The Last Days of Café Leila Summary & Study Guide

Bijan, Donia
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The Last Days of Caf Leila Summary & Study Guide Description

The Last Days of Caf Leila Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Last Days of Caf Leila by Bijan, Donia .

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Bijan, Donia. The Last Days of Café Leila. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2017.

The novel opens in Tehran, Iran, in Café Leila, a family-owned and operated café that has been owned by the same family for generations. The café owner, Zod, is anxiously awaiting a letter from his daughter living in The United States. The two have lived apart for many years but stay connected through their letters. The post arrives, and Zod holds on to his daughter’s precious letter for the rest of his busy day. On the same day, Zod's daughter, Noor, is making her husband an anniversary picnic in her kitchen in San Francisco. She thinks of her father and her connection with him in the family’s kitchen back in Iran. She loves cooking for her family and feels that food is the way to show her family how much she loves them. Noor carefully packs the picnic and frolics off to work excited to see how Nelson reacts to her hard work. She arrives in the nurse’s station at the hospital where Noor works with her husband, Nelson, and finds a bouquet of flowers along with a note asking to cancel their anniversary dinner. Noor does not want her hard work to go to waste, so she delivers the picnic to her hard working husband but finds Nelson flirting with a woman in the parking lot instead. Noor knows instantly that Nelson is having an affair with the woman he is touching in the parking lot. She does not fight, and the two are divorced quickly and rather amicably, with Noor realizing that she has known all along that Nelson would be a habitual cheater. They have a teenage daughter named Lily. She moves into a new apartment with Noor, but she blames Noor for the divorce and punishes her with harsh insults each time her mother tries talking to her.

Noor feels completely lost in her life. She has no idea why she is living where she is or why she is working the job she works. She feels empty inside and knows she is missing something but does not know what that missing element is. Noor receives a letter from Zod urging her to visit him in Iran. Noor is in her darkest hour; she is hopeless and feels she has nothing to lose if she picks up and moves to Tehran for a while. Noor remembers her happy childhood in Café Leila, and she wants to recreate that happiness within herself. She drags her unwilling daughter along with her so she can meet her relatives and see Café Leila for the first time. Noor quits her job and flies with her daughter to Tehran in the summer of 2015. Zod knows his daughter is coming. He feels it is a blessing that his daughter is finally coming home to visit her hometown. He sent Noor and her brother, Mehrdad, to the US after the Iranian revolution altered his perception of Iran. Noor’s arrival brings about Zod’s nostalgic memories of his on childhood in Café Leila. His parents, Yanik and Nina, leave Russia for Iran in the hopes of establishing a family in a safe and peaceful place. They quickly learn the local culture and start their own family café that remains a staple in the Tehran community for many years to come. Zod was born into the café, and he watched his mother cook every day, pouring her love into the recipes she prepares for both the family and the customers. Zod moves to Paris in order to study architecture. He established a happy life for himself in Paris but was called back to Café Leila after his older brother died in a car accident. Zod left Paris behind and never returned because he was married shortly after his brother’s funeral. Davoud, his older brother who died, was engaged to a girl named Pari, and the families did not want to cancel their deal with one another. They asked Zod to marry Davoud’s fiancé. Zod fell in love the moment he lid eyes on Pari. The two were wed shortly thereafter and lived together in Café Leila, helping Yanik and Nina run the café as they aged. Zod looks at Café Leila and appreciates the life it has provided for his parents, himself, and his children. The house goes into chaos as everyone prepares for Noor’s arrival. They prepare all of her favorite foods and hope it will make Noor feel like she is back at home.

Naneh Goli is a long-time friend of the family. She first appeared in the family’s home when she began working as Zod’s nanny, but her husband’s untimely death resulted in her moving into Café Leila. She has never left the café nor Zod, and Naneh Goli does the majority of the cooking in the family’s kitchen. She prepares a feast for Noor, and she is pleased when Noor enters the café and is overwhelmed by all of the food she worked hard to prepare. While Noor feels back at home, Lily feels overcome by the feeling of being a foreigner. She hides in her room for the first four days and refuses to leave. Noor is hopeless. She does not feel better after her arrival in Tehran and Lily is irate. She calls Lily’s father, who convinces her to leave her bedroom within minutes of talking to her, and Noor is reminded of how much her daughter likes Nelson more than her.

Lily leaves her room, and Zod jumps up with excitement to be able to share a moment with his granddaughter for the first time ever. They cannot communicate with one another because Lily does not know Farsi, but that does not stop Zod from going on and one about the people in the family photos that line the home’s walls. Lily feels uncomfortable in Tehran. She sees it as a foreign land she will never belong to, and, although she feels this way, she shows her feelings as anger rather than talking to her mother. Meanwhile, Noor revels in how happy she feels to be back in Tehran. She remembers the fateful day that her father shoved her onto a plane set for San Francisco. She spent her first years in California feeling like a complete alien, and, while she feels like Iran is different from what she know today, Noor is open to reinventing herself back to the version of herself she was from her childhood. Lily’s response to her arrival in Iran also sparks Zod’s memories of how he felt like an outsider when he first arrived in Paris, which then brings him back to his unplanned marriage to Pari. The two fell in love righ away and spent several happy years married to one another. Pari was a professional singer who often when to England for performances. The revolution altered everything in their lives outside of the café, and Pari was arrested when she asked a cab driver to turn off a religious sermon while he was driving her home. Pari was arrested, beaten, interrogated, and raped until she confessed to multiple crimes she did not commit. She is murdered in her jail cell, and the reminder of just how much Iran has changed after the revolution creates a paranoid Zod who does not want his children in Iran any longer. Noor’s presence in his home now brings him back to the terrible day when he shipped his children to a foreign land and had to resolve himself to knowing he would live apart from them forever. Noor’s presence makes Zod incredibly happy and centered, and even Naneh Goli and the other café workers are invigorated by their guest’s presence.

There is an errand boy who lives and works in Café Leila. Karim is a young orphan who was taken in by his uncle after the boy’s family died. He sees Lily in the kitchen one day and falls in love with her in an instant. He wants to make the surly Lily smile, so he brings her a kitten off the street. The two begin spending time with one another, and Noor encourages them to spend time with one another so that Lily can have a friend and might be able to learn a bit of Farsi. They become inseparable because they have only one another. Lily spends more and more time in the café, feeling slightly more at home with each passing day. Noor settles back into living with her father and spending her days as a daughter. She learns that Zod has fatal pancreatic cancer that he will not be treating. Noor decides that she and Lily will remain in Tehran until her father dies, but Zod does not want his two precious girls to remain in Iran, where their rights and freedoms no longer exist. Noor is romanced by the feeling of being back home and chooses to ignore just how different Iran is for women compared to her life in San Francisco.

Lily has fun with Karim, but she hates that her mother has turned a two-week trip to Iran into an indefinite jail sentence in Café Leila. She asks Karim to help her run away to the airport. He reluctantly agrees because he loves her, but he knows that her request is dangerous and risky. Lily wants him to steal his father’s motorcycle, take her swimming during the men’s only swimming hours in the public pool, and then dash her off to the airport. Karim cuts her hair so she looks like a male, and the two walk into the swimming area, knowing that they are breaking serious laws by bringing a female into the men’s swimming area. They are almost caught, so they decide to leave the pool right away. Karim pulls over at a market while driving to the airport. They witness a young girl getting attacked by a group of boys. She rejected a marriage proposal just a few days earlier and his punishment was to throw acid on her face. Lily and Karim take the young girl to Café Leila, where they believe Noor can nurse the girl back to health. The girl, Ferry, loses her sight in one eye, and, as a result of becoming social shunned in her community; her family throws her out of their home. Ferry has nowhere to go, so Noor decides to let the girl live with Lily at the Café. The three children are best friends and share their own common language. Noor’s heart breaks for Ferry as a victim of a society she does not approve of. She visits a judge and applies to legally adopt Ferry.

Zod’s health begins failing, and Noor calls her brother to come for their father’s final days. Her brother arrives in Iran with his wife and Noor’s ex-husband, Nelson. He has come for the funeral but also to try and win Noor back. Zod dies and Naneh Goli, his oldest and most trusted friend, prepares him for his funeral. She reflects on hos many years she has been with the family and wonders how many more people she will outlive. Everyone working at the café wonders what will happen to them now that Zod is gone. The family buries Zod, and his children go to the airport with the intention of flying back home to California. Noor learns that her adoption is approved, so she is now Ferry’s legal guardian. Noor decides to stay in Iran. She sends Nelson and Lily back to the US and remains in Café Leila, where she feels happy and at home. She home schools Ferry and stays to help her with surgeries that should make her look less maimed from the acid attack. Noor feels as though she has found the one place in he world she should be, and she is comforted knowing Lily is in a place with many opportunities while she provides opportunities for Ferry than she would ever have without her.

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