The ne’er-do-well scion of a Tehran merchant family emerges from war determined to recover what he lost—an arm, a lover, and crucial memories—in this multilayered, hypnotic tale.
In 1980s Iran, Amir Yamini coolly plays the libertine until one relationship grows serious, then unravels badly. The devastated young man seeks numbness in alcohol, but his drunkenness brings a horrific flogging of 80 lashes. He then enlists in the military during the Iran-Iraq War without telling his family. An explosion takes his left arm and lands him in a hospital for shellshock victims, where his mother and sister find him after a five-year search and take him home. The novel actually starts at this point and soon reveals Amir’s patchy memory and his obsession with finding his left arm to learn whether he was wearing a gold ring linked to his last lost love. History and politics, Islam and Morality Police permeate without overwhelming the narrative as it shifts between Amir’s present and past. His relationship with his sister is also a rich, tender thread throughout. Mandanipour, an Iranian writer whose first novel in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story (2009), elicited allusions to M.C. Escher and Rubik’s Cube, does not do things simply here in his second, either. Sections alternate between a scribe “on his right shoulder” and one on his left, like good and bad angels, providing both omniscient narrative and Amir’s first-person reveries. The device suggests Amir’s unsteady grasp of reality, his own story, as his damaged, drifting mind tries to paste together dimly recalled shards of a broken life. The prose also reveals a writer in total control, easily moving from the banter of youth to lyrical or sensual flights befitting Amir’s former liking for poetry and seduction, to Persian folktales or hallucinatory fever dreams from a brain unhinged by battle, medication, and remorse.
A remarkable vision of the elusiveness of redemption and love.