Karan's Reviews > A Good Country

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi
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Literary fiction that engages with contemporary politics and state-of-the-world have two big hoops to jump to keep me engaged: give me an insider to root and an insider's view of what it is to live the reality otherwise captured and compressed from the outside by journalists. Khadivi, whose work I am completely unfamiliar with, achieves this with her urgent prose. In a fairly slim book, she captures the quickly changing landscapes within and outside for Rez, an affluent, Berkeley-bound, second generation Iranian-immigrant teenager in California who loves to surf. She sprints with him like an Olympic high jumper first clearing the bars of teenage angst and immigrant-kid angst easily with high-achieving Rez aching to belong to the America that surrounds him, aching to be acknowledged like an average American teen and aching to break free from the double life of the chilled surfer-boy outside and anxiety-ridden must-achieve-academically, "responsible and grateful" son-of-immigrant at home. He is a boy wanting to live and breathe the life of waves, open skies, sand, sex and surf with little patience for the immigrant anxieties of his family.

That is, until an index crime event in the neighbourhood, brought about by homegrown Muslim terrorists imports the national paranoia into home turf. The attitudes of predictably cliquey teenagers around Rez turn and the slow ostracisation of an already bisected reality exposes a void that Rez gets busy filling with his hitherto denied Muslim identity. All that angst of assimilation is fodder for the "brothers" waiting to recruit for the bubbling Islamic State. From here on, like a gladiator game, Khadivi starts systematically upping the bar for Rez to clear: whole histories to learn, whole parallel narratives of persecution to imbibe, whole new friendships and liasions to oblige, and right until his bone-chilling climactic migration to Syria, the final stark transformation of this boy into a tragic footsoldier, it is akin to observing a heroic gladiator fall.

It's not completely new terrain but with Khadivi's pen, those sharp, effective sentences propel the scene through changing countries, landscapes, perspectives and panoramas with energy and imagination. Most importantly for the book, Rez is a terrifyingly sympathetic character to bond to: a grasping, unformed teenager who is desperate to carve out an identity for himself but hides within himself a fully-geared megatron empath uncertainly absorbing the handed down narratives of clans, identities and nation-states to arrive at an eventually deranged Purpose to his life. Through him, we see her credibly capturing the ground-level realities of marginalisation, radicalisation, the immigrant "burden" and the decisions taken when the personal identity slugs it out with the social/group identity. In all, a successful project that could easily be seen as an American Pastoral for our times.
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Reading Progress

May 18, 2018 – Started Reading
May 18, 2018 – Shelved
May 23, 2018 – Finished Reading

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