An impressive collection about relationships in a turbulent Iran that offers powerful insights.

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Based on her interviews with men who lived through the Iranian Revolution, the author delivers eight short stories that examine the human condition.

Moving freely between past and present, these narratives pit the romantic idealism of youth against the sobering reality of growing up, growing old, and growing apart. In “The Paris of the Middle East,” Nader Moradi and Mahta are young visionaries whose attempt to emulate the bohemian lifestyle of the European luminaries they so admire is thwarted by societal pressures to conform. Five years later, she lies in a hospital bed as he berates her for birthing a child he never wanted. Similarly, “Where Are We? We Are Here.” presents an unhappy marriage between Ali and Mariam, former political prisoners whose union was predicated on love notes and imagined similarities: “They had exchanged only momentary glances....Only short letters written in ink. And ink has its own enemies—air, water, time. It has an evaporating quality, just like love.” In “Errand Boy,” Hamid falls for Raha, a wealthy girl who frequents the yarn shop where he works, pursues her a bit too earnestly, and must settle for an arranged marriage after her family sends her away to escape his advances. These men are casualties of the times they live in, denied happiness for the sake of survival. So, too, is Iran itself. These engrossing tales with strongly drawn characters are also about a country halted in its tracks, an era of budding equality and freedom in the 1970s that gave way to years of shortages, rampant incarceration, paranoia, and morality police during the revolution. Even afterward, there are ex-soldiers broken by war, families torn apart by emigration, and residents challenged by a lingering sense of loyalty to the country that betrayed them. As Kousha (Voices from Iran, 2002) deftly observes: “They carried the unbearable weight of loss—loss of hope.” They also shoulder sacrifice, devotion, passion, shame, and regret. From “Father,” a brief glimpse of a husband tenderly caring for his wife after she miscarries, to “Second Marriage,” in which the protagonist grapples with the loss of his childhood sweetheart in an earthquake, these evocative stories artfully explore every facet of humanity.

An impressive collection about relationships in a turbulent Iran that offers powerful insights.

Pub Date: April 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5450-8037-5

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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