Shahriar Mandanipour:ابرو هلالیز (Moonbrow)
Our hero is Amir Yamini, an Iranian man who was a young man when the Shah was still ruling but very much alive during the 1979 Iranian Revolution (as was Mandanipour) and afterwards.
As a young man, during the Shah era, he enjoyed the good life. He partied. He drank. He had numerous girlfriends. (Handsome, with plenty of money in your pocket and an Alfa Romeo under your feet. Any girl you picked leaped into your arms). While we do learn of several of his girlfriends, we learn, in particular, of two. One of then convinced him that she was pregnant. He gave her the money for an abortion. She was not pregnant but she kept the money. Another one, however, killed herself because he treated her badly. However, he had many more, as he tries to have a girlfriend whose name starts with each letter of the alphabet.
He was at university during the Revolution and did not participate but did observe and nearly got attacked by one of the Shah’s police. However, he did not change his behaviour much after the Revolution. His father, a rich businessman, managed to keep in with both sides.
On one occasion he got really drunk, came home, shouting and screaming and threw up on the carpet. His father tried to throw him out and he hit his father, something that was completely unacceptable. His father called the Revolutionary Guards. He fought with them and was eventually dragged away. He continued to insult them and then insulted the judge. He was sentenced to be flogged – eighty lashes.
He was in a bad way after the flogging but eventually recovered. Then, unbeknown to his family, he joined up to help Iran in its fight against Iraq. We get a considerable amount of detail about the war and, inevitably, it was not pretty. Conditions were grim, equipment poor, morale low. The Iraqis seemed to know where to find them with shells and they also seemed to have the better artillery. Eventually, Amir’s troop was virtually wiped out. He went out to help the wounded and was himself wounded, losing his left arm. His sergeant helped him and he got away. He had treatment but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was in an asylum for five years.
His family had no idea what had happened to him. His mother and sister, Reyhaneh, travelled around all the hospitals in Iran to find him and, after five years, located him in an asylum. They took him home. This is more or less where the novel starts, with the back story gradually told over the course of the novel.
Back home, with only one arm, he is understandably not happy. By day he seems to sit and talk to Reyhaneh. At night he dreams of Moonbrow. This is the name he gives to the woman he dreams about but he has no idea who she is. However, he is convinced that she is real. Unfortunately, he has lost much of his memory and cannot recall who she might be.
When he is awake he struggles with finding out about Moonbrow. Reyhaneh knows nothing, as he told her very little. He recalls his various girlfriends and even tries to track them down but none of them fits the bill. He has vague memories of certain incidents and tries to make something of those. He even thinks that the place where he lost his arm may well be key and even tries to persuade his former sergeant, who is in an equally bad condition, for which he blames Amir, to go back to what was a very remote and inhospitable area and look for the arm.
This is quite a complex novel as Mandanipour is telling the main story but giving us a picture of Iran of that era. We see the Shah’s Iran, with its fewer restrictions but brutal and repressive police. We see the Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini era, with its greater repression. We follow the course of the Iran-Iraq War with its attendant horrors. Clearly, Mandanipour is not very enthusiastic about any of these eras or the War.
Amir himself is a selfish man, taking advantage of his wealth and the freedom that brings. His poor sister and mother, who spend five years looking for him, are as much the victims, not least because Reyhaneh’s marriage chances have been severely impaired. Despite this, Amir is the main character and we follow him and his dream of Moonbrow. Is she real or a figment of his imagination? Can he find her, if she is real? And will she want anything to do with him given his condition?
First published in English 2018 by Restless Books (the book was written in Farsi but first published in English)
Translated by Sara Khalili