From a pseudonymous Iranian exile, now living in the US: a first novel that’s an eloquent indictment of authoritarian regimes—and yet is underpowered as narrative.
While Arash, the protagonist, tells the major part of the story, there are intervening sections that awkwardly interject the comments of a jailer, an investigator, and a female prisoner. Arash, in a hellhole of an Iranian prison, is close to death from untreated tuberculosis and the torture he’s undergone, yet he remains determined to tell his story. He wants the world and his fellow Iranians to know the truth about Khomeini, who promised so much but is no different from his predecessors. Like so many upper-class Iranians, Arash, while still in high school, fled with his mother and sister to America when the Shah was deposed and the revolution turned violent. As the years passed, and he still missed Iran, he decided in his early 20s to return. Having done so, he soon realizes, like other idealists, that Khomeini is as bad as the Shah, and now, in prison, he recalls the disillusionment of his return as he wandered around Tehran, met disaffected young women who picked up men, and made the decision that will cost him his life. Spurred by the remarks of Behrooz, an older friend, that to change the Mullahs is impossible, Arash decides to mount his own protest. He starts defacing the paper currency, on which Khomeini’s picture is printed; the notes, covered with slogans and graffiti, begin circulating, and Arash is pleased to see he is being imitated. But in Khomeini’s Iran, it’s only a matter of time before the authorities respond.
Uneven but, still, a moving lament for what could have been—and a grim reminder of the penalties for dissent.