By Shahriar Mandanipour
Translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili
From “one of Iran's most important living fiction writers” (The Guardian) comes a fantastically imaginative story of love and war narrated by two angel scribes perched on the shoulders of a shell-shocked Iranian soldier who’s searching for the mysterious woman haunting his dreams.
Paperback List Price: $21.99 • ISBN: 9781632061287• Publication: 4/24/2018 • 5.5” x 8.25” • 464 pages • Fiction: Iranian / Literary / War • Territory: World English • eBook ISBN: 9781632061294
About the Book
Before he enlisted as a soldier in the Iran–Iraq war and disappeared, Amir Yamini was a carefree playboy whose only concerns were seducing women and riling his religious family. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, his left arm and most of his memory lost. Amir is haunted by the vision of a mysterious woman whose face he cannot see—the crescent moon on her forehead shines too brightly. He names her Moon Brow.
Back home in Tehran, the prodigal son is both hailed as a living martyr to the cause of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution and confined as a dangerous madman. His sense of humor, if not his sanity, intact, Amir cajoles Reyhaneh into helping him escape the garden walls to search for Moon Brow. Piecing together the puzzle of his past, Amir decides there’s only one solution: he must return to the battlefield and find the remains of his severed arm—and discover its secret.
All the while, two angels sit on our hero’s shoulders and inscribe the story in enthrallingly distinctive prose. Wildly inventive and radically empathetic, steeped in Persian folklore and contemporary Middle East history, Moon Brow is the great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour’s unforgettable epic of love, war, morality, faith, and family.
“History and politics, Islam and Morality Police permeate without overwhelming the narrative as it shifts between Amir’s present and past. His relationship with his sister is also a rich, tender thread throughout. Mandanipour, an Iranian writer whose first novel in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, elicited allusions to M.C. Escher and Rubik’s Cube, does not do things simply here in his second, either. Sections alternate between a scribe ‘on his right shoulder’ and one on his left, like good and bad angels, providing both omniscient narrative and Amir’s first-person reveries. The device suggests Amir’s unsteady grasp of reality, his own story, as his damaged, drifting mind tries to paste together dimly recalled shards of a broken life. The prose also reveals a writer in total control, easily moving from the banter of youth to lyrical or sensual flights befitting Amir’s former liking for poetry and seduction, to Persian folktales or hallucinatory fever dreams from a brain unhinged by battle, medication, and remorse. A remarkable vision of the elusiveness of redemption and love.”
“In dazzling flashbacks, Amir gradually pieces together the narrative of his past as a womanizing Casanova and a soldier who sees the horrific casualties of war up close. Mandanipour uses this love story, ably translated by Sara Khalili, as the canvas for a larger picture of a country routinely disrupted by revolution and war. In a sense, Khan’s fractured mind might just as well be a stand-in for Iran’s own fragile history…. [A] dazzling mosaic of a troubled young man and a troubled yet gloriously rich nation.
— Poornima Apte, Booklist, Starred Review
“Written in the heightened language of dreams, if dreams were always so dark, this long-anticipated work from exiled Iranian award winner Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) features Amir Yamini, a young wastrel given to drinking, womanizing, and blasphemy, who shames his devout Iranian family and is finally carted off and flogged by the Revolutionary Guards. He ends up a soldier fighting against Iraq, is hit by shrapnel, and after losing an arm and much of his memory, is confined to the mental hospital from which his mother and sister rescue him after years of searching. Frustrated but loyal sister Reyhaneh is willing to help him recall his life and find Moon Brow, the woman he repeatedly envisions, her face hidden by the glow of a crescent moon, and the novel winds toward that goal through a labyrinth of gorgeously rendered scenes. These scenes are ingeniously imparted by two scribes: Amir’s more manageable self, reputedly perched on his right shoulder, and a demonically angry self perched on his left, mirroring his split soul and that of his country. VERDICT: Highly recommended for literary lovers.”
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, Starred Review
“Mandanipour's prose is graceful and poetic, curving and weaving like the recurring swans, their necks wrapped gracefully around one another in a sensual embrace. In this too, the grotesqueries of what war does to a mind, a body, reveals itself in shards of shrapnel, bone, and a flash of something gold in the swirling sands of the desert. There's a rewarding repetition to this tale, partial memories one catches occasionally like the scent of ripe, persimmon whirled about in a breeze that constantly shifts direction. One warms to it—but the heat increases, uncomfortably. Amid eddies of hot dust and gas, Mandanipour drags us to higher ground, gasping burning air. Amir is a horrified witness to Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurdish people in 1988 and my heart pounds as I read this account. Mandanipour served in the Iran-Iraq war and often wrote, with admirable determination, while buried within dusty trenches. This is how Mandanipour's story moves me: the dance of the masculine and feminine is slow and dangerous with ignorance and assumptions, and in the dance there's a haunting search for something elusive amidst the broken seashells, broken swans beaks, broken bodies, broken memories.”
—Karen Zarker, PopMatters
“The most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year…. With Moon Brow, Mandanipour pulls his lovelorn characters out of the dark alleys and obscure chatrooms he explored in Censoring an Iranian Love Story into grander and more violent slices of Iranian history. Readers enter the addled mind of wounded veteran Amir Yamini as he struggles to pull together a vision of his pre-revolutionary past, his memory clouded by alcohol, forbidden lust, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The non-linear nature of Amir’s journey is further complicated by his apparently fractured personality—the narration is split between two “scribes,” one virtuous and one vicious, whom he imagines scrawling the story down the right and left sides of his back, respectively. Despite its length and structural originality, Moon Brow pulls the reader along with grace, humor, and suspense. At once a war novel, a mystery, and an investigation of the relationship between love and personal growth, this book is a must-read from one of Iran’s greatest writers.”
—Walt Evans, The Sewanee Review
“Countless narratives have portrayed the way back to life and living after war, since The Odyssey. Shahriar Mandanipour's extraordinary Moon Brow is the story of one broken man's way back—not only from having fought in the horrific Iran-Iraq War, but also from a scattered, purposelessly lived life beforehand. Mandanipour's portrayal of this man's shattered psyche—he literally is grasping at fragments, coping with all manner of wounds, physical and otherwise—and the parts others play (his sister, his parents, other characters coming and going), is haunting, harrowing, disturbing, deeply powerful. One senses it is not only the story of a man who is lost and seeking the way back, but also of his country, and the forms of reckoning, no matter who is said to have prevailed or lost. It is ultimately loss for all. And yet, this book holds a door open, a glimmer, for possible healing, redemption, a way to beyond. The act of reading it all the way through feels like such a step.”
—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
“In this beautiful and ambitious novel, Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) tells the story of Amir Yamini, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who lost his left arm and much of his memory in battle.... Set in Iran before and after the revolution, Mandanipour’s novel is by turns comic and tragic, both a fantastic love story and a searing portrait of a nation caught between its past and future. Mandanipour’s story is imaginative and captivating.”
Praise for Shahriar Mandanipour:
“Shahriar Mandanipour is one of the leading novelists of our time. … Mandanipour is one of Iran's most important living fiction writers, with a long track record and a formidable reputation in his own country. Since 2006 Mandanipour has been living in the USA … where he moved to escape the censorship that was hampering publication of his work inside Iran. One of Iran’s greatest novelists is living and writing in the West, and readers of English are able at last to commune with his novelistic intelligence.”
—David Mattin, The Guardian
"Mandanipour’s writing is exuberant, bonhomous, clever, profuse with puns and literary-political references; the reader unversed in contemporary Iranian fiction might easily think of Kundera … or of the Rushdie of Midnight’s Children.… Charming and often witty.”
—James Wood, The New Yorker
“[Mandanipour’s] works of fiction, densely metaphorical and replete with symbolisms drawn from the Persian literary tradition, reflect the extraordinary times he and his country have witnessed without being overtly political or tediously ideological. … As a writer in exile he has a difficult journey ahead, not least of which is to decide on his intended audience. He has, I think, the potential to create a genre of Persian literature that could breach the gap in literary sensibilities that separates readers from vastly different traditions.”
—Maria Baghramian, The Irish Times
“While his fiction remained unpublished in Iran for much of the 1990s on account of censorship, he is one of that country’s most celebrated and accomplished contemporary novelists.... Mandanipour expresses the complexity of his culture—not just of the society of the Islamic Republic, but of the underlying Persian traditions that continue to influence it.”
—Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books
“Both an essayist and a novelist, Shahriar Mandanipour has been dubbed ‘one of the leading novelists of our time’ by The Guardian.... Mandanipour’s writing style is widely loved by readers and critics alike because of his experiments with both language and context, and the way he beautifully weaves metaphoric images and symbols.”
—Andrew Kingsford-Smith, The Culture Trip, “10 Must-Read Iranian Authors”
About the Author
Shahriar Mandanipour is one of the most accomplished writers of contemporary Iranian literature, the author of nine volumes of fiction, one nonfiction book, and more than 100 essays in literary theory, literature and art criticism, creative writing, censorship, and social commentary.
Mandanipour was born in 1957 in Shiraz, Iran, and started writing from a young age. He studied political science at Tehran University and bore witness to the 1979 revolution. After the onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, he joined the military and volunteered for duty at the front, where he served as a non-career officer in the 191st Infantry for more than fourteen months. In cement trenches or holes dug in earth and stone, he wrote in the light of a paraffin lantern, between the mortar attacks.
The first collection of his stories, Shadows of the Cave, was published in 1989, and the second, The Eighth Day of the Earth, in 1992. Though he continued to write in the years that followed, due to censorship he was not published again until 1997, following the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, and four of his books were published one or two years apart. In 1999, he became Editor-in-Chief of the monthly literary journal Asr-e Panjshanbeh (Thursday Evening), and remained so until it was banned in 2007.
In 2006, Mandanipour moved to the United States and has held fellowships at Brown University, Harvard University, Boston College, and at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. Some of his short stories and essays have been published in anthologies such as Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature and Sohrab’s Wars: Counter Discourses of Contemporary Persian Fiction: A Collection of Short Stories and a Film Script; and in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Short works have been published in France, Germany, Denmark, and in languages such as Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish.
Mandanipour’s first novel to appear in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, translated by Sara Khalili and published by Knopf in 2009, was named by The New Yorker as one of the reviewers’ favorites of 2009, by the Cornell Daily Sun as Best Book of the Year for 2009, and by NPR as one of the best debut novels of the year; it was awarded (Greek ed.) the Athens Prize for Literature for 2011. The novel has been translated and published in eleven other languages and in thirteen countries throughout the world.
About the Translator
Sara Khalili is an editor and translator of contemporary Iranian literature. Her translations include Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi, The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee, and Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali. She has also translated several volumes of poetry by Forough Farrokhzad, Simin Behbahani, Siavash Kasraii, and Fereydoon Moshiri. Her short story translations have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, EPOCH, GRANTA, Words Without Borders, The Literary Review, PEN America, Witness, and Consequence.