“Dare the Sea” by Ali Hosseini

Dare the Sea: Stories, Ali Hosseini (Curbstone, September 2023) Dare the Sea: Stories, Ali Hosseini (Curbstone, September 2023)

Divided into two parts set in Iran and the US respectively, Dare the Sea is a new collection of stories from Iranian-American writer Ali Hosseini.  The stories, some of which had previously appeared in Guernica, Antioch Review and Story Quarterly, explore Iran’s landscape, culture and how cataclysmic, socio-political changes have shaped the identity and sense of belonging among Iranians living in Iran and the United States.

Some of the  stories set in Iran centred around the Iran-Iraq war, toppling of the monarchy and the 1979 Islamic Revolution. These events are re-imagined through the lives of villagers, soldiers, and families living through tumultuous times.

Hossein is keen on detail, the vast topography of Iran is, for example, elegantly portrayed in “Turning Bread to Stone”


The pale-green barracks sat beside the asphalt road that curved down the narrow mountain pass and stretched across the desert. Nearby, on a low slope, was a white-domed berkeh ablaze in the sun. In the desert where water is scarce, these domed structures are built over dug-out holes to preserve rainwater running downslope and keep it from evaporating in the heat.


In those stories set in America, the tone and characters immediately change to reflect the new setting, while exploring the hardships encountered by Iranians living there. In “Magic Island”, Iranian immigrant Parviz struggles with the day-to-day in his new life in the US while staying in touch with his father living in Iran:


He wishes he’d had a few more glasses of the mijiu wine that Mrs. Yung put on the dinner table. Maybe it’s jet lag that’s clouding his mind. He thinks he shouldn’t have listened to his messages. First it was his father, yelling into the answering machine from the other side of the earth. I sent you to America to become a doctor, he bellowed out in all his fatherly authority, and you become a dog doctor! A Muslim and a dog doctor ! And you dare to come back here! What for, so shame me ? Stay in America with your cats and dogs and don’t dream of coming back here again.


The stories in Dare the Sea are loosely interconnected and characters re-appear from one story to another. The characters in Part Two, encounter dual struggles with exile from Iran as well as belonging and integrating in the US. Dare the Sea is an insightful and at times humorous exploration of the complexities of Iranian identity, especially in its portrayal of characters living in the US.

Farida Ali @farida_art is an art historian and writer. Her work has appeared in Scroll and elsewhere.