One From the Archive: ‘Equal of the Sun’ by Anita Amirrezvani **

First published in June 2012.

Equal of the Sun is set in sixteenth-century Iran. The novel is loosely based upon the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanum, who, according to an essay written by Shohreh Gholsorkhi in Iranian Studies, was a ‘masterful Safavid princess’. The narrator, Javaher, who believes himself to be one of Pari’s ‘closest’ servants, is intent upon telling the truth about her story so that it does not become ‘misrepresented or distorted to become a tool of those in power’. The prologue of the novel opens with his musings about the princess, whom he believes to be ‘fierce but splendid in her bearing’.

Javaher is a eunuch whose main wish in life is to alleviate his position within the strict class system by ‘serving the royal women’. He is tasked with gathering information by Princess Pari in order for her to stay informed of happenings, political and otherwise, in the state. She is ultimately seen as a protector for womankind, and throughout the novel many women come to her for help and advice which she is more than happy to give. 

After Pari’s father the Shah dies suddenly, her entire life is catapulted into turmoil. He has not left a will and this causes doubts about how best to proceed. Pari is forced to dismiss her grief and ‘get to work on the succession’, as she and those around her believe that ‘in times of uncertainty, procedure is all we have’. Despite Pari’s adherence to the proper channels which must be followed in such a situation, others vie for power and alleviate their own positions with little authority in which to do so. Throughout, fierce loyalties, particularly on the part of Javaher, are realised. The novel is incredibly graphic and violent at times.

The narrator is not an altogether likeable character but his position as servant allows him to seek out and overhear much of the action which drives the story onwards. In this way, Javaher’s narrative placement is a clever one.

The prose is absorbing from the outset and the novel itself is well written. Amirrezvani skilfully captures the surroundings in which Equal of the Sun takes place. Her descriptions, particularly in the first few chapters, are rich: ‘mirror work shimmered all to the ceiling, mimicking the radiance of the sun’. Many historical and cultural details have been woven into the story. Traditional words and phrases spoken in the country at the time have been included, as well as the correct observations following a death and the mourning rituals which had to be adhered to. The author has even made a point of writing about the types of make up used by women at the time. Amirrezvani has captured the threat of uprisings, political uproar and widespread change with skill.

The portrayals of Amirrezvani’s characters are rather in depth, but not in a manner which makes the reader feel overloaded with detail. Some of the details do become a little tedious, however, and this is particularly true when one considers the many passages which deal with choosing and wearing similar items of clothing. The novel contains rather a long list of the book’s vast array of characters. As the many characters and their relationships with one another are sometimes confusing to remember, the list of the book’s vast array of individuals is a very useful touch. Whilst the dialogue throughout works well, it is sadly sometimes difficult to distinguish one speaker from the next. Often, the majority of the dialogue patterns, traditional phrases and turns of phrase used from one person to the next are quite similar.

Whilst Equal of the Sun begins in a wonderful way, the storyline does wane a little at times and Amirrezvani’s writing is not always consistent. Many of the passages towards the beginning of the novel are beautifully written and almost poetic in their prose style, but as the novel progresses many of the descriptions become overdone and the language used is not always as good as it could be.

Purchase from the Book Depository

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