Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellmann

A Bitter Veil by Chicagoan Libby Fischer Hellmann is a crowd-pleasing novel. There is something for every reader, no matter what your favorite genre might be. It is a page-turning thriller, a tender and tragic romance, as well as a gripping tale of historical fiction.

Set in Chicago and Tehran from 1977 to 1980, this novel begins with a knock at the door in the middle of the night. A young American woman covers herself with a chador and opens the door to find three bearded soldiers with machine guns. Revolutionary Guards have come with shocking news about her Iranian husband.

Hellmann then steps back to Chicago in 1977, where Anna and Nouri first meet in the aisle of a dusty bookstore near the University of Chicago. Anna is picking out books from the syllabus of her Persian Literature class and Nouri (do I need to say he's tall, dark and handsome?) approaches her, quoting from the Rumi poetry collection in her hand. It's what Hollywood would call a "cute meet." But if you've ever read any of Rumi's poetry, or if you happen to love bookstores, it's even better than that. It's an "only-in-your-dreams" meet. A "you had me at hello" meet. Their romance takes off despite their different backgrounds, and soon the two are inseparable, as young lovers are. 

Anna and Nouri decide to marry and move to Tehran. Through Nouri's family connections with the Shah, Nouri gets a good engineering job and Anna finds a position teaching English and American Culture at the Iran-American Society. There is growing unrest and dissatisfaction with the Shah, but Anna and Nouri are planning a big fat Persian wedding, and are blind to the danger.

For any reader, the building tension in pre-revolutionary Iran is palpable. But for readers ("of a certain age") who can remember the horror and the shame of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the danger is clear and imminent. You want to grab Anna by the shoulders, warn her, and help her escape from Iran before it is too late. Because we know what's going to happen to Americans in Iran in 1978. 

Despite the terrifying tale, Libby Fischer Hellman brings the beauty of Iran to life. Her description  of Anna and Nouri's honeymoon trip to the Caspian Sea is breathtaking. Her research and knowledge of Iranian history, geography and culture is extensive and respectful. 

Hellman has crafted a well-written tale that combines suspense, action and plot with romance, atmosphere and history. It will not only satisfy her existing crime fiction fans - Hellmann has written two different mystery series - but it should bring her droves of new readers. I highly recommend this book.

Libby Fischer Hellmann will be appearing at the third Annual Glen Ellyn BookFest on Saturday, June 23, 2012. She is appearing at a Ladies Luncheon at 11:30am at the Glen Ellyn Public Library with Charlene Baumbich, Sarah M. McCoy and Hannah Pittard. For more information and tickets, please go to

To purchase the book, click on the image above. The book is available at The Bookstore and will be on sale at the library on the day of the event.

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