends in a suburb outside of London, and Kian and Niloo went to the house and Kian cooked an extravagant dinner for the Hamidis and Bahman's friend.
A New Year World
Isfahan, Iran – June 2009
Bahman is still going through opium withdrawal. This was his third detox attempt. While sitting by himself, in somewhat of a paralyzed stupor state from the withdrawal, he questions how his life has gotten to this point. He questions why he became a doctor and whether or not he trusted himself back in the day. He called one of the women he saw in court and talked to her about coming in for an appointment, a scheme in the works, as he had no sane reason for calling his patient. He got permission to leave his house and go to his office, where he was unsure what he wanted to do when his patient came. He decided that he wanted to offer her money because he saw her during divorce court and felt bad for her, that she was forced to stay in a relationship with her husband. His patient offers him advice about leaving Isfahan. She says that if he makes it out of Isfahan, he could go and live his life. Bahman narrates about the first time he smoked. He had some extra manghal (opium) in his office, but left it there, finally giving it up. The chapter ends with Bahman thinking of his relationship with his children and trying to remember how he had seemed to them in Oklahoma, then in London, Madrid, and finally Istanbul.
An Addict in Dam Square
Amsterdam, Netherlands – September – October, 2009
Niloo is spending all her free time at Zakemah, going for many events and on off nights to talk to young Iranians who live there. Gui is trying to get Niloo to be less involved to spend more time with him, but she ignores his attempts. She continues helping Karim, accompanying him to offices and translating his stories into English. She one day finds Karim sitting alone and worries about his health, so she calls Mam'mad, who also does not return her calls for a few days. The more time Niloo spends with refugees, the more she sees herself as an Iranian immigrant and child refugee. At the squat, the discuss the upcoming trial of Geert Wilders, an anti-Islam politician in the Netherlands.
Bahman is sending Niloo emails about trying to meet with him. She gets a reply from one of his wives and they exchange snide emails back and forth. A package arrives in the mail from Ardestoon. Her grandmother sent mixed spices–advieh– and a photo of herself. There is a letter from her father that smells like opiates, she does not open it but shoves it in a drawer in her kitchen and washes her hands of the stench.
Back at the squat, Siavash and Niloo discuss politics and life. When they leave to go home, Siavash gets a text that Mam'mad is in Dam Square and he is losing his mind. They quickly went to Dam Square and saw Mam'mad on fire, while people were trying to quench the flames with jackets, sweaters, and bottled water. There are no police there, but an ambulance arrives shortly after Niloo and Siavash arrive. Mam'mad does not survive his self-immolation. According to the news later that day, Mam'mad had set himself aflame because the Dutch government denied his plea for asylum.
The Third Visit
Niloo is in Madrid with Kian and Pari. Gui was supposed to be there with Niloo, but he hadn't come. They are all in an apartment talking. Bahman grows upset with Kian and Niloo for how "Americanized" they've become since leaving Iran years ago. Pari had been upset that Nader just passed away and she could not share her grief with anyone. While they are eating dinner, Niloo becomes upset with Bahman for picking at his food, and then realizes that she is embarrassed because she is trying to build a new self, a new image. Bahman is berating Niloo for not having any wedding photos.
The next morning Niloo wakes up to the smell of Turkish coffee and her parents discussing politics. They were discussing Saddam Hussein and Ahmadinejad. That night, Bahman's heart stopped for a brief moment, and his heart rhythm and breathing became irregular, they brought him to the hospital by ambulance. The next morning the doctor told the family that Bahman had been taking Adderall to mask the effects of opium. He wanted to keep his opium use a secret from his family and was trying to hold off withdrawal. This upset the whole family.
Later, Bahman told stories about wedding curses, those specifically in Pari's family. Niloo was sympathetic of Pari, but judged Bahman for his lifestyle and choices. Each time they met, they were further distanced in their relationship.
Family Formation Among Early Primates
Amsterdam, Netherlands – October 2009
Niloo grieves Mam'mad's death by going back to old habits: research, school, looking at furniture lists, cooks, checks her bank card daily. Gui tries to console her and make her laugh often. When Niloo is cooking, she can't find her mason jar of spices. She accuses Gui of throwing it away and he explains that he threw out what he thought were "garbagy things." This upsets Niloo, as she believes she cannot have anything of her own. She recognizes her accusation is unfair because Gui isn't vengeful, yet he winces at her harsh words. They fight and it results in Gui leaving. Niloo reflects on her actions and her life thus far, and ends up reflecting on her father. She longs for the father she once had. She relizes that she has not accepted Gui as her home, but continues looking for a place where she belongs, further pushing him away. She calls Kian and then reflects further on her actions, deciding that she cannot leave Gui outside and takes her bike and begins looking for him, going first to the new apartment they are building and planning to move into. She finds Gui in the bathroom tub of their new apartment, but he does not want her there. They try and talk things out, discuss building roots and rekindling their relationship, and finally Niloo leaves him to spend the night and meets up with Siavash and Karim. They listen to music and talk about family. When she gets home, she calls Pari who says that she received a phone call from Bahman. Niloo's father is still trying to visit her, but she feels still disconnected from him. She finally decides to open the letter and the emails she has left untouched and discovers that he had been jailed in his own home since June.
Small Joys, Like Sour Cherries
Istanbul, Turkey – August – October 2009
Bahman travels to Istanbul. To leave Iran, he managed to get a legal exit visa which he had purchased with bribes. He planned to have his brothers run his dental office while he was gone. He had planned to travel for three months. He would go to Holland and on day ninety-one, when his visa expired, his lawyer would send any money Bahman had left so that he didn't get it taken. He had failed at first to exit the country, but got another lawyer to accompany him to the Dutch embassy for an interview.
The Fourth Visit
Istanbul, Turkey – 2009
Niloo was finally going to introduce Gui to Bahman in Istanbul. Gui was excited and nervous to meet Bahman. Upon their first visit with him, Niloo had noticed that he was missing more teeth and his skin and hair were grayer than the last visit. Niloo said that in just one year Bahman had aged by a decade. Kian is still not over his meeting with his father in Madrid, and says that if anything goes awry he is leaving. At breakfast, Niloo notices that her father is more fragile, that he is always tired and always thinking. Niloo knew that this would be her last trip with her father because he was old, because she was tired of it, and because she was afraid that Gui would see her family for what she believed they really were. Bahman tells Niloo that he thinks she should find Iranian friends and asks her if she is happy and enjoying the life she's built. The truth is that these trips drain her and she is unsure if they brought her any closer to her father or restored any of her childhood roots. Bahman also tells Niloo to make her life fuller and have some children. They end their meet up and Bahman tells Gui that he is happy to have spent the days with him.
Just Like Your Baba
Amsterdam, Netherlands – October 2009
Niloo moves into her half-built apartment without Gui or his help. She suggests that they don’t speak for awhile and take a break. She goes to the squat to eat dinner with her friends. Siavash and Karim brought her oil lamps, flashlights, water, an extra stove, and a few pots and pans for her unfinished home. Niloo is upset over the break with Gui and has cancelled many classes as a result. Her new apartment feels empty without him. Pari called Niloo and told her that she was upset that her father called her and she hasn't answered him. She also tells Niloo that she is coming to Amsterdam in two days because Bahman is trying the Dutch embassy.
When Pari arrives, she goes to get coffee with her mother everything that has happened the past few months. She tells her about finding Zakhmeh and the peace that exists there, losing Mam'mad, and about Gui. Pari tells her that her problem is that she is just like her father and that she only thinks of her own satisfaction, which stings her because she has had such a successful life free of habit and many lovers.
Pari meets Siavash late one night when he comes to check in on Niloo. Pari is suspicious of him, and tells him that they need rest and not to come back for awhile. Bahman calls and he has made it into Holland. The next morning, Niloo wakes and hears Siavash talking to Bahman outside of their front door. He reaches for Niloo's doorbell.
Amsterdam, Netherlands – October 2009
Bahman is talking to Siavash outside the door of Niloo's apartment, discussing his life with him. Bahman begins telling Siavash stories outside of Niloo's house reassuming the role he loves so much as the storyteller. He thinks it’s a simple and innocent thing to be.
While Bahman spoke with Pari on the phone before arriving at Niloo's, he had gathered bits and pieces of the story about Niloo and Gui's separation. Niloo greets Bahman and Bahman cannot wait to tell Niloo that he was clean and hadn't smoked in four months. He wanted to tell her about his country falling apart and how bad the opium detox hurt. He wanted to tell her about how he was no longer married and how he spent the past two months outside of embassies in order to try and get to her. But, he did not do so right away. Instead, he tried to ask where Gui was, but just said to her that he remembered the day he met the love of her life. Niloo talked about her work and about getting her paper translated so that her father could read it. But all Bahman wanted to hear about was the apartment. He wanted to tell her to leave, and that the things she wanted weren't necessarily necessities.
Gui has sent Niloo a letter that she had not yet opened, but Bahman convinces her to do so. The letter talks about how if Niloo came back Gui would be a better husband. Bahman discusses how difficult it was to leave his country. They all discuss their lives and the things they are afraid of, like Niloo being afraid of leaving the apartment on her own. They discuss how Niloo feels safe in Zakhmeh. The three of them, Niloo, Bahman, and Pari sit talking together again.
Isfahan, Iran, is where Niloo was born. It is where Bahman currently lives, and most of the story from his perspective takes place in Isfahan.
Amsterdam is where Niloo is currently living with her husband, Gui. It is where the squat, Zakhmeh, is located.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is where Niloo, Kian, and Pari are living when they first get their green cards. It is the site of Niloo and Bahman's first of four visits.
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
New Haven, CT is where Yale is located. It is where Niloo studies and meets her husband, Gui.
London is the site of Niloo and Bahman's second of four visits.
Madrid is where Niloo and Bahman have their third visit.
Istanbul is where Niloo and Bahman have their final visit.
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Sydney Gualtieri ’19