First-time Iranian author Baharloo (Houston, Texas–based) depicts the harried life of an indentured servant to a once-powerful family who lose everything as Iran’s rulers assert their will.
Spanning the seminal years from 1928 to 1981, the story begins with the birth of Sarveali in 1928. Soon an orphan, Sarveali, a runt of a boy, is indentured by his uncle Barat-Ali at the age of six to the Great Khan of the Shirlu dynasty. Barat-Ali is greedy, unscrupulous, and abusive, not only insisting that Sarveali’s wages be paid to him, but also raping him before depositing him at the Khans’ great estate in the mountains. There, Sarveali becomes the servant of the Khans’ second son, Teimour, a moody and handsome lad to whom Sarveali is soon passionately attached. The estate, which Baharloo luminously describes, is still run on feudal lines: there are zebra hunts, feasts, and the making of the famous quince preserves after first extracting the seeds. The Khans are all powerful and prodigal in their appetites, but Iran is changing, and the old ways are doomed. In the 1940s, when Reza Shah organizes a military attack on all the Khans, Sarveali’s Khan is arrested and dies in prison, the property is ransacked, and eldest son Changiz becomes head of the family. The Khans enjoy a brief reprieve after Reza Shah is deposed, but Reza Shah’s son, who succeeds him, implements land reforms that drastically reduce their land-holdings. As the Khans’ fortunes decline and Teimour moves abroad, Sarveali is forced to marry his cousin Yazgulu, but, in love with Teimour, he’s unable to consummate his marriage. Ashamed of his impotence and angered by Yazgulu’s flagrant adulteries, he kills her in a drunken rage. In prison, he becomes an opium addict, but the Khans need him, and, released from prison, he remains loyal as the Shah is succeeded by the Mullahs, and Teimour comes home to die.
On balance, more a vivid portrait than gripping narrative.