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My Father's Notebook: A Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The history of Iran in the 20th century glints through the fractured lens of the enigmatic notebook of the deaf-mute carpet mender Aga Akbar in this deeply felt tale. Born to the concubine of a Persian nobleman, Aga Akbar invents a cuneiform language inspired by that of an ancient Persian king in an effort to express himself. Aga Akbar marries the brave but bitter Tina, fathers four children and moves from tiny Saffron Village to the big city. There he finds his carpet-mender's craft replaced by mechanized drudgery, and participates in the religious fervor preceding the revolution led by the imams. Years later, Aga Akbar's son, Ishmael, who narrates most of the novel, partially translates the notebook his father filled with his cuneiform script. Ishmael, who like the author is a political exile in the Netherlands, tries to understand his father, whom he served as translator and guide almost from the day he was born. Though Ishmael feels like an extension of his father, his leftist politics and university education inevitably separate them, emotionally and physically. The narrative is sometimes choppy and overpacked, but Ishmael's complex love for his father and his country and his struggle to do what is right for both proves moving and illuminating
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In Abdolah's unusual novel, Iranian political exile Ishmael attempts to decipher the rudimentary writings of his virtually illiterate father, who was born in the early twentieth century to a segih, or temporary wife, of a Persian nobleman. Under Shiite law, Aga Akbar wasn't considered an heir, so after his mother died, her brother Kazem Khan took the nine-year-old under his wing. Sensing that the deaf and mute boy yearned to express himself in more than makeshift sign language, his uncle gave him a notebook and instructed him to copy an ancient cuneiform message carved on a cave wall by the first Persian king. As Akbar grew, he learned a craft, married, and had a family. All the while, he kept a record in his own idiosyncratic code of his innermost thoughts and feelings and noted how Iran's industrialization and tumultuous political dramas touched the lives of him and his family. That story, told from Akbar's very speculatively translated perspective as supplemented by Ishmael and an omniscient narrator, proves enlightening and moving. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I had borrowed the book I read, but upon finishing it, I immediately bought one for my own library.
It tells in a poetic and human way the recent story of Iran
It's a book that transports you to the scene and you can't stop reading it.
I couldn't stop reading it. The mixture of cultures between the writer and the story gives it another flavor.
The story, the way it is written and the characters make this a perfect book.
NB The author photo has an uncanny resemblance to Friedrich Nietzsche, mustache, intense eyes, tousled hair, and he writes a bit like Zarathustra, too. Surely a co-incidence.
The mystery at the center of the book is our inability to know what Aga Akbar thinks and feels. Trapped in a sensory world without hearing or speech, he communicates by a simple, private sign language, but the novel makes no attempt to represent his actual experience. This is all the more tantalizing because he has kept an indecipherable notebook written in cuneiform, which he has first seen on the wall of a mountain cave near his village.
The book is also Ishmael's story, growing up before his time as he cares for his father, their roles reversed, especially in his efforts to help his father understand the world. At one point he tries to help him comprehend the solar system by showing him a picture of astronauts on the moon. The deep love of father for son is made more poignant by their separation, first as Ishmael goes off to university in Tehran and becomes an active member of the communist party, working for the overthrow of one oppressive government after another, then as he flees to the West, to eventually find sanctuary in the Netherlands, where he is writing this book. Well translated from Dutch, it deserves a wide readership as we come ourselves to understand a world we have been deaf and blind to.
This book is a rich and sweet depiction of a country through the eyes and situation of a man. The landscape of Iran, its culture, religion and conflict are interwoven with the everyday life of father and son. It doesn't play history and revolution with a heavy hand, but rather as incidents on the periphery of an individual life. The complex relationship between a deaf-mute father and a son (for all intents and purposes) born to be the right-hand man of his dreamy dad is a beautiful, intense and curious thing.
"My Father's Notebook" is an easy read. And by that, I don't mean that it isn't evocative or thought provoking or, heaven forbid, that it is simple--merely that it's easy to escape into. The translation is well done and the prose flows as well.