I am committing a mortal sin today by writing about this book while I still have a few chapters to go...but if you read even the first few lines, you would grant my forgiveness. Against Gravity is one of the most compelling and lyrical books I have read in recent memory. As a book reviewer and general literature addict, I devour at least five books per week...so my raving for Farnoosh Moshiri's title comes out of a wide-realm of reading. (I'm still trying to assuage my guilty delight in reviewing this before I've finished it, so bear with me.) Example? From page two: "May is even more cruel than April in Houston, Texas...Magnolias open shamelessly, exposing their insides, their juices oozing, and their scent--the scent of lust and decay--fills every inch of the thick air. You inhale the sweet thing and you want to do something severe to someone or yourself. You want to live and love and lust, or you yearn to cut your veins with a sharp blade in the thickness of a sunset that reflects in wide, blue windowpanes." Yes, that is just page two.
The storyline follows three different characters in Houston during the 1990's. Madison Kirby is volatile, intelligent, and dying. Ric Cardinal is a social worker with life problems all his own. Roya is a mother from Iran who has come to America after struggles through the ravaged Middle East to try to shape a new life for her twelve year old daughter and, if possible, herself. What happens when these individuals' dreams and paths cross creates the powerful trajectory of the entire novel. I will let any interested readers out there discover the specifics on your own and will also claim no responsibility when you fall madly in love with Moshiri's gifted writing itself.
Against Gravity isn't Farnoosh Moshiri's first novel, in fact, she has published two others, At the Wall of the Almighty and The Bathhouse, as well as a short story collection, The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree. She also has been contributor to a variety of anthologies, and has published personal essays. She currently teaches at Syracuse University and has other books pending. As far as I can tell, she is a magician.
Books like this are generally only born out of a deep struggle that most Americans have no concept of. Fortunately, we reside in the country we do--where the majority of us eke out a comfortable existence and, in spite of the jagged scar of 9/11, truly do not fear for our lives each and every moment of each and every day. Moshiri was forced from Iran after refusing, with a group of other artists and educators, to sign an agreement to obey dictates of the new regime in 1983. In an essay of hers she wrote, "It was my father who first suggested that I had to leave the country to save my baby's life. I remember the day that he walked to the neighborhood pharmacy with his back slightly bent, as if he'd never be straight again, and bought diapers and formula for his grandson. He packed my light knapsack while my mother cut my long hair for convenience. She thought having short hair would make it easier for me to cross the border, but I thought if the guards did arrest me now, or while crossing, they wouldn't be able to pull my hair or hang me from it."
From there, she went to India where she wrote in the "only private place in a flat shared by many refugees", a closet. She ultimately landed in Houston, Texas and began what would be her first novel. Her essay reveals, "I wrote for four years without interruption and without thoughts of publication or success. I showed the first twenty pages to a creative writing instructor and read the horror on her face...After this reaction, I decided not to workshop the novel anymore. I had a fear that negative remarks would discourage me from continuing the novel. This novel was, after all, my long delayed therapy, the cure of my pains; it was the house I was building to live in; it was new roots." After four years of writing, she started showing the manuscript to friends and their enthusiastic responses led to her seeking publication. It was rejected by countless publishers for three years, who admired the work but felt it wasn't marketable.
Luckily for the rest of us, eventually it was accepted and published--and Moshiri went on to write even more. With our current global situation with Iran and nuclear concerns, it is essential for us to understand the history, the culture, and the literature of other parts of the world. Without Gravity is leaving me breathless here on a tiny patch of the U.S. Atlantic coast on a day when the sun is not-quite Houston warm, but the magnolias are obscenely, desperately blooming.