Zod Yadegar has written his daughter Noor in California asking that she return home to Tehran where he runs the family business Cafe Leila. She agrees to come and brings along her angry teenage daughter Lily. Noor, a nurse, notices her father appears to be ill but is not aware how sick he is. She soon learns he has terminal pancreatic cancer and decides to stay longer than the week she had originally planned to stay. This, of course, upsets Lily who did not want to come to Tehran anyway. While she is there, Noor gets reacquainted with longtime Cafe Leila employees Naneh Goli, Soli, and Ala who have always been considered family.
The family saga alternates between Noor's family problems, Zod's marriage and family life with Noor's mother Parvaneh, and Zod's parents Yanik and Nina who emigrated to Iran from Russia and opened Cafe Leila. Yanik and Nina created a tight family bond that begins to fall apart after Zod forced his children to leave Iran when they became college age and the country became too dangerous to live in. However, when Zod's kids return 30 years later the family bond appears to still be alive.
The setting of the restaurant and food is prominent. All life problems seem to be solved by working hard to create an inviting place for their customers. While Iran has changed over the years, Cafe Leila has not changed one bit and offers its customers a respite from a quickly changing society.
I loved this debut novel by Donia Bijan. The characters were loveable and I enjoyed reading about the history of this family through each generation's stories. The descriptions of the food served at the restaurant not only made me hungry but was also historical to the family. Yanik brought his mother's recipes with him went he came to Iran. Every aspect of this wonderful book is family related.