‘Caspian Rain’ author offers insight on Iranian culture

Hannah-Leeba Ellenhorn

Tamar Willis, Staff Writer

In a school with no shortage of Iranian Jews, it was pretty exciting when probably the most famous Iranian Jewish author of our time came to Shalhevet to talk about her book while students noshed on Persian cuisine.

Students in Ms. Sterman’s senior World Literature class heard from Gina Nahai, a best-selling author, after having read her latest novel, Caspian Rain, earlier this semester.  The discussion took place in the Beit Midrash after Town Hall on Thursday, April 7.

Seniors were served Persian style rice, chicken, and vegetables, which was organized by Ms. Sterman and math teacher Mrs. Tamara Gidanian, who like the author grew up in Iran and came to Los Angeles in the 1990s.

Nahai, who was educated in Switzerland and has won multiple awards for her accomplishments in writing, currently teaches in the Masters writing program at the University of Southern California.

One of the first questions she was asked was whether she would rather have been born into a different culture than Iran’s.

“Living here is much happier than living there,” Ms. Nahai told the seniors, who were sitting in a loose circle as Ms. Sterman looked on proudly. “I get the best of both worlds.”

She explained that she was raised in Iran during a time that was good for Jews.  However, she made it clear that she would not want to live there now because of the different cultural values as well as the limited women’s rights.

Caspian Rain is a novel about a 12-year-old Jewish girl, Yaas, living in Iran in the decade before the Iranian Revolution.  Her father comes from a wealthy, elite family, and her mother was raised in the slums of Tehran.  Her parents’ marriage is crumbling as her father falls for a woman from a noble Muslim family.

In addition, Yaas is diagnosed with a genetic illness and is slowly losing her hearing.  The story follows Yaas as she faces the possibility of complete deafness and attempts to save her parents’ marriage.

Ms. Sterman, who has had students read this book each year, has been trying to get in touch with Nahai to have her visit the school ever since she started teaching the book.  Finally, Mark Rothman – father of senior Saul Rothman – was able to connect her to Ms. Nahai and the event was born, much to Ms. Sterman’s delight.

Students asked thoughtful questions about themes and characters in the book.

“I thought that she opened an analysis we would have not gotten if we hadn’t been able to talk to her,” said senior Toby Bern.   “It’s a great experience to get inside a writer’s head.  I thought it was a great opportunity.”

Senior Danielle Ofengart agreed.

“I thought it was interesting, and I learned a lot from her,” said Danielle.  “Hearing how much thought she put into it and and how she decided to format the book was very interesting.”