By People Staff
April 13, 1987 12:00 PM

by Diane Johnson

It is 1978. A California doctor’s wife, Chloe Fowler, who has dabbled as a lecturer at an art museum, leaves with her husband for Iran, where he is to work at a hospital. During a stop in London, the husband gets a message that his partner has been injured. He flies home, insisting Chloe go on without him. In Iran, the Shah, though ill, is still in control. Chloe settles into the small, filthy apartment supplied by the hospital, checks in with the university where she is to study Persian pottery and for the first time as an adult takes up a life away from her husband and two children. The group she becomes part of in Iran is made up of doctors and their wives, and they picnic and visit digs in a land where revolution is imminent. At the bottom of a cave, the group finds an injured man who later dies. The hospital morgue and the police won’t take him. He looks American, but the U.S. Embassy refuses the corpse too. When a doctor with whom she had been flirting back in the States shows up, Chloe has an affair with him. Johnson, author of Lying Low, is still interested in the U.S. civil disturbances of the ’60s, and she filters some of the Iranian crisis through that experience. The characters in Persian Nights are educated, promiscuous, lively, and the plot is suspenseful. Chloe is not at all likable, yet she asks an important question: “How do you profit from experience anyhow? Can you bank it, get interest, watch it grow? You grow sadder and wiser or older and wiser, but the corollary to wiser is always something undesirable.” Johnson understands the ways of both women and the world, and the fictional showcase she created for her ideas is elegant and polished. (Knopf, $17.95)