"The Girl From the Garden" could refer to either of the two main characters in this beautiful, luxuriant debut novel: Mahboubeh, an old woman living Southern California, tending to her semi-wild garden; and her vindictive, lonely aunt Rakhel, whose early life Mahboubeh remembers and fantasizes about. Jews living in Iran at around the turn of the century (timing is a bit difficult to place, give or take a generation or so), the Malacouti clan is wealthy, ruled by Asher, the elder of two brothers. Rakhel is Asher's young wife, and though they have been married for some time, she cannot seem to get pregnant. Khorsheed, a little younger than her, is the younger son's wife, and she is pregnant already. Rakhel feels the emptiness of her womb like a knife and a curse, and her continued barrenness slowly twists her into the terrifying taskmaster Mahboubeh remembers.
In this delicate, rich story, we are witness to a society little-known and oft-veiled: the home life of Jewish women in the Middle East. Though we get a taste of what living as Jews in Iran was like (the younger brother is beaten to within an inch of his life just for accidentally bumping into a Muslim man), the story is more about the complex world these women create for themselves within the boundaries of their family's walls. It's fascinating, pulling back the curtain on a world such as this one.
The writing is sublime, approaching poetry on many occasions. This does make it a slower read, as one doesn't want to skim through anything, but it's well worth it. I very much look forward to introducing readers to this wonderful new author and the world she has revealed.