In Caspian Rain, Gina B. Nahai creates and explores the intricacies and origins of the relationship between Bahar and Yaas, a Jewish mother and daughter living in Tehran shortly before the Islamic Revolution. Yaas unfolds the pair’s story by retelling, processing and analyzing the life of her mother, a girl from a poor Jewish neighborhood who manages to marry above her station only to be forced to give up the fervent hope that got her there. Yaas, Bahar’s only child, inherits both the burdens of Bahar’s family and the pressure of her stifled aspirations.
A careful story with a wide range, Caspian Rain details the events of Yaas’ and Bahar’s lives, which are surrounded and indelibly altered by a constant flow of family, neighbors and strangers. The inherent danger of employing such a large cast of characters is that they may read as superfluous, but Nahai avoids this trap through the creation of an insular yet fractured community in which everyone plays a necessary part. The fissures and upheavals of the main characters’ lives are echoed in the larger community of Tehran.
Though it is Yaas who recounts each event, and though her early life is of central importance to the narrative thrust of the story, the heart of Caspian Rain lies in Bahar. Yaas, unfortunately, becomes a manifestation of Bahar’s insecurities and fears, more a figment than an independent person. And therein lies one possible criticism: despite her position as the narrator of the tale and as the primary receptacle for Bahar’s psychological and cultural baggage, Yaas remains somewhat elusive. Nahai allows the reader to dip her toes into the waters of the character, but not necessarily to become immersed in them.
This slight hesitation of investment appears in other guises as well. Moments of magic realism pepper the novel, primarily in the form of the Ghost Brother — a sibling of Bahar’s who died at a young age and continues to haunt the family. While these instances of the supernatural afford the novel an appealing Rushdie-esque undercurrent, they, like the development of Yaas’ character, seem to simply point to depth rather than dive into it.