At the beginning of ‘A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea,’ the storyteller Khanom Basir shares two matching rhymes about yogurt and yogurt soda that are used at the end of the story to reveal whether a story is truth or fiction. (Maast is the word for yogurt, doogh is yogurt soda.)
If a story was fiction, the poem starts out with yogurt.
Up we went and there was maast,
Down we came and there was doogh.
And our story was doroogh (lie!).
If a story was true, the poem starts out with yogurt soda.
Up we went and there was doogh,
Down we came and there was maast.
And our story was raast (truth!).
And so, at the end of the story, you wait for the first line of the rhyme. Was the story yogurt or yogurt soda?
Saba has a murky memory of the day, but one she firmly believes happened–seeing her mother and twin sister, Mahtab, get onto a plane and leave Iran for America. But those around her, in her rural community in northern Iran, believe that Mahtab is dead. As Saba grows up with her friends Reza and Ponneh, three surrogate mothers, and a distant father, she tells stories of how she imagines her twin’s life in America. She imagines her twin facing life confidently and bravely, facing challenges that are very different but at the same time very similar to Saba’s difficult life in Iran. Are these stories yogurt or yogurt soda? Are Mahtab and her mother alive and well in America?
‘A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea’ was a bit slow-moving, but ultimately a lovely book. There were several especially touching relationships–the semi-dysfunctional and close friendship among Saba, Ponneh, and Reza; the father-daughter relationship between Saba and Agha Hafezi; and the marriage and deep love between the elderly Agha and Khanoom Mansoori. 4.5 stars.