Right on the westernmost tip of the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East is Iran, the epicenter of Persian people and culture. The region was responsible for many early discoveries and breakthroughs, including algebra, chemistry, and wind power.
One local author with Persian roots, Vahid Imani, has penned a children’s novel that tells the story of a young Persian girl named Naji, who uses inquiry to get to the bottom of a mystery, or at least the bottom of a hole.
“The story is an event that unfolds over one day,” Imani said. “Naji is on summer vacation, so she is happy to sleep in, and when she awakes to a noise, she sees someone digging in her courtyard. Throughout the day she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of what is down there.”
Imani wrote his book, Naji and the Mystery of the Dig, with third- through sixth-graders in mind, but the author said older kids and adults also enjoy its informative nature about Persian history, culture, cuisine, and language.
“We all laugh, all enjoy delicious food, we all experience joy,” he said. “My hope is that with more understanding of other cultures, the gaps close and everything shrinks, and we become a global village, and hopefully in the future we have a more peaceful world.”
In his book, Imani appeals to the curiosity that people of all ages share about their environment. He hopes to pique young readers’ interest in subjects oft forgotten or ignored by students.
“I’ve noticed that, in this country, we don’t have that much attention paid to a few fields of study that are very important to this world we live in,” he said. “Culture and geography, those two important areas are in this book, and whether they are middle graders or even the adults who read the book, they say they really enjoy it and learn a lot.”
One of the easiest ways to appeal to people is through the taste buds. Naji and the Mystery of the Dig includes many descriptions of cultural delicacies found in Persian cuisine. From the deep red tea carefully floating on top of clear white tea, to the savory roasted chelow kababs served with rice, Naji presents readers with plenty of exotic yet tasty examples.
“The vivid, amber color of the tea, it’s very important in Middle Eastern culture,” Imani said. “Over there it’s like wine, where you want a certain color and taste.”
The more Naji discovers about the mysterious hole growing in her backyard thanks to the work of a group of men, the more she delves into other interesting subjects of study, including history, archaeology, mythology, and religion. It’s this culture of inquisitiveness that all people share, Imani explained.
“I am hoping with this book that people, kids and adults, will become intrigued and want to learn more about their world,” he said. “I want to show them: Don’t be afraid of discovery, don’t be afraid of new things in this world.”
To present an accurate depiction of the Persian experience, Imani called on illustrator and artist Karri Simmans, who combined illustrations with digital editing techniques to create playful images of Naji.
“There are some very unique ideas there,” Imani said. “It was a collaboration for Karri and I to understand these concepts and then bring them to life so beautifully.”
The back of Naji and the Mystery of the Dig is filled with study guides and supplemental information. Imani even has extra information on his website, najistories.com, including recipes for dishes Naji enjoys in the book. There are sections specifically tailored for parents, teachers, and students.
Arts Editor Joe Payne also enjoys floating his tea. Contact him at [email protected].