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The Age of Orphans: A Novel Hardcover – March 3, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916166
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,494,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ironic, beautifully written, brutal and ugly, Khadivi's ambitious debut novel follows a Kurdish boy who is tragically and violently conscripted into the shah's army after his own people are slaughtered in battle. Assigned the name Reza Pejman Khourdi—Reza after the first shah of Iran, Pejman meaning heartbroken and Khourdi to denote he's an ethnic Kurd—the boy suppresses all things Kurdish within him, fueled by a sense of self-preservation and self-loathing. Channeling fear and hate into brutal acts against the Kurds, Reza makes a quick climb up the military career ladder, eventually gaining an appointment to Kermanshah, a Kurdish region in the north of Iran. There, as overseer of his own people, Reza promotes Kurdish assimilation and the budding nation of Iran while mercilessly silencing voices of Kurdish independence. As he grows old with his Iranian wife, Meena, Reza's internal conflicts simmer, then boil over, with unexpected and terrible results. This difficult but powerful novel, the first of a trilogy, introduces a writer with a strong, unflinching voice and a penetrating vision. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Khadivi’s disturbing debut novel opens in 1921 in Iran’s Zagros Mountains, where a young boy’s job is to warn his father and uncles if the shah’s army approaches. After an attack on the soldiers’ camp, during which the boy’s baba is pummeled to death, and all except the boy are killed, he is adopted by the soldiers as the “orphan Kurd,” a docile servant. Eight years later he has become “a plebe in the great army of the shah” and is given the name Reza Khourdi, his family history erased. At 15 his company attacks a Kurdish village. In the midst of his first kill, Reza remembers his past and realizes, “he is them.” Promoted and assigned to a village near his home, he marries a woman who lives “in opposition” to his every memory, and teaches their children to hate the Kurds. Khadivi’s writing, for which she recently won a Whiting Award, is luminous in this tragic story of an “orphan of the earth,” which is rendered in prose that is by turns graphic and poetic. --Deborah Donovan

Customer Reviews

The Age of Orphans is a no-holds barred war story.
Susan Abraham
I especially noted the "Iranian" scholar who pointed out incorrect words for a Kurd to use, etc. and started wondering what else the author might have gotten wrong.
Alexandra Grabbe
The imagery was especially well done because it evoked a great sense of place.
zibilee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By TrishNYC VINE VOICE on March 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 use him in every manner imaginable. Through it all he longs for his mother with whom he shared a close if strange bond. But his past life is now dead and buried and he must forge a new existence out of the life he is given. A brotherhood begins to form amongst the young soldiers who are all weapons in training for the shah. They share their loneliness and need to make sense of this new life alongside their hopes for the future. But that brotherhood quickly evaporates with one visit from the shah who extols the willing enlistees (usually boys from Tehran) over the conscripts(usually Kurds). The boys go from being allies to being competitors and adversaries.

Reza realizes the status quo very quickly and distinguishes himself as hardworking, brutal and willing to do anything to climb the military ladder. He disavows his Kurdish self, in one instance very violently, and does everything to show his superiors that he regards the Kurds with even more contempt than they could muster. His reward for this is his promotion to the rank of captain and being given charge of Kermanshah, a Kurdish region. He is tasked with controlling the people and bringing them firmly under the yoke of the shah.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By zibilee VINE VOICE on March 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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, his people are attacked and killed by the Shah's men, leaving Reza to be captured and conscripted into the Shah's army. Reza must now be taught to fight against his own people and tribes, pushing them into submission and taking over their land and crops. As the boy becomes a man, his emotions and inhibitions begin to die, turning him into the perfect soldier: a man who is dead to his feelings and reactions, who willingly and almost fawningly strives to do the bidding of his commanders. As Reza catapults into higher and higher ranks, his loyalties to his army and to his former people are constantly in opposition to each other. He must forget everything about himself to push forward and destroy the Kurd enemy, an enemy that was once himself. After many years of the soldier's life, it is suggested to Reza that he take a Tehrani wife, which he does just as obediently as he can. Reza and his new bride struggle in more ways than one. Her hatred for his Kurdish roots and his silence are only some of the things that begin to cause problems. Soon Reza is promoted to Captain, and although his rank keeps advancing, his status in his household and among his men begins to plummet.Read more ›
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Alexander on March 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't make it through more than 40 pages of this book. The frequent depictions of rape and murder were hard enough to stomach, but the author's cluelessness about Kurdish language and culture made it impossible to enjoy. Why read a book supposedly about Kurds, with a Kurdish protagonist, by someone who isn't Kurdish and has seemingly made no effort whatsoever to learn about the Kurds?

The author (a Persian who hails from a city at practically the opposite end of Iran from Kurdistan) frequently puts urban Persian words in the mouths of rural Kurds, which sounds awkward and out of place. It's a bit like writing about white farmers in rural Appalachia and having them speak with urban Spanish slang from Los Angeles or Tijuana. The Kurdish boy calls his mother "maman," a French word found in Persian but not Kurdish. She, in turn, calls him "jounam," a Persian word pronounced with an urban big-city accent. (The Kurdish equivalent would be "janim"). And so on, ad nauseum.

Abbas Kiarostami tastefully and thought-provokingly explored the contrast and interaction between rural Kurdish and urban Persian life in Iran in his film "The Wind Will Carry Us." Sadly, "The Age of Orphans" is neither tasteful nor well-researched. Laleh Khadivi has threatened to write two more books, forming a trilogy about three generations of Kurdish men. I hope she does her research before writing the next two.
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Format: Paperback
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 this book down. I look forward to reading more of Khadivi's work.
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