Told with an evocative richness of language that recalls Michael Ondaatje or Anita Desai, the story of Reza Khourdi is that of the 20th century everyman, cast out from the clan in the name of nation, progress and modernity who cannot help but leave behind a shadow that yearns for the impossible dreams of love, land and home.
Before following his father into battle, he had been like any other Kurdish boy: in love with his Maman, fascinated by birds and the rugged Zagros mountains, dutiful to his stern and powerful Baba. But after he becomes orphaned in a massacre by the armies of Iran's new Shah, Reza Pahlavi I.; he is taken in by the very army that has killed his parents, re-named Reza Khourdi, and indoctrinated into the modern, seductive ways of the newly minted nation, careful to hide his Kurdish origins with every step.
The Age of Orphans follows Reza on his meteoric rise in ranks, his marriage to a proud Tehrani woman and his eventual deployment, as Capitan, back to the Zagros Mountains and the ever-defiant Kurds. Here Reza is responsible for policing, and sometimes killing, his own people, and it is here that his carefully crafted persona begins to fissure and crack.
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About the Author
Laleh Khadivi was born in Esfahan, Iran, in 1977. In the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution her family fled, finally settling in Canada and then the United States. Khadivi received her MFA from Mills College and was a Creative Writing Fellow in Fiction at Emory University. In 2008 she received The Whiting Writers' Award. In 2009 she published her first novel The Age of Orphans. Laleh Khadivi lives in California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Age of Orphans, by Laleh Khadivi grabs you by the soul and leads you through a land of beauty and pain, wisdom and arrogance, histories lost and created. Where a boy's journey is measured by stolen love, memories forgotten, maps that circle upon themselves and back again. I was taken to unknown worlds and misunderstood cultures and could not catch my breath. This book delights the heart and then tests its resilience. I could not put it down. I look forward to reading more of Khadivi's work.
The image of young Reza khoury running to his mother's bosom to feel whole and secure to the old man sitting on the mountains contemplating his life will never leave me. Khadivi weaves magic with her use if words and imagery as she tells us the story of Reza made orphan by her nation's quest to establish an iranian identity. This is one of the most beautifully written and powerful books i have ever read.
This is a bit of a hard book to review. There were times while reading it that I nearly stopped because it got a bit hard to swallow. But I persevered and I believe the effort was worth it. Reza Pejman Khourdi is a Kurdish young boy who is violently conscripted into the Iranian army after his father and other male relatives are brutally slain in battle. For two years he drifts in a haze of service to his village's murderers, carrying out their every whim. He is the plaything of the soldiers who use him in every manner imaginable. Through it all he longs for his mother with whom he shared a close if strange bond. But his past life is now dead and buried and he must forge a new existence out of the life he is given. A brotherhood begins to form amongst the young soldiers who are all weapons in training for the shah. They share their loneliness and need to make sense of this new life alongside their hopes for the future. But that brotherhood quickly evaporates with one visit from the shah who extols the willing enlistees (usually boys from Tehran) over the conscripts(usually Kurds). The boys go from being allies to being competitors and adversaries. Reza realizes the status quo very quickly and distinguishes himself as hardworking, brutal and willing to do anything to climb the military ladder. He disavows his Kurdish self, in one instance very violently, and does everything to show his superiors that he regards the Kurds with even more contempt than they could muster. His reward for this is his promotion to the rank of captain and being given charge of Kermanshah, a Kurdish region. He is tasked with controlling the people and bringing them firmly under the yoke of the shah. He gladly carries out the shah's vision of a new nation, Iran, built on veneration of the shah, centralization of the language and destruction of any dissenting voices. But in Reza's later years, there is a softening of his grip, it is as if he loses the struggle between his Kurdish and Iranian self and is lost from both identities. There is so much violence, savagery and brutality in this book. Women are raped, children are killed and lives are destroyed. The language is many times very crass and that coupled with the aforementioned made me want to stop reading. But despite these facts there is something poetic in the way that the author uses language. You sometimes feel like you are reading a poem written in ancient times. The story is sad and speaks to a loss of identity in the face of a dominant culture. What effect does forced assimilation have on a people? At some point after denying your true self for so long, does this destroy you? This is definitely not a book for everyone. Some will take to it and some will be repulsed by it. This book is apparently the first in a trilogy about three generations of Kurdish men.