In 1921 Persia, after a battlefield massacre, a Kurdish orphan is conscripted into the shah’s army and given a new identity.
Khadivi’s debut spans almost six decades, during which the boy, renamed Reza Khourdi by the authorities, first proves his loyalty and his brutality and then—on the ground that his knowledge of Kurdish deviousness will be invaluable—is promoted to captain and sent to his hometown, Kermanshah. Reza’s task is to be ruthless in stamping out revolts. The homecoming reignites old emotions, reminds Reza of the innocent falcon-loving mama’s boy he once was but can never be again—and threatens to crack his façade and cost him the authority that is his dearest, almost his only, possession. Before his return, Reza marries a Tehrani woman, Meena. Their tragic, loveless marriage yields six children, until Reza—his wife is eight months pregnant with their seventh child—one day poisons her tea. When her brothers come up from the capital and confront him with the overwhelming evidence of his crime—Meena’s blood contains cyanide, arsenic and bleach—Reza, in the book’s most chilling scene, makes a ceremony of surrendering and has himself locked up by his adjutant, the jailer in the town’s one cell, which has never before been used. The magistrate, another underling, takes down the brothers’ evidence, laughing all the while. The next morning, Reza has himself released.
The historical material has unmistakable power, but the book is somewhat marred by a false and overlush lyricism.