In Refuge, Author Dina Nayeri follows Niloo, a young, married, Iranian woman on a journey to find herself and establish roots in a new land. Concurrently, through her father, Bahman’s experiences, we gain an understanding of their relationship and his attachment to home.
In her early 30s, Niloo is living in Amsterdam with her French husband. Meanwhile, in Iran, her father is at the courthouse filing for a divorce from his third wife. Niloo hasn’t seen her father in many years, having left Iran with her mother and brother when she was 8 years old. Although she feels betrayed and disappointed by him, Niloo thinks of their few visits and the precious time they had together when she was a child. Working on their young marriage, Niloo and her husband establish a list of rules – one of them being to have more fun. Attending an Iranian poetry night fits the bill. There, Niloo meets a traditional, older Iranian man and a bunch of refugees who she befriends, allowing her to feel comfortably connected and bringing her thoughts back to home and her father.
Leaving Iran at such an early age, Niloo has trouble finding her place in society. Always living like a vagabond, Niloo finds herself always establishing a “perimeter” – an area in her dwelling, where all her most important items are kept in a temporary home. Growing up a poor refugee, ties she had to her culture were suppressed and although she had the desire to settle down, Niloo seemed to have difficulty laying new roots. Constantly embarrassed by her mother’s stories and not feeling attached to Iran, Amsterdam or anywhere else, Niloo becomes involved in the world of refugees and developing friendships that feel natural. Helping these people in need seems to feed her soul and give her some clarity and insight into who she is and how she can establish a life with solid footing.
Refuge highlights this special father-daughter relationship with the backdrop of immigration and the feelings of loss, pressures, uncertainty and bravery of all who are forced to leave their homes and plant roots to begin again. Nayeri guides us through the ups and downs of Niloo’s marriage, her father Brahman’s decisions to leave his beloved Iran and her tireless search for purpose, identity and home.
As someone whose family has lived in the same place for over 100 years, with at least 3 generations of family nearby, I never struggle with who I am or where I belong. I deeply admire those who have left their country and persevered to make a life for themselves somewhere else: they deserve immense respect and support. Niloo’s and Bahman’s stories in Refuge remind me of those struggles, from finances to getting an education, to being part of a community and ultimately creating a place to call home. I highly recommend this wonderful and enlightening novel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dina Nayeri was a child when she fled Iran as an asylum seeker and uses her experiences to write. She is a beloved author of one of her most famous novels, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, which was translated into fourteen different foreign languages. She is also a graduate of Princeton and Harvard. Nayeri has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the O. Henry Prize, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Bogliasco Foundation, and many other artist residencies. She has written many other novels you may be familiar with, such as Another Faust and Another Pan.