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Akram Didari
A House in the Wild Berry Tundra: A Story of an Iranian Woman Emigrating to Alaska
Akram Didari, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

This heartwarming novella celebrates one woman’s emotional journey to joy, with the story of a journalist who flees her home in war-torn Iran to emigrate to the United States. Starting her new life in a small town in Bush Alaska, she takes on a Native newborn baby found abandoned during a blizzard by their mother. Now she must explore what it means to be an immigrant in Alaska, navigate cultural differences, and come to terms with the memories of her own violent past, to find home and happiness once more.

Didari’s accomplished debut novella follows the journey of Afroozpari, an Iranian émigré, to her twice-found home in Bethel, Alaska. This highly visual telling opens with young Afroozpari chasing after an old Iranian man carrying popsicles called “Alaskan ice cream,” an object that also structures the close of the book, and organizes Afroozpari’s story into two parts (“Before” and “After House Renovation”) centered on another arresting image, the house on the wild berry tundra. “Nothing had been right from the very first day she came into this house,” Didari writes of Afroozpari, who experiences homesickness and loneliness once she arrives in Alaska.

A subsequent chapter returns to an Iran torn by revolution and war, both literally and in memory, as Didari reveals how Afroozpari first met her eventual husband, the dog-mushing, Alaskan-born Dayan—and how “Afroozpari had always thought that it was her destiny that Dayan came to Iran.” She moves to Bethel with him, and while the marriage does not go well, Afroozpari eventually finds meaning enough in the house on the tundra to return to it, and also in the inspiring life of Janan, an orphaned Alaskan child whom Afroozpari raises.

This novella moves swiftly between object and memory to express the reintegration and longing of dislocation, feelings that Didari adeptly stirs. Like a Jennifer Egan novel, many chapters are asynchronous, employing secondary characters to fill out the larger narrative of a refugee story rooted equally in sorrow and in joy. Didari uses images to pinpoint complex mixed emotions, such as when Afroozpari hangs a family photograph “with a gooshkoob, an Iranian metal meat masher” in her renovated Alaskan home. With rich, visceral vignettes of a life in transition, A House in the Wild Berry Tundra will move readers of literary fiction as Afroozpari learns that in order to be at home in Alaska, she must weave the old with the serendipitous new.

Takeaway: This resonant novella debut finds an Iranian woman discovering a home in Alaska, twice.

Great for fans of: Nahid Rachlin; Katherine Whitney and Leila Emery’s My Shadow Is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+