The poignant, brilliantly told story of a unique and troubled childhood.
Granta and Paris Review contributor Sayrafiezadeh writes captivatingly of his strange, lonely upbringing as the child of radical socialists in 1970s New York. His Iranian-born father, who abandoned the family when the author was an infant, and American-Jewish mother fervently believed that the United States would soon be transformed by a bloody revolution, and both worked tirelessly for the Socialist Workers Party to bring about that revolution. Sayrafiezadeh writes of dreamlike days standing on street corners with his mother as she tried to sell copies of the party newspaper, The Militant. He grew up in grinding poverty, not because his parents had no choice—both were highly educated—but because of their dogmatic anti-capitalist views. For their young son, the vow of poverty meant personal deprivation and, often, bitterness. Sayrafiezadeh movingly relates his consuming craving as a preschooler for grapes, forbidden in his household because of a boycott supporting a migrant workers’ strike. Some of his stories are almost surreal. When he asked his mother to buy him a skateboard, she replied, “Once the revolution comes, everyone will have a skateboard, because all skateboards will be free.” One night when she had a meeting to attend, she left her four-year-old son home with a “comrade” she had met only two days earlier who sexually abused the boy. Later chapters detail the author’s difficult relationship with his colorful but standoffish father, whom he got to know only when he was nearly an adult, as well as the prejudices he faced as an Iranian-American during the hostage crisis of 1979–’80. An enormously talented writer, Sayrafiezadeh ably conveys a complex blend of affection and anger toward his deeply flawed parents in deftly controlled prose.
An excellent memoir. Sayrafiezadeh is a writer to watch.