Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

Khakpour lived in New York at the time of the attacks. In an op-ed that she wrote for The New York Times ear­lier this month, she re­veals that, as an Ira­nian na­tional at the time (she is now a U.S. cit­i­zen), she saw how her hard-won as­sim­i­lated life as a down­town club girl and rov­ing jour­nal­ist quickly changed. Even her most lib­eral and pro­gres­sive friends seemed to raise sus­pi­cions and un­founded charges about her cit­i­zen­ship. It made her re­al­ize that Amer­i­can iden­tity is frag­ile for im­mi­grants — par­tic­u­larly those from the Mid­dle East — even af­ter spend­ing decades in the U.S. If Khakpour is obliged to take a se­ri­ous and sober ap­proach to writ­ing for this nation’s most au­gust out­lets of opin­ion, her fic­tion soars by al­low­ing her to reach the parts of the im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence that are too weird, funky, and full of painful hu­man in­de­ci­sion to be dis­cussed by East Coast-based com­men­tariat.

My fa­vorite chap­ter in Sons and Other Flammable Ob­jects deals with the brief, if in­tense, friend­ships fos­tered in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s apart­ment com­plexes, in which im­mi­grants, sin­gles, and young fam­i­lies mix in ex­plo­sive ways. The re­pressed mid­dle-aged Lala steps away from her bit­ter, au­thor­i­tar­ian hus­band to have her first-ever night on the town — egged on by her neigh­bors Gigi (a vi­brant, snarky Latina house­keeper) and Marvin (a bois­ter­ous, stead­fast gay man who Lala guiltily ad­mits is the first black per­son she has ever talked to). In one of the so­cioe­co­nomic mis­trans­la­tions that limn this book, Lala de­cides to tell Marvin that in Iran, Santa Claus is a black-faced man. In what could be a moment of cross-cul­tural dis­as­ter, Marvin laughs as Lala bravely eats sushi with chop­sticks she can’t use, con­vinced that she is court­ing death from bac­te­ria with ev­ery bite.

Khakpour has com­pleted a sec­ond book. “It’s a fab­u­list novel. You could say mag­i­cal re­al­ist,” she said in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo. “It fol­lows a feral child pro­tag­o­nist who was raised largely as a bird. It’s based loosely on a Per­sian myth, and it has him in­ter­act­ing with a ma­gi­cian’s show roughly based on David Cop­per­field.” With its mix of fan­tasy, sci-fi, and mag­i­cal re­al­ism, it’s cer­tainly a vivid de­par­ture from Sons. Khakpour says it’s a re­turn to her roots in fab­u­list lit­er­a­ture, which in­spired her ear­li­est writ­ings, and it is also set in the era of Sept. 11 — a day that haunts her still. “I think about it ev­ery day,” she says.

I haven’t read the man­u­script, but it wouldn’t sur­prise me if Khakpour’s new novel turned out to be a com­ple­ment to Sons. Af­ter all, the saga of im­mi­grants in Amer­ica is a tale that ev­ery day brims with ab­sur­dity and won­der. As my fa­vorite line in Sons, ut­tered by the iras­ci­ble pa­tri­arch Dar­ius, goes, “He had lived well over twenty Amer­i­can-non­senseChrist­mases and ev­ery year when it came, he’d re­al­ize it all over gain: this coun­try is ab­so­lute glo­ri­ous bull­shit.”

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