This is a sweeping epic, its narrative full of tiny stories of great import.  While it is technically a fiction, it is an allegory for the Iranian political system — in the eyes of its author.  Kader Abdolah is a pen name her created to honor fallen friends and the author has lived in exile in Holland since 1988.

Despite the violent past he endured in his homeland, he still treats the Persian kingdom with respect. He is critical, to be sure, but he is also wistful and often funny in his telling of these interwoven stories.  He also writes with a certain bluntness to great effect.

Deep in the night, the exhausted king sought rest at the mill. The miller strangled him in his sleep and stole his royal robs and jewels. Thus the great Persian Empire was brought to an end by a miller.  ~Loc. 70 of 4494

The stories sound so ancient the reader often forgets they are set in the early 20th century.  Occasionally small details pop up, reminding the reader of the true setting — making the political decision seem all the more outmoded.

The shah went straight to his study, took up his pan and wrote a short note.  He folded the paper, put it in an envelope and sealed it with wax. A messenger took the note to the Russian embassy.

Soon the messenger returned, accompanied by another horseman.  It was a Russian official with whom the shah had exchanged ideas on many occasions.  They strolled together through the garden, and after a brief discussion the shah arranged for the official to be taken back to the Russian embassy.

That night, armed with binoculars, the shah studied the surrounding area form the watchtower. ~Loc. 4084 of 4494

Within three short paragraphs the shah employs horseback messenger, a wax seal and a pair of binoculars.

This book has been a bestseller in Europe but this is the first time it has been printed in English.  Kudos to the indie press Canongate Books for signing this one.  It is a fantastic read that will leave you with philosophical insight and a new view on Persia.

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Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Main edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0857862952
ISBN-13: 978-0857862952