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Young Iranians cope with political repression, poverty and sexual exploitation in this searing collection of stories.

Iranian-Canadian journalist and law student Delforoush condensed hundreds of interviews into these absorbing fictionalized tales of life under the Islamic Republic’s suffocating theocracy. The constraints on self-expression are a particularly galling issue for his mainly youthful protagonists, who include an aspiring hip-hop singer who faces prison, flogging and the ruin of his family for creating forbidden Western music and a gay student who must choose between an arranged marriage and a lifestyle of furtive, dangerous pickups. Several stories explore the plight of Iranian women, whose lack of rights leaves them prey to subjugation, harassment and violence: A wealthy jeweler abuses a succession of women, including his wife; a call girl faces a stern sentence from a puritanical cleric—unless she submits to being his sex slave; a middle-aged woman enmeshed in a lawsuit must fight a world of sexist men, from the judge to her own husband, to get justice. In other stories, characters face a grinding battle against a stagnant economy that offers few prospects. For example, a man piles on three jobs to keep his family fed, one of them an illegal gig distributing DVDs, and a working-class mechanic resorts to increasingly desperate measures to pay his mother’s hospital bills while fending off the temptation of drugs. Delforoush’s characters share their nerve-racking vulnerability—to tyrannical bosses and overbearing mullahs, to stray men who upbraid women as whores if a stray hair escapes from a headscarf, and especially to undercover cops ready to pounce on any flicker of dissent. (In the collection’s most harrowing story, a female activist caught by the secret police is threatened with rape unless she betrays her comrades.) Delforoush’s prose occasionally slips into polemic, especially in his reportorial introductions. But he serves up nuanced psychological portraits of an extraordinary range of characters—and of the subtle corruptions worked on them by a profoundly unfree society.

A hard-hitting exploration of Iran’s dark realities.

Page count: 254pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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