For me, the first line of a book has always held a certain fascination. It is here that the writer offers the reader the first indication of the journey upon which they will embark and teases with what is to come. Within the very first line of the novel, Farnoosh Moshiri reveals a great deal about the setting and the protagonist, while simultaneously setting an enigmatic tone which leaves us wanting to read further. As we do read on, we discover that Moshiri confronts the issues of race, sex and politics head on through her portrayal of one Iranian family.
Set in Tehran in the late 70’s, The Drum Tower records a highly turbulent yet deeply significant period of Iran’s history. We are introduced to the residents of The Drum Tower, an old and fairly well-off family who together keep as many antiques within their home as they do secrets. The narrative is offered from the perspective of the family’s youngest girl, Talkhoon, and it is through her eyes that we observe the intricate relationships and family dynamics that make up the home. Firstly, there are Talkhoon’s two grandparents. We meet her grandfather, Baba Ji, whose unfinished book- about a mythical bird of knowledge- has become his primary focus in life. Then there is her grandmother, Khanuum- Jann, who though still very much alive seems to haunt The Drum Tower, as do the ghosts of her ancestors whose voices she is adamant she can hear. In addition, there is a fugitive father, a troubled uncle whose ominous presence is a constant source of unease for the protagonist, an impossibly talented and majestic older sister, and an absent mother, whose disappearance plagues the walls of the ancient house. As the tension builds in the country at large, this same force is mirrored within the walls of The Drum Tower and the delicate balances created there threaten to collapse at any moment.
And collapse they do. Moshiri pays very close attention to the historical elements of the story beginning directly before the start of the Iranian Revolution and on to the very centre of it as it unfolds in parallel lines with the lives of the characters. Due to this foundation, it is particularly interesting to observe how The Drum Tower interacts with history. Moshiri is clearly very well-versed in the events of the time, having herself experienced living in Iran in the period of the novel. Through this first-hand insight, and her unquestionable skills as a writer, she manages to create an effortless blend between the intrigue of the mysteries held within the family and the constant reminder of the wider setting of the story. The historical context is an ever present element within this novel and one which somehow always manages to enhance the plotline in a way which is not overwhelming.
Although it is by no means a short book, the reader is likely to find themselves completely immersed in this highly intricate narrative and perhaps even a little stunned by its unexpected ending. The labyrinthine twists and turns in The Drum Tower’s narrative make it a highly compelling read. With Moshiri’s striking descriptions and the way in which she weaves her tale, The Drum Tower is a book that will make your world a little bigger.