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The Immortals of Tehran by Ali Araghi [in Shelf Awareness]

Ali Araghi begins his prodigious debut novel with a literal bang: once upon a time in an apple orchard, a returning soldier urges his rifle into his son’s hands, forcing the boy to shoot him. The shocking tragedy renders 10-year-old Ahmad mute, and has significant familial, societal, and political repercussions, set against the backdrop of tumultuous 20th-century Iran. The family’s ancient patriarch Agha attempts to enlighten Ahmad, his great-great-great-great-great-grandson, with a fantastical story involving a desert community of humans and cats who once co-existed but devolved into viciously murderous enemies, a tale revealed to be less myth than family curse. Ahmad’s grandfather Khan remains aware of feline-initiated prescient warnings – especially of impending disasters – throughout his own long life.

Determined to give his only heir a future beyond their village, Khan hires a Russian polyglot to make Ahmad fluent in French in preparation for sending him to Paris to become a lawyer. That overseas migration never happens, but the extended family soon moves to Tehran, where Ahmad eventually becomes a lauded poet. He marries, fathers two daughters, and discovers a son who will never acknowledge him. His grandfather continues building rooms to keep the family together; his mother talks to the dead; his childhood best friend turns revolutionary, then prisoner. Through his seven decades, Ahmad will learn, love, endure, run, return – where his voice fails, his writing enables.

Tehran-born author and translator Araghi has clearly been immersed in the composition of words for decades. From that adroit fluency emerges The Immortals of Tehran, an impeccably realized literary gift for discerning readers.

Discover: This superb debut follows an extended Iranian family through feline curse, daily survival, unintended betrayals, and the transformative power of language.

Review: “Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, April 28, 2020

Reader: Adult

Published: 2020


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