Minli's Reviews > Zahra's Paradise

Zahra's Paradise by Amir
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's review
Sep 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: made-me-cry, contemporary, adult
Read from September 05 to 06, 2011

I finished this graphic novel on the subway home from work last night, where I sat sniffling pathetically reading the afterword among a throng of commuters. I don't know what led me to pick it up--though I do stalk First Second because their projects are so interesting--since I usually shy away from this kind of book. I read for many reasons, but after being traumatized by The Rape of Nanking when I was sixteen, I find reading books about civil unrest, war, violence and rape terribly difficult.

During college I read a slew of ethnographies and took a class on Muslim societies. Ahmadinejad came to my campus back in 2007, an extremely controversial invitation that inspired a lot of media commentary and public demonstrations. My contemporary civ professor was from Iran, and like other scholarly expatriates, would often digress in his lectures to go on about human rights and free speech. I've avoided current events because they are too painful, too anonymous when reported on by the media, too much monolothic coverage that keeps people and cultures in third world countries "other." That's why Zahra's Paradise succeeds--it does not profess to be fact, or history, or a record of anything. The book shows that tragedy is personal, but humanity is universal. Do you need to live in Iran to feel injustice? Do you need to be a Muslim to understand a mother's love for her son?

Still, it is not for the faint of heart. It begins with an prologue that serves as a metaphor for the entire book: a man encounters a dog with her litter of puppies. He kicks her, stuffs her pups in a bag, then beats them with a crowbar until they are silent. Then he drowns them. When I first read that, I almost screamed and stopped right there. I can't even watch the Game of Thrones for heaven's sake, how would I finish this?

Our narrator is a twenty-something year old blogger whose brother went missing in the 2009 Iranian election protests. Zahra's Paradise follows Hassan and his mother as they search for Mehdi--they camp outside prisons and hack government security systems, they speak to anyone who will give them information--officials, escaped prisoners, printers. It's fairly linear storytelling, though it feels like it extends out of the edges--there's much more we're not seeing, and that makes it even more disturbing. Content warning, for sure.

I dare anyone to not feel the anguish of Mehdi and Hassan's mother, to not scream, cry or throw things. It's not an enjoyable reading experience, but it's one that you won't forget.
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Subhasree Basu Love love love your review .........and totally agree with you


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