In this awkward second novel, a young man flees Iran in the wake of the 1979 revolution that deposed the Shah and installed the mullahs.
See the refugee. Watch him cross the border. See him adrift in a strange city. Seventeen-year-old Saladin is an ethnic Kurd and an Iranian citizen. His father was the protagonist of Khadivi’s debut (The Age of Orphans, 2009), a police captain who did the Shah’s dirty work; now he goes along with the mullahs’ decision to execute some Kurdish “rebels” in a remote valley. However, Saladin’s big brother Ali shoots three of the firing squad, and the brothers race away. So, very specifically, Saladin is fleeing a crime scene, but too often he is the Universal Refugee, the one with nothing but the shirt on his back. There are other refugees, more well-heeled; they are not individuated, but given voice through the first-person plural. It’s a tricky device, and it distracts from Saladin’s story, especially when Khadivi intrudes, cataloging the eventual destinations of the migrants, with Los Angeles absorbing the largest number. It’s Saladin’s destination too. We see him walking the streets; half-heartedly seeking work at a steelworks and a gas station; spending long hours in cinemas, for he has inherited his mother’s love of movies. Khadivi details his escape with his brother in flashbacks: their ride with smugglers into Turkey, followed by a hellish journey on a freighter to the Azores, where they part company, Saladin stowing away on a flight to California. None of this achieves the drama of the execution scene; nor do Saladin’s travails in Tinseltown. When Americans are taken hostage in Tehran, Saladin the scapegoat is beaten up in a bar before meeting his savior, an indulgent Iranian rug seller who hires him on the spot. Even his encounter with a young Afghan woman, an apprentice streetwalker, goes nowhere.
More an outline than a fully realized novel.