Fiction: The Smell of Flowers and Salt

by Sampsonia Way    /  October 19, 2009  / No comments

A novel in progress translated by Assurbanipal Babilla, edited by Desiree Cooper

Synopsis

On an island in the Persian Gulf, Captain Abd, his wife and his beautiful twin daughters, Marjaneh and Marjan, live in tranquility.  The captain makes a living by transporting dates and valerian root to the United Arab Emirates. His motorboat and his radio are the only connection that the island has with the rest of the world.  The captain has heard whispered rumors of the Iranian revolution on the radio; the nearby seaport is slowly succumbing to the general revolutionary fervor.  But the island inhabitants pay little attention to the turmoil of the cities where political demonstrations are a daily occurrence.

With the departure of the Shah and the resulting social and political upheaval, pirates are emboldened to sail to the island to kidnap the young children. It so happens that one day when the island girls are swimming, one of Captain Abd’s daughters is kidnapped. The captain, who is traveling away from home at the time, returns to find that Marjaneh has been taken. Frantic, he goes back to the Emirates in search of his daughter.

Once he arrives, he poses as a merchant of turquoise, rubies and antique objects. He goes straight to the sheiks’ houses because he knows that the pirates take the girls there to be sold as slaves. Captain Abd’s maniacal efforts to find Marjaneh prove futile, but he refuses to give up.

On his last trip to the Emirates, he is arrested for smuggling agents of the monarchy who are fleeing the country.  He is sent to a prison in Bushehr, a town on the Persian Gulf.  Left with no choice, his family leaves the island and travels to Bushehr. The war has begun. The father is in prison. The war between Iran and Iraq continues to rage, but Bushehr is not directly under fire.

Marjan, the twin sister of the kidnapped Marjaneh, continues to pursue her education, but is unable to forget her sister. A few years later, as she is watching a news broadcast from the Emirates, she notices that the news anchor bears a striking resemblance to Marjaneh. There and then, she becomes determined to find her sister.

Years later, she travels to the Emirates as a journalist, but is unable to find the person she once had seen on television. She finds out that the television anchor is now married to an Iraqi officer and has moved to Iraq.

We follow, year after year, the events around the Persian Gulf and the Iraq-Iran War. As a press agent, Marjan and a group of French reporters go to Iraq.  She gets invited to a party thrown by Uday Hussien. At the party, she sees a woman who looks like her sister. She asks her: “Some time ago, were you a TV newscaster in the Emirates?” The woman answers: “Yes.”  Marjan resists the temptation to reveal her identity, but she tells Marjaneh that in two months she will be going to Paris.

The sisters reunite in Paris. Marjaneh is afraid that she is being followed by the Iraqi police. She has been taken at Uday’s mistress and her husband has been imprisoned. Marjan asks her sister to go with her to Iran or stay in France. But Marjaneh must go back to Iraq to secure her husband’s freedom. The sisters say goodbye, but before the war between Iraq and the United States, they meet several times in Paris.

Then Marjaneh is silent again for three years. Occasionally, Marjan receives a note informing her that her sister is alive. After the American invasion of Iraq, Marjan is able to travel there as a reporter. She finds that Saddam is boastful as ever, but there is no news of Marjaneh. As a war correspondent, Marjan is able to interview Saddam in a luxurious basement.

After Baghdad surrenders to the Americans, Saddam and his sons are nowhere to be found.  Marjan is still in Baghdad the day someone exposes the hiding place of Uday and Qusay Hussein. From a hotel lobby, she watches as the brothers are arrested. A few moments later, two American officers slip Marjan a letter. The letter is from Marjaneh, asking her sister to follow the officers. Marjan follows them to Marjaneh, who opens her arms and says: “You see how I have avenged my husband?”

Marjan understands that Marjaneh is the one who betrayed Uday and Qusay.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

View all articles by Sampsonia Way

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