9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
The Age of Orphans,
This review is from: The Age of Orphans: A Novel (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. He gladly carries out the shah's vision of a new nation, Iran, built on veneration of the shah, centralization of the language and destruction of any dissenting voices. But in Reza's later years, there is a softening of his grip, it is as if he loses the struggle between his Kurdish and Iranian self and is lost from both identities.
There is so much violence, savagery and brutality in this book. Women are raped, children are killed and lives are destroyed. The language is many times very crass and that coupled with the aforementioned made me want to stop reading. But despite these facts there is something poetic in the way that the author uses language. You sometimes feel like you are reading a poem written in ancient times. The story is sad and speaks to a loss of identity in the face of a dominant culture. What effect does forced assimilation have on a people? At some point after denying your true self for so long, does this destroy you? This is definitely not a book for everyone. Some will take to it and some will be repulsed by it. This book is apparently the first in a trilogy about three generations of Kurdish men.