The Age of Orphans, By Laleh Khadivi

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Laleh Khadivi's The Age of Orphans has something in common with Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. It's a historical novel focused on one individual, and shows both the destruction of that individual and the culture which gave him birth.

Reza Pejman Khourdi (as he comes to be named) is a Kurd who is savagely orphaned at the age of eight, abducted by the Shah's troops and raised as a soldier in the army of the new Iran.

It's a slow, sad story, spanning the years from 1921 to 1978. With great psychological acuity, Khadivi shows how Reza's character is fatally split, and the lengths to which he goes to suppress the Kurd within. He becomes a brutal oppressor of his own people, a killer and rapist. But Khadivi's concern is not to condemn but to understand; one can't help but feel sympathy for the innocent little Kurdish boy trapped within the monster he becomes.

Khadivi also supplies other perspectives: the thoughts of Reza's victims, his commanding officer, his wife, his children. The style is poetic, intense and lyrical, even when describing events of great brutality. It takes a little while to get into – Khadivi certainly doesn't spoon-feed the reader. But persevere: it's worth it.