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Sons and Other Flammable Objects: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Khakpour builds her luminously intelligent debut around the travails of an Iranian-American family caught in the feverish and paranoid currents immediately after 9/11. Darius Adam and his wife, Laleh (who, much to Darius's disgust, Americanizes her name to Lala), flee revolutionary Iran for the alien territory of Southern California, settling in an apartment complex with the allegorically enticing name of Eden Gardens. Son Xerxes grows up with psychological dual citizenship: regular American outside of Eden Gardens, but the son of bitter Darius and clueless Lala inside. Xerxes finds true paradise in watching Barbara Eden, the star of I Dream of Jeannie. For the brilliantly rendered Lala, America is not so bad—it's a good place to ''lose your mind, which is how Lala translates into English her forgetting her unhappy Tehran childhood. Against this background of a parody paradise, Khakpour plays out the events following 9/11, which will, grotesquely, unite the Adam family. By then Xerxes, 26, is an unemployed college grad in a New York airshaft-view apartment, as far from Eden Gardens as possible. Khakpour is an elegant writer, and she imparts a perfect sense of the ironies of being Persian in America, where the blurry collective image of the Middle East alternates between blonde genies in bottles and furrow-browed terrorists in cockpits. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This début novel centers on an energetically discordant Iranian family living in the United States. As father, mother, and son fight to fit in while holding on to their roots, Khakpour explores ethnicity, nationalism, and post-9/11 fear—well-worn themes that are far less compelling than the exuberant originality of her style. The characters burst from the page in fiery exchanges, while their chaotic inner lives are conveyed with witty precision; a simple parting comment is accompanied by "a definite wink, a wink or maybe a squint, but a smile, possibly a grimace, more than a smile." Khakpour’s comic sense of familial tensions—particularly father-son enmity—is infectious, but she does not quite succeed in developing this into a convincing story. On the other hand, this thinness of motivation is in key with the father’s unwillingness to probe complicated sentiment, as he seeks refuge instead in his favorite command: "ENOUGH."
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143860
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Abeer Y. Hoque on October 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was excited to read Ms. Khakpour's debut novel, "Sons and Other Flammable Objects" having highly enjoyed her funny witty NYT oped ("Iranian Revolution Barbie") and her [...] bad sex essay (we all have one in us). However, as clever as she is, and this is clear from her writing and the way she structures her book, I found myself plowing rather than breezing through it.

The characters never felt real, but more like foils for what they stand for: the stultified father, the wayward son, the hang dog mother, the beautiful girlfriend, the forgotten homeland.

There are many flashes of bizarre and poignant depth, but it's so overwritten as to overwhelm the story (essentially a story about broken families). The descriptions are multiplicitous but without adding enough to the scenes to warrant the verbiage (although don't get me wrong - many scenes and even the stock characters have a startlingly original and haunting quality).

Sometimes I found the father and son characters interchangeable in their careless slangy speech patterns. And I also thought the symbolism and foreshadowing and historical and metaphorical parallels heavy handed. For example, did all three (father, mother, son) all have to have the exact same thought about flying in planes being out of space and time and thus a reprieve of sorts from life? I got it the first time around.

I wish she had slashed about a quarter of the book, and spent more time making her characters real rather than tragic and symbolic. It would have been much sharper and snappier, in line with her sharp snappy writing style.

Still, there aren't many books out there on the Iranian immigrant experience - and the loneliness of that existence (really any immigrant experience) is palpable in "Sons..." The book also spans both the east and west coasts and post-911 traumas, and does it all with a thoroughly modern sensibility. I'll look forward to more.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been reading a lot of just-in novels, and usually walk away like a cat: ambivalent, sorta hungry, and of course retaining no long-term memory. Not so with "Sons and Other Flammable Objects." Porochista Khakpour has answered some inner clarion call with this megawatt diamond, which she scrapes across the surface of the pane we've erected to keep the world out.

But in it comes, and here, suddenly, is a family not conveniently handicapped from mother or father-loss, and does not sublimate the issues of one child into another. There are two parents and one child, and Khakpour's entelechy reveals the crucible of this trinity...But in which, of course, the fourth wall is Iran. There is Darius, the father, who is "desperately annexed to his work world to add some dimension beyond father" and Lala, the mother, who is faced with a proto-Posh Spice existence in the shadow of her brooding husband and Xerxes, her mercurial, I Dream of Jeannie-obsessed son. Lala's surreal and occasionally crass experiences "making nice" beyond the confines of her Pasadena domecile are painful and realistic. After she survives a night out with her new posse, Lala feels " grateful to be alive in the night, even if it be with these strange and maybe ultimately undesirable people, but people nonetheless, and people who had some investment in her, something, she sensed."

Though Khakpour is the kind of writer who nails the description of being "deep in the type of tipsy that demanded everyone be tipsier," Khakpour herself is not this kind of host. She is not going to flambe you with her insights--they won't kick you out of the story, you won't get lost--but she's not going to cover them up when she leaves them eviscerated on your doorstep.
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Format: Hardcover
Too many novels are populated by characters that the reader forgets almost as soon as the last page is turned and the book closed. Others, with any luck, offer one or two memorable ones to whom the reader is sorry to say goodbye. And then there are novels like Porochista Khakpour's Sons and Other Flammable Objects that contribute a whole family of unforgettable personalities.

The Adam family, mother, father and son, fled Iran for France when life became unbearable for them there but ultimately started new lives for themselves in Los Angeles. Xerxes, son of Laleh (who soon Americanized her name to Lala) and Darius Adam was so young when the family left Iran that he has only vague snatches of visual memories of his life there. He really came to consciousness only after arriving in California and, for the most part, he is a product of American culture. But still he senses that he is different and that that difference is the product of life inside the apartment of his parents who are, and always will be, Iranians at heart.

His parents are certainly a contrast of styles and messages. Lala is a naively good-hearted woman who is ready to embrace most things about American culture but her husband Darius expects her to stay inside her Los Angeles apartment and to live, as closely as possible, the same lifestyle that she left behind in Iran. Darius is a suspicious man by nature and his suspiciousness is compounded by the bitterness that he feels for having been forced to leave everything that he could not carry in a few suitcases behind when he fled Iran. He expects to rule his family with an iron fist and, as his wife and son become more and more independent of him, he resents the impossibility of making that happen. He is not a happy man.
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