This book is a READ. Although its not without its flaws, I learned a good amount about Iranian history and culture from this book and enjoyed the bits of magic thrown into this story. However, if you’re not a fan of magical realism, don’t bother.
The Immortals of Tehran is an epic tale of one family in Iran spanning six generations. We follow Ahmad as he pushes into his future and as he delves into his past to understand his family’s legacy; one that seems to grant certain males a type of immortality. As he struggles to find his true self and his family grows around and despite him, we see his country morph into a land of constant crisis and upheaval, inching toward a revolution. Are the trials Iran must face inevitable or is there something more sinister and perhaps magical going on? Could the mistakes of Ahmad’s ancestors still be creating shockwaves in the present?
Araghi uses magical realism to uplift this tale well but as the story progresses the magic gets a bit too heavy handed. For most of the story, a subplot concerning cats who wreak havoc on the city of Tehran is constantly smoldering under the surface. The characters are always aware of the cats but the drama of their lives keeps the cats from becoming the main focus. When the question of the cats finally becomes too big to ignore though, Araghi gets a bit too carried away. I felt suddenly thrust into a magical world I didn’t recognize. I don’t want to give too much away but there is a scene that involves flying cats with guns. Fun for sure but a bit too unexpected.
Much of the novel centers around the power of words. How what we say and don’t say can change our lives in an instant. Ahmad is a skilled poet whose words become so powerful they set fire to paper. When Ahmad switches to etching his words into metal, he finds they have the power to melt even that. It is disappointing that we as readers only get the briefest of glimpses, perhaps a sentence or two, of what these powerful words are. I felt shut out from Ahmad and I never truly understood who he was a character because his most precious gift was kept hidden from me.
The book’s greatest strength is the power of family. As an ever growing unit, the family’s good times and bad times ebb and flow so realistically you feel as if you are a member of the group. We get a little time with each member of the family, though Ahmad, his mother, and his grandfather are the main players. I wish we could have had a bit more time seeing the point of few of some of the female characters. They often felt sidelined or viewed only through the lens of our male characters. However I was unable to tell if this was a failure of Araghi’s or the nature of Iranian culture.
“Ahmad was a ten-year-old boy when he was a ten-year-old boy.” – this is the first line in the novel and a wonderful one at that.
“They unanimously condemned the perpetrators and thanked the police and the army for their continued efforts to restore peace and order in those tumultuous times. A widespread crackdown of dissidents began the next day.” – In the U.S. we tend to think of Iran as a completely different land and yet this quote felt extremely reminiscent of U.S. politics in the summer of 2020.
- Are the cats a metaphor for something or are they just cats?
- Who are the Immortals?
- Was Ahmad an anti-hero? Did he deserve to be condemned for his actions against the revolution?
- How did you feel about the treatment of women in the novel? Could the author have stayed true to the cultural accuracies while still giving his female characters a bigger voice?
- Are Kahn & Ahmad similar or different?