The tender unmaking of a boy child

2010-05-19 00:00

IN the mountains of Kurdistan in 1921, a small Kurdish boy dreams of flying free like the falcons. From his mountain village to being orphaned in battle and conscripted into the army of the new shah of Iran — where he is renamed Reza after the shah — the novel traces his life and his army career.

The novel is divided into five “books” written in a poetic almost mythic prose that is at the same time penetrating, particular and direct. Khadivi infuses Reza’s story with a profound sense of destiny, division and loss.

Her unflinching yet tender telling of the unmaking of a boy into something­ broken and brutal, speaks for all child soldiers and their victims.

The second book about the young cadet is searingly painful, but Khadivi enables the reader to reach a disquieting and sorrowful understanding despite the shocking cruelty she describes. To gaze into the child soldier’s broken heart of darkness, and to enable the reader to do this with her, is an achievement of considerable power.

The third book takes the orphaned soldier to Tehran and this transition, accompanied by a shift to a more conventional narration of the details of his life, is almost inevitably awkward given the traumatic nature­ of what has gone before.

Nevertheless, how Reza adapts to city life, the colourful characters he meets, his marriage and all that follows­ is coherent with his early life.

The novel is unusual in its immense scope coupled with intimate detail, in its use of different points of view to propel the story, and in its courage to confront the paradoxes of love and lovelessness. Although not for the faint- hearted, Khadivi’s sheer guts in exploring the roots of brutality coupled with her compassion and insight gives the reader some support through difficult terrain.

In a story at once epic and personal, Khadivi’s falcon-like vision — both expansive and acute — encompasses the fracture and loneliness of Reza and of all the Earth’s unhomed orphans.

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