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Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian [in Shelf Awareness}

Prolifically published in his native Farsi, Amir Ahmadi Arian makes his English-language debut with Then the Fish Swallowed Him, a disturbingly irresistible novel exposing the invalidity of truth and lies under a despotic regime. Growing up in a volatile, politically fractured society and losing both parents as a teenager, Yunus Turabi eschews affiliations, groups, even personal relationships. He’s spent his adult life as a Tehran bus driver, allowing him a solitary existence surrounded by strangers. His inadvertent involvement with the bus drivers’ strike has him scrambling to the relative safety of a bus rooftop, from which he reluctantly bears witness to the vicious pandemonium. When he returns to his route three days later, violence looms, and he ferociously attacks a young agitator just 10 minutes before his final stop. He’s immediately arrested, blindfolded, hands zip-tied, and then transferred from the police station to Evin, a notorious bastion of torture and disappearance. His one constant contact is Hajj Saeed, a man capable of savagery who can be overheard lovingly speaking to his wife and son. Reality turns surreal as truth becomes impossibly irrelevant amidst the need to survive.

In seeking his own safety, Arian left Iran in 2011 to earn a comparative literature PhD in Australia. He arrived in the US in 2016 to complete an MFA at New York University and now teaches creative writing at CUNY. Raised in a country devastated by the Iran-Iraq War, Arian lives with PTSD: “Between silence and speech lies the act of writing,” he reveals in an essay previously published in Guernica: “This is where I seek my remedy.” His fiction proves to be his best antidote.

Discover: An Iranian writer’s potent first novel in English follows a Tehrani bus driver’s journey from solitary citizen to tortured imprisonment.

Review: “Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, April 7, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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