Shahriar Mandanipour comes to the blog today with a story full of history, magic and love in the turbulent setting of Iran. Translation provided by Khalili Sara, please read on for my review of
Never quite sure what I was looking for, Mandanipour and this magical, fantastical tale dragged me into Iran, providing a tour through the good, the bad and even the heartbreaking moments. I have to admit to a fascination with the richness of Iranian and Persian culture – a history that predates most European countries, never mind the US. But the only way, I believe, to achieve that balance and sense of who the people are is (for me) in translation. While I can’t attest to the translation, this story is rich with characters who fairly breathe in the corners as you read, lush descriptions and turn of phrase that feels as “other’ as it is easy to understand.
Amir served in the war, lost a limb and was committed to an asylum for treatment of soldiers with shell-shock. Found by his sister, she brings him home to live and recover, perhaps regain his memories and somehow bring a sense of solace and repair to the family. Pre-War, he was a playboy, causing his parents much grief, although now he’s haunted by a vision of a woman that he believes is his fiancé – convinced the woman with the crescent-shaped mark on her forehead was imprisoned in his family home. Now he is determined to find her, this woman he’s named “Moon Brow”, an action complicated by the family guards – treating him as a hero of the Revolution, yet cautious and containing the madman he’s become. Enlisting help and friendship, his humor and two scribes – an angel of virtue and one of sin, sitting on his shoulders as the quest to find his missing arm, with engagement ring on a finger.
Mandanipour straddles a line between virtue and vice, sanity and madness, as Amir retells his story. A delicate balance for a man who was often dislikable, frequently selfish and now in search of a sort of redemption as he tries to pull the puzzle that is his life and memories into a cogent whole. Consistently challenging the easy and expected choices with ones far more nuanced and human – full of the flaws that make Amir all too human as the story becomes a quest not only for the girl but for himself and his place in the family, his country and the world beyond. The unique prose and narration does take some adjustment, and you will find yourself marking passages to delve further into the politics, folktales and histories mentioned, but this serves only to show the sameness in desires, failings and choices that we all experience throughout our lives.
Title: Moon Brow
Author: Shahriar Mandanipour
Genre: Fantasy / Magical Realism, Literary Fiction, Magic, Political Elements, Setting: Iran
Published by: Restless Books
Published on: 24 April, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
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From “one of the leading novelists of our time” (The Guardian) comes a fantastically imaginative love story narrated by two angel scribes perched on the shoulders of a shell-shocked Iranian soldier searching for the mysterious woman who visits his dreams.
Before shrapnel severed his left arm during the Iran–Iraq war, Amir Khan lived the life of a carefree playboy. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers and bring him home to Tehran. His memories decimated, Amir is haunted by the vision of a mysterious woman he believes is his fiancée. He never sees her face: there is a shining crescent moon on her forehead, and he names her Moon Brow.
His sense of humor (though perhaps not his sanity) intact, Amir cajoles Reyhaneh into helping him find her. Reluctantly she agrees, if only to heal her ruptured family, reminding Amir that while he’d been tormenting their devout parents with his lovers and parties, she’d been a “headscarf-shrouded prisoner” in her powerful father’s house. Now Amir is the one who cannot escape the garden walls: his father’s guards hail him as a living martyr to the cause of Imam Khomeini and the Revolution, yet treat him as a dangerous madman. Amir decides there’s only one solution to his dilemma: return to the battlefield and find his severed arm—along with its engagement ring.
All the while, twin scribes—the angel of virtue and the angel of sin—sit on our hero’s shoulders and narrate the story in enthrallingly distinctive prose. Wildly inventive and radically empathetic, steeped in Persian folklore and contemporary Middle East history, Moon Brow is the great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour’s unforgettable epic of love, war, morality, faith, and family.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.