Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Age of Orphans, by Laleh Khadivi (2009)

An unexpected find on the shelves of our library...

Laleh Khadivi, the author, was born in Esfahan, Iran, in 1977, to a Kurdish father and an Esfahani mother. Her family fled Iran after the revolution there, and they lived in many places (including Belgium) before settling in North America. Khadivi is a filmmaker and this is her first novel.

The story begins with a small Kurdish boy who lives in a remote area of what is now Iran, in a tiny village with his mother and father at the beginning of the 1920's. He is soon taken by his father and all the other male villagers to a valley where he undergoes the traditional ritual that makes him a man. At the age of 9 or 10, along with all the other Kurdish men, he sets off to defend their territory against the nationbuilding that is going on in the name of the Shah of Iran. They are crushed by the Iranian army and the boy, orphaned, is brought up in the Iranian military, as the captain's pet at first, and then later as a talented soldier.

He is given an Iranian name, Reza, and takes on an Iranian identity, foresaking his Kurd roots as much as he can, in spite of his tell-tale green eyes. He eventually makes his way to the capital city, Tehran, where he finds a young wife in the Iranian middle class. His superiors, pleased with they way he has developed into the ideal Iranian soldier, decide to send him back as a captain to the Kurd region where they expect he will have special talent in dealing with the local population, as he understands the language and the customs.

Back in the landscape that evokes his childhood, Reza's facade slowly begins to crack, as he loses control over his wife, who after bearing seven children will die in tragic circumstances, leaving the children to flutter away from their father and the father to end his days in the place he started it.

The story is a commentary on identity, on minorities, on poverty, and on the unique position of the nationless in this world. It explains a small part of the situation of the Kurdish people and why they struggle on without their own nation to this day. It is also a shocking look into the cruel life of a boy taken from his mother, the only love he knew, and thrown into an army and forced to be brutal and deny anything that ever defined him. At times I was really in awe of the author's ability to get inside this man's head.

This is not an upbeat, uplifting book but it is certainly thought-provoking and will stay with you long after you have finished it.

1 comment:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Thanks, Amy, this sounds good. I'll post it on Book Around the World in a few days. My best friend, who has no family in the area, has been in the hospital for eight days (so far), and I'm trying to feed her cat and take care of things for her.