Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Bitter Veil

Libby Fischer Hellman is best known for the mysteries featuring strong female leads she writes, but her latest is more like last year’s Set the Night on Fire in which Hellmann took a more literary approach to a specific period of American history (the radicalism of the 1960s).  With A Bitter Veil, the author focuses on the series of events that would lead both to the rise to power in Iran of the infamous Ayatollah Khomeini and to the downfall of American president Jimmy Carter.  What makes the novel such a compelling read is Hellmann’s skill at recounting this turning point in the relationship of the two countries through the eyes of a rather naïve young American woman who falls in love with an Iranian student she meets in Chicago.  Similar stories have, sadly, happened all too often in the real world during the last three decades.

Abby would like a family within which she can feel secure and protected, but she has the opposite.  She is not particularly close to either of her parents; in fact, her mother has lived in her own native France for most of Abby’s life.  Her physical and emotional response to Nouri, the young Iranian student she meets in a Chicago bookstore both surprises and pleases her.  From almost the moment they meet, the two young people are inseparable and Anna dares to hope for a long future with Nouri.  She is willing, almost eager, to follow him back to Iran to begin life there as a married woman. 

As fate would have it, the couple returns to Iran at precisely the moment the Shah’s power and his hold on the government are slipping away forever.  So gradually that Anna fails to recognize the warning signs, Nouri changes from the religiously liberal man she married into a strict follower of Islam.  Nouri, whose father is close to the Shah and has become wealthy through his political connections, makes the change largely to ensure his own economic survival.  Anna can understand the necessity of wearing the veil in public but in reality she becomes her husband’s prisoner - never allowed to leave their home alone.  Worse, she learns that because she married in Iran she cannot leave the country legally without her husband’s permission.  Nouri swears he will never allow her to leave. 

Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Bitter Veil is the story of a typical young American who finds herself tested in ways that the average, naïve American could not imagine in the late 1970s that they would ever be tested.  The things that happen to her are simply not supposed to happen to an American – but when they do she must rise to the occasion if she hopes to survive long enough to escape Iran.

I do have one warning about the novel’s ending: do not begin the final segment (you will recognize it when you get there) unless there is time to finish the rest of A Bitter Veil before bedtime.  Consider yourself warned.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. I saw Libby Fischer Hellman at The Poisoned Pen here in Phoenix last month. She was promoting this book; it's apparently based on a friend's experience in Iran in the late 70s.

  2. I am fascinated with the history of Iran during this time period. This sounds like a must read for me. I've certainly read enough non-fiction and could use a good fiction read that touches on this time period.

  3. That's interesting, Kerry. A good portion of the book is set in Chicago, where I think Libby lives. Don't know if that's her hometown or not but she uses the city in her work a lot.

  4. Kathleen, Libby's story brought back a lot of memories and reminded me just how naive I was in 1992 when I moved to Algeria for a while. I walked the streets like a fool during the early stages of a major civil war there, feeling oblivious the whole time. Then we got evacuated in a hurry. :-)