Disoriental is such a confident novel. From page one you get a sense of the narrator, of the narrative tone, of the kind of story that you’re going to encounter. And there are so many threads in this story. It is at once an intergenerational family story, a political story, a historical story, a coming of age story. It’s also a novel that’s preoccupied with storytelling itself; its narrator is continually calling attention to her narration of this story: sometimes she cannot remember things, sometimes she will rely on a letter or other piece of writing to tell a part of the story for her. All of this is to say, Disoriental is an incredibly multilayered novel, and considering the sheer number of threads this novel has, what Djavadi has managed to accomplish here is impressive. The ending, in particular, was especially powerful to read.
Despite all the praise I’ve just given Disoriental, though, I couldn’t give it more than a 3.5 stars because I didn’t feel as attached to its characters as I would’ve liked to. Because the narrative is so steeped in the narrator’s mind, you get more of an emphasis on her perception of other characters rather than a complete picture of what those characters are actually like. And this is fine, except that the narrator spends so much of the novel focusing on the events of her life that you don’t get super attached to her as a person either. I also found the novel dragged a bit in places.
Regardless, I think Disoriental is a novel that so many people would love if they gave it a chance. It’s definitely underhyped, and it definitely deserves more attention than it’s gotten considering how great it really is. If you’re looking to read more translated fiction, then this novel is an excellent place to start.
(Thank you so much to Europa Editions for sending me a review copy of this book!)