Nahai, Gina B. 1961(?)- (Gina Barkhordar Nahai)
Nahai, Gina B. 1961(?)- (Gina Barkhordar Nahai)
Novelist and educator. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, lecturer in freshman writing program, 1984-88, lecturer in master of professional writing program, 1999—. Also worked as consultant in Iranian affairs for Rand Corporation and researcher for United States Department of Defense. Guest on television and radio networks, including CNBC and KCRW.
PEN Center USA West (member of board of directors), International Women's Media Foundation (member of board of advisors), B'nai Zion Western Region (member of board of directors), International Women's Forum.
Phi Kappa Phi Award, University of Southern California, 1986; Distinguished Masters Thesis Award, University of Southern California, 1988; Los Angeles Arts Council award for fiction, 1998, for Cry of the Peacock; Simon Rockower Award, 2002; Jewish Book Award, 2005, for The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt.
Cry of the Peacock, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, Washington Square Press (New York, NY), 2000, Persian translation by the author published as Mahtab dar kuchah-i Sidaqat, Intisharat-i Dawr-i Dunya (Tehran, Iran), 2000.
Sunday's Silence, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2001.
Caspian Rain, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2007.
Author's works have been translated into seventeen languages.
Contributor to books, including The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt. Contributor to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles, Huffington Post, and Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
Cry of the Peacock, Gina B. Nahai's first novel, tells the story of Iran over the last two hundred years. Most of the story focuses on the Iranian Jews, the oldest Jewish community still in existence. Though hardly noticed by the outside world, this Jewish community has existed in Iran for over twenty-five hundred years. Nahai devoted eight years to the project. As the author commented in an interview posted on the University of Southern California Professional Writers Degree Program Web site: "Part of that was there was nothing written about Iranian Jews in any language, anywhere—nothing substantial. So it was hard to gather the needed information."
Cry of the Peacock opens with its protagonist, an Iranian-Jewish woman named Peacock, incarcerated in a women's prison in post-revolutionary Iran. The preceding two hundred years of history of Peacock's family and, by extension, of the Iranian-Jewish community, is then told through flashbacks interwoven with discussions of Iranian history. Nasrin Rahimieh, writing in World Literature Today, praised Nahai's technique, noting that "the novel not only brings to light the suppressed history of the Iranian Jews, but it does so by reclaiming a historical space they have traditionally been denied." Sharon Dirlam commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the novel "rings with truth, but it's also a spellbinding story that's hard to put down."
Nahai's second novel, Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, begins in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran during the reign of the Shah. In the tradition of magic realist fiction, extraordinary and unbelievable things happen to ordinary people. When the oppressed Roxanna's mother finds feathers in her daughter's bed and tries to push her off a roof, Roxanna's invisible wings save her. After fleeing her home and taking up with an aging courtesan known as Alexandra the Cat, Roxanna inadvertently casts a spell on her future husband, Sohrab, who finds her wandering the streets and takes her back to his house on the Avenue of Faith. Treated cruelly by the women of her husband's family, Roxanna mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a daughter, Lili. The rest of the novel focuses on Lili, who with the rest of the family ends up in California after the Iranian revolution. Edward Hower, reviewing the book for the New York Times, characterized Nahai as "a skilled and inventive writer" and praised her characters, especially Lili's aunt, Miriam, "an endearingly earthy woman who often embarrasses her pretentious relatives—on a shopping trip in Los Angeles, for example, when she fingers expensive clothes ‘as if she were buying live sheep.’"
After her two novels set in Iran, Nahai set Sunday's Silence in Appalachia, a place described by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "another region whose people seem to be united by a fundamentalist faith, their beliefs as exotic to, and misunderstood by most Western readers as those of the people of Iran." The story centers on Adam, the bastard son of a snake-handling preacher. Adam has become a foreign correspondent in Beirut and has spent twenty years trying to distance himself from his origins. When he returns to Tennessee following his father's death, he becomes passionately involved with a Kurdish immigrant woman who may have had a hand in his father's demise. "One of the things that strikes me when I talk about my first book," Nahai commented in an interview on the Web site of the Professional Writers Program at USC, "[is that] everyone always says, oh, my God, all this stuff happened in Iran or the Middle East, how outrageous, or how violent or backwards. But I always say if you just look around the corner, you see the same kinds of things happening right here in the most developed country in the world…. Human reactions are strange and unpredictable all over the world, not just in some Middle Eastern country."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1999, Bonnie Johnson, review of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, p. 69; November 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Sunday's Silence, p. 460.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2001, review of Sunday's Silence, p. 1318.
Library Journal, April 15, 1991, Andrea Caron Kempf, review of Cry of the Peacock, p. 123; February 15, 1999, Janet Ingraham Dwyer, review of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, p. 184; October 15, 2001, Reba Leiding, review of Sunday's Silence, p. 109.
Los Angeles Magazine, November, 2001, Robert Ito, review of Sunday's Silence, p. 136.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 28, 1991, Sharon Dirlam, review of Cry of the Peacock, p. 6.
New York Times, May 30, 1999, Edward Hower, review of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, p. 19.
People Weekly, December 10, 2001, review of Sunday's Silence, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1991, review of Cry of the Peacock, p. 79; January 4, 1999, review of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, p. 69; June 18, 2007, review of Caspian Rain, p. 30.
School Library Journal, November, 1991, Diane Goheen, review of Cry of the Peacock, p. 159.
World Literature Today, spring, 1992, Nasrin Rahimieh, review of Cry of the Peacock, p. 396.
Book Sense,http://www.booksense.com/ (January 13, 2003), Gavin J. Grant, interview with Gina Nahai.
Gina B. Nahai Home Page,http://www.ginabnahai.com (September 12, 2007).
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles,http://www.jewishjournal.com/ (January 27, 2003), "Doctors, Lawyers, and Other Jewish Women."
University of Southern California Professional Writers Degree Program Web site,http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/mpw/ (January 13, 2003), interview with Gina Nahai.