Sunday's Silence

How different is Iran from Appalachia? Iranian-born writer Nahai's first two novels, Cry of the Peacock and Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, were set in her native land, to great effect and rave reviews. Now, in a thoughtfully executed third novel, Nahai takes on Appalachia, illuminating another region whose people are united by a fundamentalist faith, their beliefs as exotic to, and misunderstood by, most Western readers as those of the people of Iran. Foreign correspondent Adam Watkins is stationed in Lebanon when he receives news that Little Sam Jenkins, the father he barely knew, has died of snakebite. A snake-handling preacher who had survived nine decades of hard living and 446 snakebites, Sam finally succumbed to the venom of a snake given to him by Blue, a gorgeous Kurdish woman born in Iraq, and herself a skilled snake-handler who never fit in with the Holy Rollers. Adam, having tried for 18 years to create a new life for himself, returns home looking for answers: What drove Sam? And was Blue merely testing Sam's faith, or did she intend to kill him? A strong sense of geography and religious history provides the backdrop as Nahai explores the enigma of charisma, opening a window on an insular world and rendering the "other" America explicable. Alternating with Adam's story is the first-person account of Blue, her voice charged with the mythic, seductive power of a Scheherazade. Faith versus fanaticism, fear as a motivating force for seeking salvation these themes are examined, as events both tragic and redemptive unfold. This multifaceted work expands Nahai's fictional universe in new and curiously fitting directions. Agent, Barbara Lowenstein. (Nov. 1)Forecast: Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith was a bestseller on the West Coast and has been translated into 16 languages. The Appalachia setting of Nahai's latest may startle her fans and lead to slow sales at first, but strong reviews should attract new readers.

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