In her second novel, “Refuge,” Iowa Writers’ Workshop alumna Dina Nayeri beautifully blends the personal and the political. This story of an Iranian father and daughter — separated by time, temperament, and geography — highlights global immigration issues while maintaining a tight focus on its primary characters, Bahman Hamidi and his daughter, Niloo.
Set in 2009 but flashing back to four fraught visits during which Bahman and Niloo are temporarily reunited, “Refuge” explores familial bonds and myriad ways those bonds might be frayed. The book also delves into the unraveling of whole societies because of religious extremism, unabashed nationalism, and willful ignorance of shared humanity.
Readers of Nayeri’s debut novel, the exceptional “A Teaspoon of Earth and Sky,” will find the book’s themes and style familiar. Both books are infused with frustrated longing and family strife. Nayeri has an eye for the telling detail and an ear for the ways in which our most sincere words can cause harm even as they seek to heal.
Here, Niloo reflects on her relationship with her father when she was 14, recognizing that her younger self was partially blinded by youth:
“There are creatures a person can see at thirty to which she has no access at fourteen. In youth, she can see only the end of the creature’s tail or the line of its back as it passes in the bark. I know now that Baba wanted to pick me up and wave me around like he used to do, to squeeze my face and check my teeth. I barely said hello, arms crossed over my T-shirt. All I wanted at that age was to disappear, but this stocky red-mustachioed man had showed up ready to experience America loudly.”
“Refuge” is a moving story offering insight into the many ways we can become refugees — physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Paul Engle Prize Celebration
l What: Author Dina Nayeri will receive the Paul Engle Prize
l When: 7 p.m. Thursday
l Where: Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St., Coralville
l Details: Nayeri will be presented with the prize as well as a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000. A reception and book signing will follow.
l Author’s website: www.dinanayeri.com