The Immortals of Tehran by Ali Araghi is published with Melville House. It is described as a book ‘exploring the brutality of history while conjuring the astonishment of magical realism, a novel about the incantatory power of words and the revolutionary sparks of love, family, and poetry—set against the indifferent, relentless march of time’. Having never read a book about Iran or a book written by an Iranian author I was very intrigued by the premise of The Immortals of Tehran.
The book is set around the life of Ahmad Torkash-Vand and his extended family, as society at large changes, over the course of many years. Tragedy enters Ahmad’s life from a young age when he witnesses the death of his father. This event had a profound impact on Ahmad leaving him forever mute, never to speak of what he had seen, never to speak again. This sudden loss of speech was a frustration to others but Ahmad, using the written word was able to convey his thoughts and carry on conversations. The family patriarch was Agha, Ahmad’s great-great-great-great grandfather, and he lived on the family orchard in a tree. On the day of his father’s death, Agha recounts a story to Ahmad, one going back through generations, one that that revolves around cats and a curse that has followed the family through the years, inflicting bad luck and sadness to every generation.
‘Agha struck a match and turned on the samovar to make tea. Along with the muffled sounds of people working in the Orchard, some of the daylight came in around the edges of the tarp, which allowed Ahmad to see Agha’s bent figure in his pistachio sweater, old, but light and alive as if attached to the roots of the tree that drew life from the depths of the earth’
Years pass and Ahmad’s life changes beyond recognition. Having been driven out of their village home and into the city of Tehran, Ahmad’s grandfather, Khan, becomes obsessed with the fable of the cats and the associated curse. When seismic changes take place in their world there are always cats, many cats, in the greater picture. Could Agha’s old fairy-tale carry the truth?
Through revolt, revolution, politics and passion trauma seems to follow in the wake of Ahmad and his family as their own internal beliefs and ideals rip their relationships apart. Iran is a country that has suffered great upheaval. In 1941 Iran was occupied by British and Soviet troops and a new shah was placed in power, a man with more Western ideals and associations. Over the following years Ayatollah Khomeini was extremely vocal toward the new shah. There was much unrest in Iran with many demonstrations and rioting, eventually resulting in the exile of Ayatollah Khomeini from Iran. What followed was years of instability and dissatisfaction among many of the populace and Ayatollah Khomeini incited this unrest by dispatching recordings encouraging the destabilisation of the government of the time. In 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after 15 years of exile.
Imbued with magical realism, Ali Araghi explores those turbulent years as witnessed by Ahmad Torkash-Vand and his family. Ahmad expresses his idealism and beliefs through poetry with words that are oft-times blacklisted yet also immersed in magic.
‘One night, his heart crumpling like paper, in a rare moment of pure and sincere creativity, Ahmad wrote the poem that became the apex of his art. The poem started to emit a strong light by the first line. Mid second line, a small flame fluttered from under the tip of Ahmad’s pen…’
At readings he speaks through another person and his words resonate with many. His collections become famous and his reputation spreads wide. His relationship with his grandfather is a very important element to the story as over the years they have many difficult conversations and disagreements and this filters through to their relationships with others.
The Immortals of Tehran is a sweeping and epic read. For someone like me who has no knowledge of the history of Iran it was quite a fascinating insight. Laced with symbolism throughout, there were sections of the book that were difficult for me to fully comprehend but I put that down to my own lack of knowledge about the past of this complex country. The author does include a family tree for Ahmad and his family at the beginning of the book which was very handy to keep tabs on the many characters as they were introduced.
The Immortals of Tehran is a book that will encourage the reader to look a little closer at Iran and its people. Ahmad is a very profound central protagonist. He has a very strong sense of what is right and wrong and is quite fearless in the decisions and path he chooses in life. Centring on social and political upheaval and unrest, while using magical realism throughout, Ali Araghi has written quite a unique, vivid and passionate debut.
(c) Swirl and Thread
Order your copy online here.