The Age of Orphans: A Novel
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The Age of Orphans: A Novel

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  187 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Told with an evocative richness of language that recalls Michael Ondaatje or Anita Desai, the story of Reza Khourdi is that of the 20th century everyman, cast out from the clan in the name of nation, progress and modernity who cannot help but leave behind a shadow that yearns for the impossible dreams of love, land and home.
Before following his father into battle, he had...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 2009)
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This is a bit of a hard book to review. There were times while reading it that I nearly stopped because it got a bit hard to swallow. But I persevered and I believe the effort was worth it.

Reza Pejman Khourdi is a Kurdish young boy who is violently conscripted into the Iranian army after his father and other male relatives are brutally slain in battle. For two years he drifts in a haze of service to his village's murderers, carrying out their every whim. He is the plaything of the soldiers who u...more
Reza Khourdi is a typical Kurdish boy: traipsing among the rooftops of his hometown, wishing he were following in the footsteps of the older men of the tribe and longing for the comfort of his mother. All that changes when Reza joins the elder men on a trip out to the far desert for his circumcision. The procedure is normal for boys of his age, and Reza feels the typical conflicting emotions about it. What happens next in the boy's life is not so typical. Traveling back towards home in the dark,...more
This is a book of loss: of land, of mother, and of identity. This is a book of forging ahead in order to construct one's manhood in the shadow of this new country that is also being constructed by the Shah. It's not often that a book makes you remember differently; Khadivi's images and yes, lyrical language transformed my memories of place, made me remember in a fresh way the sights and sounds and habits of my own people. I was engaged with the text, and moved enough to want to read it again and...more
The Age of Orphans: a Novel by Lileh Khadivi follows the life of a Kurdish boy from childhood to old age, while Iran grows to nationhood by swallowing the likes of his homeland and people. When the shah’s army massacres his tribe, the boy is orphaned and conscripted all in one. He grows to serve and compete and advance in the army, thus to condemn and purge the Kurd in himself. He grows into manhood desiring the privileges of an Iranian officer, a well-born Tehrani wife, a post in the provinces....more
This is an extraordinary novel. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Khadivi weaves a tale that is horrifying, with poetic language that mesmerizes. I am shocked and enthralled at the same time as she tells the story of a young Kurdish boy in the 1920s who is captured and conscripted into the Shah’s army, and eventually transformed into the hated enemy. This story tugs at you with every page. Love doesn’t exist here—only the desire for it. I kept asking myself while reading,...more
The story that Laleh Khadivi tells with magically woven prose is devastating, brutal, and horrific. It should be required reading for everyone whose life is enjoyed at the cost of another person's suffering.

The boy who comes to be called Reza is a singular child: the only baby of a half-mad mother and a doting father in a culture that prizes large families, a running toddler who yearns for the flight of birds and perches on "the top spot that affords a glimpse of endless horizon, the fan of a mo...more
Colleen Clark
Fascinating, beautifully written (in English, not translated), timely and timeless.

I don't remember exactly where or when I picked this up, probably in one of my local bookstores. But I have no doubt why. Having lived in a mostly Kurdish area of Turkey when I was a PC Volunteer English teacher in the 1960's I have maintained an interest in the whole Middle East, and especially in the Kurdish people who live, as the novel says, in the mountainous area where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran come together. T...more
A Kurdish boy is orphaned at the age of ten after a battle between the Kurds and the Shah of Iran's military forces in the early 1900's. The policy at that time is to conscript the male orphans into the Shah's army, so our hero trades his old life and becomes Iranian, after witnessing the brutal death of all of his male relatives, including his father who is kicked to death in front of him. Though Reza is the main character, his life unfolds through a series of storytellers, each with their own...more
I debated on whether to give this three or four stars. The meaning of the star system doesn't seem to fit this book for me. I can't say that I liked it OR I really liked it. It's such a bleak story that I found it difficult to read. On the other hand, Laleh Khadivi's writing is lush and beautiful. It's poetic. It's just that often, that poetic language is describing overwhelming loneliness, unspeakable brutality, violent sexual encounters, humiliation, and inhumanity.

I'll definitely read other b...more
The Age of Orphans, by Laleh Khadivi grabs you by the soul and leads you through a land of beauty and pain, wisdom and arrogance, histories lost and created. Where a boy’s journey is measured by stolen love, memories forgotten, maps that circle upon themselves and back again. I was taken to unknown worlds and misunderstood cultures and could not catch my breath. This book delights the heart and then tests its resilience. I found myself as conflicted as the leading character and I could not put t...more
I made a rule once that I wouldn't review any books written by my friends, because it seemed ethically questionable and potentially awkward, but I am breaking it for this book, which is brilliant and beautifully written and manages to be about the big questions of what it means to become a nation, or to be part of a nation, without losing sight of individual characters and their private, immediate, and haunting moments of trauma. It's not light or easy reading, but it's hard to put down once you...more
Honestly, I don't know what to make of it. On one hand, it was amazing, tasting of the dry dust of the desert and the smoke of Kurdish cookfires, the wide blue sky and the falcon in flight, but on the other hand, as the blurbs on the back of the book stated, it was indeed 'ruthless' and 'unflinching,' pulling no punches and giving you only sparse moments of peace to breathe in between horrific violence and honesty. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, but at the same moment supremely uncomfortabl...more
Beautiful writing to be admired for its power and voice. This book blew me away. Sentences to be read, over and over, appreciating the mastery of language, prose and voice required to write so well. I am thrilled this book is to be part of a trilogy. I learned about a culture I didn't know much about (Kurds) and though the story is brutal and disturbing, if you like to be moved, this is the book for you.
Ilyhana Kennedy
The Age of Orphans is an extraordinary literary work, all the more so for being a first novel. Highly adept in the use of language, the author forges simple words into profound statements. It's not so much the words themselves but how they are used, how they are combined and related, how they are phrased.
This is a story of the Kurd peoples, and their history from the 20th century, their struggle against oppression and their desire to remain just who they are.
The story is told through the life of...more
Syzygous Zygote
What a gorgeous book. The prose is delicate and exquisite, and the intimate story of a Kurd boy orphaned and taken by the Shah is heartbreaking to the very end. I'm definitely a picky reader, but I can't recommend this book enough.
I loved this book. A stunning debut novel. The prose pulled me in right away with its lyricism. I enjoyed the changing narration, and the picture it painted of Iran at the moment of its creation through the lifespan of one man.
This intended first in a trilogy presents a disquieting revelation of the brutalization of the Kurds by the Iranians. Even so, it is a lyrical and haunting reminder of the dark and the beauty of the human soul.
Poetic, tough, epic. Laleh can turn a phrase, braid history into character, paint powerful images.

I know Laleh. She is smart, witty, inquisitive. She's a filmmaker as well as an author.

I will start off by saying that the writing in this novel was just beautiful as it seemed to me to have almost a poetic prose to it. We are taken through the life of a Kurd from the time he is a young boy living in his village in Courdestan with his family to the time that he is an old man that has been brought full circle through a life of disappointment and changes.

I don't recall knowing what the young boy's name was at the beginning of the novel, but he is introduced as a young boy yearning t...more
"Go. Follow your men from one silly battle to another; claim this pebble-strewn plot or that or that and know this land grows and dies with little care for the men who try to hold it" (32).
"Overhead, the moon is a half thing and they sit in the laced night-shade of a rangy ficus..." (43).
*Describing birds: "Though our ears are empty and our feet frail farces, our lungs breathe the best thin air and our wings rise and fall to draw circles in the sky" (47).
"Below: a madness for marking" (48).
"At n...more
In 1921, Iran was a new nation. In the Zagros Mountains a Kurdish boy is conscripted into the shah's army after his tribe is slaughtered. The un-named boy is re-named Reza Pejman Khourdi (Reza after Iran's first shah; Pejman for heartbroken; and Khourdi as an ethnic Kurd). Ashamed of his tribal heritage and their effortless slaughter by the modern Iranian army, Reza suppresses all things Kurdish within him. He marries a modern Iranian woman, Meena, in the hopes of becoming more Iranian. As a suc...more
Laura Cauley
The first thing to say about this book is that the language is incredible. Khadivi writes so poetically, you'll find yourself repeating her phrases just to hear them roll off your tongue. This beautiful, lyrical style makes it a pretty quick read, I finished it in about a half a week and I have a pretty busy schedule. I also thought it was a very different perspective on Middle Eastern revolution and warfare. She took a very specific look at one person's experience and made it about an entire na...more
Halo Peshdary
Excellent novel examining the Kurdish identity through the scope of one Kurd's life: From boy, to officer, to old man. The content is haunting, often disturbing, but the prose itself is poetic and beautiful. The sentiment near the end of the novel of Reza feeling like the mountains are the only place he truly belongs to is what brought the book from 3 stars to 4 for me.

A few criticisms: Something minor, but the language used. Kurds don't use "maman" for "mother", they don't use "jounam" for my d...more
Deon Stonehouse
The Age of Orphans is set in Iran and focuses on the suppression of the Kurdish people. The main character is a mere child as the book opens, he likes to pretend he can fly while jumping from the roof of his low slung home. He is surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins and a village full of tradition and family. His father takes him along when the men from his Kurdish village go to fight against the Shah’s soldiers. He watches his father and the men of his village brutally killed in battle. The Sha...more
Virginia Shea
Hm.. this book will stay with me a while... I read it while listening to Infidel, so the two worlds were a little similar (both Middle East/African with a touch of the Islam flavor), making me feel more enveloped in it than I may have otherwise felt. I did like this book, and felt I did learn more about this area of the world and its history -- the actual events seemed somewhat false, but I was drawn into the characters and the story -- that of never really losing your roots -- was genuine.

I am...more
I wish I could give this book a few minus stars - one seems too much.
I tried really hard to find even one thing I liked about this book. It never happened, and yes I read the whole thing. Honestly, I see no purpose in this storyline, as the plot is buried in brutality, cruelty and sadness overall.

The characters are impossible to like except in the very beginning, when the lead character is a little boy. I know that Kurds have been fighting for independence for many generations, but oh, what a c...more
I found this novel listed on someone's "must reads" (maybe and NPR list?); I knew nothing about it other than someone somewhere said it was worthwhile.

I'm glad I gave it a shot.

This isn't a "warm fuzzies" book. We are introduced to the protagonist, a Kurdish boy, in 1921 and from there read about his transformation from an innocent to a hardened soldier to an aging man. The story makes you sick to your stomach and yet nevertheless was an engrossing read that I could say I enjoyed. Khadivi's wr...more
The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi is an exceptional work of literature. The reader is taken back to 1920s, and is introduced to the Kurdish culture where a routine coming of age ritual changes the lives of many, when the group is intercepted by the Shah of Iran's army. The book will take the readers through a deep and rather emotional look at the life of a Kurdish boy, who is renamed Reza after he is conscripted into the Shah's army. Khadivi takes the reader through a beautifully written, yet...more
Not an easy book -- first, because of the at times almost unbearable sadness of the story, second, because it's written in a scorchingly intense yet poetic style that pierces any defenses a reader may try to assemble. The deep loneliness of the main character, the orphan of the title, is portrayed with 360 degree clarity both through his own eyes and the eyes of others. I knew little about the Kurds and what happened to them under the Shah. Kept hoping for some redemption -- will not say more to...more
Story of a young (actually of many) Kurdish boys whom are taken by the Iranians into slavery that turns them into young soldiers. This story tells of one who never quite forgets where he is from, even when he has to be the one scolding, beating the Kurd families. He marries a girl from Teheran & has a family. As he grows older, he is stationed close by where he was raised & he knows the village knows he is one of them. He never really has the respect from the village nor the soldiers nor...more
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