Q and A with the Author of Zahra's Paradise, Amir
Set in the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished.
Zahra’s Paradise weaves together fiction and real people and events. As the world witnessed the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections, through YouTube videos, on Twitter, and in blogs, this story came into being. The global response to this gripping tale has been passionate—an echo of the global outcry during the political upheaval of the summer of 2009.
Zahra’s Paradise is a first on the internet, a first for graphic novels, and a first in the history of political dissidence. Zahra’s Paradise is being serialized online at zahrasparadise.com.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: Over the past thirty years, thousands of Iranians have had to bury their loved ones prematurely in Zahra’s Paradise, a vast cemetery on the outskirts of Tehran. Thousands of monarchists, nationalists, leftists, communists, reformists, fundamentalists have all been killed in the name of one ideology, party or another, and they all end up buried in Zahra’s Paradise. In a way, the cemetery is where the heavens touch the earth. And what a sad and sorry spectacle that is--a zone of trauma and death, grief and sorrow that afflicts everyone.
Q: Tell us a little about how the events in Zahra’s Paradise tie in with the 2009 elections in Iran.
A: During the protests of the 2009 elections, even at the time of burial inside Zahra’s Paradise, that script was being challenged and broken. Time and time again, Zahra’s Paradise became a stage, not for burying the dead, but for witnessing life. And it was Iranian women, and men, who were saying: no, we refuse to see our land, our names, our constitution, and our Iran turned into a womb for burying the corpse of our children, for burying violence, for burying lies, for burying Iran’s son and daughters. They are the guardians of another Iran, and it is the sons and daughters of that Iran that Zahra’s Paradise celebrates.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your own personal and emotional connections to this story.
A: I was twelve years old when the Iranian revolution happened. We’re talking 1979. As a kid, I saw an entire world collapse. I had to leave Iran, but I could never let go of the Iranian people. They were what made my childhood so beautiful, so full of joy and tenderness. But how do you hold onto those emotions--that sacred ground--from exile? You keep your world alive in your imagination. That’s what millions of Iranians inside and outside Iran have done and are doing.
It was hard to suddenly see that world, Iran, vanish behind stereotypes of Iranians as terrorists, fundamentalists and extremists. That was not my Iran. I did not recognize it then, and I do not recognize it now. Fast forward thirty years, to the protests of 2009, and all of a sudden, that Iran, a beautiful, gentle, powerful, exquisite Iran, an Iran that so many had declared dead and buried as lost, suddenly bursts through. And so like millions of people around the world, people all over the Arab world and the Middle East, we absorbed their energy, felt their spark, and joined our strength and our dreams to theirs. It was impossible not to feel a connection.
A Look Inside Zahra's Paradise
Click below to view full-sized illustrations.