Review: Last Days of Café Leila

by Donia Bijan
Algonquin Books, 2017

Bay Area chef Donia Bijan's yummy prose pulls readers behind the headlines of contemporary Tehran. Last Days of Café Leila reads like a love letter to the author’s childhood homeland. We follow Noor, who returns to Tehran nursing a broken heart and seeking reunion with her father, Zod, who is the patriarch/proprietor of an elegant restaurant. The cast of characters includes Noor's rebellious teen daughter, Lily, and her own childhood nanny, Naneh Goli. Flashbacks excavate secrets about Noor's mother, Pari, who died mysteriously. Another strong theme is how marriages and family relationships are complicated, flexible, and negotiable. Politics of revolution, human rights, and exile are woven through this delicious family epic. Highly recommended for readers who want to understand life and culture of contemporary Iran, or for those who want to return in spirit to a place they can no longer safely visit.

Torrey Douglass