MOON BROW

Shahriar Mandanipour & Sara Khalili (Translator)

From “one of Iran’s most important living fiction writers” (The Guardian) comes a fantastically imaginative story of love and war narrated by two angel scribes perched on the shoulders of a shell-shocked Iranian soldier who’s searching for the mysterious woman haunting his dreams.

Before he enlisted as a soldier in the Iran–Iraq war and disappeared, Amir Yamini was a carefree playboy whose only concerns were seducing women and riling his religious family. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, his left arm and most of his memory lost.

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From “one of Iran’s most important living fiction writers” (The Guardian) comes a fantastically imaginative story of love and war narrated by two angel scribes perched on the shoulders of a shell-shocked Iranian soldier who’s searching for the mysterious woman haunting his dreams.

Before he enlisted as a soldier in the Iran–Iraq war and disappeared, Amir Yamini was a carefree playboy whose only concerns were seducing women and riling his religious family. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, his left arm and most of his memory lost. Amir is haunted by the vision of a mysterious woman whose face he cannot see—the crescent moon on her forehead shines too brightly. He names her Moon Brow.

Back home in Tehran, the prodigal son is both hailed as a living martyr to the cause of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution and confined as a dangerous madman. His sense of humor, if not his sanity, intact, Amir cajoles Reyhaneh into helping him escape the garden walls to search for Moon Brow. Piecing together the puzzle of his past, Amir decides there’s only one solution: he must return to the battlefield and find the remains of his severed arm—and discover its secret.

All the while, two angels sit on our hero’s shoulders and inscribe the story in enthrallingly distinctive prose. Wildly inventive and radically empathetic, steeped in Persian folklore and contemporary Middle East history, Moon Brow is the great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour’s unforgettable epic of love, war, morality, faith, and family.

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  • Restless Books
  • Paperback
  • April 2018
  • 464 Pages
  • 9781632061287

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About Shahriar Mandanipour & Sara Khalili (Translator)

Shahriar Mandanipour, one of the most accomplished writers of contemporary Iranian literature, has held fellowships at Brown University, Harvard University, Boston College, and at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. Mandanipour is the author of nine volumes of fiction, one nonfiction book, and more than 100 essays in literary theory, literature and art criticism, creative writing, censorship, and social commentary. From 1999 until 2007, he was Editor-in-Chief of Asr-e Panjshanbeh (Thursday Evening), a monthly literary journal that after 9 years of publishing was banned. Some of his short stories and essays have been published in anthologies such as Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature and Sohrab’s Wars: Counter Discourses of Contemporary Persian Fiction: A Collection of Short Stories and a Film Script; and in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Short works have been published in France, Germany, Denmark, and in languages such as Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish. Mandanipour’s first novel to appear in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, translated by Sara Khalili and published by Knopf in 2009, was very well received (Los Angeles Times, Guardian, New York Times, etc.). Censoring an Iranian Love Story was named by the New Yorker one of the reviewers’ favorites of 2009, by the Cornell Daily Sun as Best Book of the Year for 2009, and by NPR as one of the best debut novels of the year; it was awarded (Greek ed.) the Athens Prize for Literature for 2011. The novel has been translated and published in 12 other languages and in 14 countries throughout the world. Currently, he teaches creative writing, as a visiting Professor of the Practice at Tufts University.

Author Website

Sara Khalili is an editor and translator of contemporary Iranian literature. Her translations include Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi, The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee, and Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali. She has also translated several volumes of poetry by Forough Farrokhzad, Simin Behbahani, Siavash Kasraii, and Fereydoon Moshiri. Her short story translations have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, EPOCH, GRANTA, Words Without Borders, The Literary Review, PEN America, Witness, and Consequence.

Praise

“History and politics, Islam and Morality Police permeate without overwhelming the narrative as it shifts between Amir’s present and past. His relationship with his sister is also a rich, tender thread throughout. Mandanipour, an Iranian writer whose first novel in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, elicited allusions to M.C. Escher and Rubik’s Cube, does not do things simply here in his second, either. Sections alternate between a scribe ‘on his right shoulder’ and one on his left, like good and bad angels, providing both omniscient narrative and Amir’s first-person reveries. The device suggests Amir’s unsteady grasp of reality, his own story, as his damaged, drifting mind tries to paste together dimly recalled shards of a broken life. The prose also reveals a writer in total control, easily moving from the banter of youth to lyrical or sensual flights befitting Amir’s former liking for poetry and seduction, to Persian folktales or hallucinatory fever dreams from a brain unhinged by battle, medication, and remorse. A remarkable vision of the elusiveness of redemption and love.”Kirkus, Starred Review

“In dazzling flashbacks, Amir gradually pieces together the narrative of his past as a womanizing Casanova and a soldier who sees the horrific casualties of war up close. Mandanipour uses this love story, ably translated by Sara Khalili, as the canvas for a larger picture of a country routinely disrupted by revolution and war. In a sense, Khan’s fractured mind might just as well be a stand-in for Iran’s own fragile history…. [A] dazzling mosaic of a troubled young man and a troubled yet gloriously rich nation.”— Poornima Apte, Booklist, Starred Review

“Written in the heightened language of dreams, if dreams were always so dark, this long-anticipated work from exiled Iranian award winner Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) features Amir Yamini, a young wastrel given to drinking, womanizing, and blasphemy, who shames his devout Iranian family and is finally carted off and flogged by the Revolutionary Guards. He ends up a soldier fighting against Iraq, is hit by shrapnel, and after losing an arm and much of his memory, is confined to the mental hospital from which his mother and sister rescue him after years of searching. Frustrated but loyal sister Reyhaneh is willing to help him recall his life and find Moon Brow, the woman he repeatedly envisions, her face hidden by the glow of a crescent moon, and the novel winds toward that goal through a labyrinth of gorgeously rendered scenes. These scenes are ingeniously imparted by two scribes: Amir’s more manageable self, reputedly perched on his right shoulder, and a demonically angry self perched on his left, mirroring his split soul and that of his country. VERDICT: Highly recommended for literary lovers.”—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, Starred Review

Discussion Questions

1. How does the narration, alternating between two angel scribes that sit on Amir’s shoulders, shape your reading experience? Why do you think the author chose to write the novel this way?

2. Apart from the innovative narrative technique, Moon Brow is also a story that plays with time and space. How does the non-linear progression of the narration align with the story and its protagonist?

3. How do the descriptions of Amir’s environment—his home, the garden, the mountains, the hospital—interplay with those of his wartime traumas, physical and psychological?

4. What is the importance of Baba Shahu’s character in Amir’s journey? Is he a metaphor?

5. How is Amir’s quest to find his the remains of his arm like or unlike a traditional hero’s journey? How do the other characters—Reyhaneh, Agha Haji, Amir’s mother—fit into it?

6. What symbolic function does Amir’s family garden serve?

7. What do you think of the story of Khazar?

8. Women play a central, if conflicted role in Amir’s present and his past. How would you describe Amir’s relationships with women, and how do they change?

9. “Moon Brow” comes from an old Persian folktale that, in a sense, is the Persian version of Cinderella : in Moon Brow’s story, her father convinces her to kill her own mother so her father can marry someone else. His new wife becomes her cruel stepmother, who treats the girl as a servant. When she helps a monster at the bottom of a well, the girl receives a glowing diamond crescent on her forehead as a reward. Why do you think Mandanipour chose this title for his novel? Could the novel be considered a modern folktale?

10. How might Agha Haji be a symbol or a metaphor for the Islamic Revolution and its limitations?

11. Mandanipour used to be the chief editor for a literary magazine that was banned in Iran, and many of his stories have been censored in his homeland since then. How do you feel his experiences with censorship come through in this narrative, both in terms of language and character?

12. If you were to categorize this novel into a genre, which one would you pick? Why?

13. How did reading this novel alter your perceptions of Iran, the Islamic Revolution, and the Iraq-Iran war?