Sunday, 13 December 2009

Book of the Week - Laleh Khadivi, The Age of Orphans

Laleh Khadivi was born in Esfahan Iran and emigrated with her family shortly after the Iranian revolution. In 2002 she began to research the Kurds, particularly their fate in the southwestern region of Iran under the first Shah. Her debut novel, The Age of Orphans, is the first novel in a trilogy that follows the lives of three generations of Kurdish men as they grapple with landlessness, migration and national identity. She is the recipient of a Whiting Foundation Award, a Carl Djerassi Fellowship and an Emory Fiction Fellowship and has also worked extensively as a documentary filmmaker and received a number of grants and awards for her films about women in prison and the criminal justice system. Currently, she is at work on the second novel, The Walking, that tells the story of Reza Khourdi’s youngest son and his move to the United States. Signed copies of the first edition are currently available from several modern first specialists, and look like a good buy.

Kurdistan, Persia. A village high in the Zagros mountains. A small green-eyed boy wrestles free from his mother and climbs atop a straw and mud hut to gaze at the dusty landscape; the jagged mountains and azure sky, the cattle in the distance. With his arms stretched out beside him he pretends to be a bird, to lift up and soar over this land: the land of his fathers and forefathers. Kurdish land. Soon after the boy is ritually initiated into manhood, messengers from the hills bring whispers of war; rumours that the Shah's army is moving from village to village, stamping out any tribal rebellion that may stand in the way of the creation of a unified 'Iran'. Just nine years old, the boy must stand alongside his men and fight for their land. Years later, Reza Pahlavi Khourdi can only faintly recall the brutal murder of his father and cousins. Orphaned on the bloody battlefield, conscripted into the great column of the army and given a new name, he has quickly risen up the ranks, proving both his prowess in battle and allegiance to the Shah's troops. Now in Tehran, Reza is about to marry to a beautiful, educated, city girl, and become a Capitian. But there are stirrings within his heart. He will soon move west to be the Shah's servant in Kermanshah, the land of his birth, and a figurehead of modernization. At once rich and bleak, The Age of Orphans unleashes a tapestry of untold horrors and pleasures, of blood and smoke, hopes, dreams and desires. It is a profound and darkly poetic story of a land roughly sewn together under the ambitious imagining of a nation, and of the life of a boy whose identity does not - can not - unite with this vision.

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