In Rosenblatt’s ambitious debut novel, Reza, a 12-year-old Iranian boy, clings to friendship and his love of music as the Iran-Iraq War tears his world apart.
Reza’s father has died in the war, and Reza’s mother, who follows the Great Leader without thinking, would be proud if he suffered the same fate. At school, a mullah comes to recruit boys, enticing them with the promise of riches and beautiful women in the afterlife if they die in the war. When tragedy strikes his family again, taking the life of his only supportive relative, Reza decides to follow his best friend and enlist. After a horrifying battle scene, Reza ends up in a prisoner-of-war camp, where he befriends boys who have abandoned faith in the war and in Islam, as he has, and clashes with the judgmental bully who remains pro-revolution and continues practicing Islam. The characterization of Muslims tends to conflate religious faith with violence, sympathetic characters rejecting both while most evil characters embrace both. The notable exception to this rule dies early in the story; although Reza returns to Islam toward the end, it is too late to counteract this simplistic tendency. The Irish foreign-aid worker who teaches at the camp is the most well-developed secondary character, perhaps not surprising, since the author’s main source consists of an aid worker’s accounts. Absent from the source notes are written accounts by Iranians who lived through the war, which may have helped breathe life into the Iranian characters as well.
Reza’s story is compelling, but the simplistic depiction of secondary characters as good Muslims and bad Muslims turns a complicated historical subject into a setting that reinforces stereotypes many Westerners hold. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 11-14)