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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  2,404 ratings  ·  397 reviews
A magical novel about a young Iranian woman lifted from grief by her powerful imagination and love of Western culture.

Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 31st 2013 by Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA)
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Chris Bernard The inside look at post-revolution Iran with special emphasis on the plight of women and of one young woman's belief in her vivid fantasy world. As it…moreThe inside look at post-revolution Iran with special emphasis on the plight of women and of one young woman's belief in her vivid fantasy world. As it progressed, more and more questions evolved and were finally answered, which put the entire book into fuller perspective.(less)

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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  2,404 ratings  ·  397 reviews

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Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Well, it's my book, so I'll go ahead and give it a five :)
But I do hope you enjoy it! And I hope you'll write to me and let me know what you think. My email address is on my website (
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How do you cope with the knowledge that you have a responsibility in your sister's death? And in the disappearance of your mother? This beautiful book tells about the tremendous power of daydreaming, pretending it all didn't happen, replacing the truth with far better fantasies. A very powerful coming-of-age tale...
Yet this book is so much more. It tells you about everyday life in postrevolutionary Iran. How do you survive in a religious totalitarian state, where everything is forbidden, and whe
Jaime Boler
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing

In 1981, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi shows her best friend, Ponneh, an issue of Life Magazine dated January 22, 1971. The young Iranian girls look at the pages, featuring a newly-engaged Tricia Nixon, in awe. “Ta-ree-sha Nik-soon,” Saba says, is “the daughter of the American Shah.”

As far as the two girls are concerned, Ms. Nixon’s world is straight out of a fairy tale. “She is a princess. Shahzadeh Nixon.” Saba soaks up the four-page magazine spread of the smiling young woman and her beau, Ed
I was hoping A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea would be an exploration of the relationship of twin sisters and the grief of losing one another. The idea of a young Iranian girl coping with her grief through her imagination and stories, after her twin sister, Mahtab, and her mother supposedly disappear, intrigued me. Saba invents stories about her sister's life in America, believing that being a twin must mean her sister is alive and that lives will remain linked, no matter how much earth and sea separ ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Set in a fictional village near the Caspian sea in Iran, this novel clearly shows the differences between Pre-Shah Iran and Post-Shah Iran, especially related to the life of teenage girl Saba, her friends Reza and Ponneh, the rest of her neighbours, her Maman, Baba and sister Mahtab.

Her family being torn apart when she was still a kid, Saba grows up surrounded by old gossiping women and prejudices against her sex. However hard her childhood and teenage seem to be, she always finds relief in the
Diane S ☔
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Iran, before the revolution when woman had some freedom, could attend school and many other liberties that we here in the states take for granted and after with the Mullahs and the morality police, all liberties and freedoms taken away. This is the setting for this novel, it is the story of two twin girls, their family and their neighbors and friends. When one of the twins believes her mother and sister have left for America, leaving her and her father behind, she invents stories about her siste ...more
Jan 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I received this book from the Library Thing early reviewers program. This is just the sort of book that I would expect to absolutely love. Set in Iran in the 1980's, it is about a twin who loses her mother and sister, and is grappling with having been raised to be open-minded even though she is stuck in the restrictive Iranian culture. This book is beautifully written and absolutely transports you into the world of 1980's Iran. It was an easy but rich read and the author is obviously extremely t ...more
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
A moving journey about a young girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and coming face to face with drastic cultural and social changes. Told through weaving prose and a believable voice, the narrative is similar to that of other fictional texts written about immigrant life, identity, and struggles. So not unlike the works of Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The story is about young twin girls Saba and Mahtab Hafezi growing up in a fictional
Angie Fanset
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novel
This book surprised me in that I expected to like it, really wanted to like it, but I just didn't. I did not find any of the characters likable, and that's a must in order for me to enjoy a story. The telling was very disjointed and too drawn out for me. The author reveals something at the beginning that, in my opinion, ruins the rest of the story, but I know what she was trying to do. I did enjoy learning about the Iranian culture pre- and post-revolution.
Lama Sh A
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a novel which revolves around Iran before and after the revolution. I'm so delightful to announce that Nayeri succeeds in portraying Iran with plentiful of images of its Caspian sea, its splendid villages and cities, and its storytellers.

The Islamic revolution has brought many changes to the lives of the Iranians. Some, however, are still unwilling to compromise and accept these changes. Saba, the main character of the novel, is one of these people. Throughout the
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
In A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, debut novelist Dina Nayeri delivers a complex and haunting story about a girl with too much imagination, and about the small village she grew up in. Nayeri’s story is masterfully crafted; this is the sort of book that one can contemplate and re-read any number of times, and as I read the final sentence, I was left with a feeling of completion and rightness.

The novel opens in 1981 on the fateful day Saba’s sister and mother disappeared at the Tehran airport. A few
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is probably one of the most lovely well-written books I have read in quite a long time. The book revolves around the history of an Iranian young woman named Saba. When we join Saba as a child she just lost her mother and sister in a mysterious situation and while everyone tells her they are dead, she believes they escaped the post-revolution Iran and they are happy living in America without her.

The book follows this young woman on her journey as someone raised as the
Mike Keren
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't have the superlatives to describe this book. I finished it 3 days ago and it has stayed with me, haunting my dreams and occupying my waking hours. Elegantly written, this novel captures the power of imagination and fantasy to heal our psychological wounds and cope with trauma. The book's protagonist, a young Iranian girl at the start of the revolution and her twin sister are separated; she is also separated from her mother. throughout the novel you do not know if the sister is alive or d ...more
Nancy H
What a sad but yet amazing story! This is the story of Saba, a girl in Iran, who has lost her sister and her mother, and through her grief has built up elaborate stories about what actually happened to them. She lives with her father, but it is after the religious mullahs have taken over Iran, and life is dangerous for Christians (which they are, but which they have to hide) and especially for women and girls, who can be arrested, beaten, and even killed for no reason in the name of sharia law. ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea
By Dina Nayeri
5 stars
p. 423

I find myself drawn to coming of age tales and I particularly loved Dina Nayeri's novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, which is set in Gilan Province in post -revolutionary Iran. In 1981 young Saba Hafezi loses both her mother and twin sister. She believes that her sister Mahtab and her mother have traveled to America to escape the religious regime. This however, is not everyone's belief and at first there is a bit of a mystery about it.

Ruediger Landmann
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is nothing if not ambitious. It traces the story of an Iranian girl growing up in a rural town not long after the Islamic Revolution. Separated from her twin sister, Saba invents intricate fantasies about her having escaped to America with their mother and what her life must be like there. The events of the novel span around a decade as she grows up, marries, and eventually confronts her fantasy life.

I was attracted to this book mostly because I was interested in its
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, book-club
Dina Nayeri is a talented and ambitious writer. Unfortunately, her first novel is somewhat unremarkable.

The story itself seemed so promising; young twins from a wealthy Iranian family are separated when one twin and their mother 'disappear', the remaining child believes they fled to America, and her 'same blood' relationship with her twin means that their lives will remain intertwined regardless of the separation and the space between them.

The story itself has many stories written in, many voice
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 2014
4.5 stars. Oh this book was really, really good! If you want a book where you only get little bits and pieces along the way until everything comes together in an absolutely fantastic mind-blowing ending, this is the book for you! This is a family story with a dose of family secrets and even a little bit of something verging on magical realism. Saba and Mahtab are sisters, twin sisters. They are utterly and inextricably connected to each other. When Mahtab and their mother leave Iran for America, ...more
Regina Lindsey
A complex and richly layered tale of love, coming of age, and control of one's destiny is set between the breadth of two quotes: "In the privacy of our hearts we love who we choose to love," and "only die for someone who at least has a fever for you."

The novel opens in 1981, when a Christian family of four arrive at the Tehran airport when 11-year old Saba realizes her twin sister is not with them. In a moment of chaos she is sure she witnesses her mother and twin, Mahtob, board a plane to Amer
Cindi (Utah Mom’s Life)
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013

Sometimes there are books that just take my breath away. I often find myself reading these rare books more slowly--putting the book down right in the middle of an emotional scene so that I can think about it for awhile before I continue; lingering on a lyrical phrase or an image so real and haunting that I finally have to look away. Books filled with characters so complex and honest that surely they exist in a world beyond the pages of the books. While I'm compelled to reach the ending and gobbl
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this book but it is long and at some times can be sluggish. It starts out in the summer of 1981 in Iran, two years after the Iranian Revolution. Saba is 11 years old at the time and she is telling the story as she remembers it. Her family is at the Iranian airport with her parents and her twin sister. She remembers that her mother, her sister and she are to fly to the United States and her dad will meet them there later. But from there things get fuzzy in her mind...especially wh ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Saba grows up in an Iranian village in the late 80's in a wealthy (and secretly) Christian family. Protected from much of the world around her and taught early on about Western ways, she leads a life that is both wonderful and terrible.

After the loss of her sister and mother, Saba imagines their lives in the United States. The book does a lovely job of following Saba through young adulthood, dealing with adolescence and rebellion, all the way to questions of marriage and potentially dangerous fe
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri is an exquisitely told story of Saba Hafezi‘s life and the life she imagines for her lost twin sister Mahtab. When the girls were 11-years-old, Manteb, and their mother vanished leaving Saba to be raised by her father in Iran. Saba is convinced her mother and sister fled to America, the place she and her twin longed dreamed of moving to. A Teaspoon of Earth and see is vividly descriptive with realistic characters that the reader cannot help but care for ...more
Catherine Gillespie
In her beautifully written book A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, Dina Nayeri weaves a rich story of growing up in Iran, juxtaposing what is beautiful and what is dark about family, love, and culture.

The thing I love best about this book is the way that the setting becomes part of the story. As a reader, I love to be transported to another place, and everything about this novel–from place descriptions to surprising phrases to word choice–evokes the atmosphere of the Caspian region of Iran.

{Read my fu
Yesenia Juarez
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was very well written it was almost a four star read it just dragged along too much towards the end so I’m going to give it a 3.5
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent narrator made this story of a group of family and friends, who were deeply impacted in many ways by the revolution in Iran that started in 1979, even more compelling
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars, first-reads
"This is the sum of all that Saba Hafezi remembers from the day her mother and twin sister flew away forever, maybe to America, maybe to somewhere even farther out of reach."

I stayed up all night long to read this amazing novel. If you want lovely and lyrical prose, characters who are flawed and human and beautiful and real, dual narratives weaving together like melody and harmony, and a plot arc with a wonderfully satisfying ending--not saccharine, not falsely convenient, but satisfying--then y
Stacie (MagicOfBooks)
I will also do a video review here at my channel:

"A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea" by Dina Nayeri tells the story of eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi who is growing up in post revolutionary 1980s Iran. Saba is captivated by America, it's culture, people, language, music, and television. One day an incident occurs, and Saba believes her mother and twin sister have disappeared to America, leaving her behind with her father. Saba's story unfolds over the course of a decad
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully bewitching and profoundly meaningful, this novel touches you deeply with such intensity as to astonish

Exotically evocative and piquant this remarkable personal journey is brought vividly to life, with a colorful cast of captivating characters. An enchanting Eastern delight that tells the story of Iranian girl Saba, who is heartbreakingly separated from her mother and twin sister during the turmoil following the revolution. She as a result invents an inspired, imaginative world in wh
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this novel by author Dina Nayeri. The story is about Saba Hafezi who grows up in a small village in northern Iran. Nayeri, herself an Iranian exile gives a vivid story about how life was during the 1980s and 1990s for women in Iran. Saba is the main character in this story and lives through a turbulent and changing time period in Iranian history. Saba and her twin sister Mahtab love anything American - music, books, TV - and their parents, their mother especially, encourage this ...more
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Dina Nayeri is a graduate of Princeton, Harvard Business School, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. She spends her time in New York and Iowa City.

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