Porochista Khakpour’s audacious coming-of-age novel

Hermione Hoby in The Guardian:

PoroFor the last 13 years, any New York novel in the realist mode has had a problem on its hands: how to write about an event whose significance is so huge that it is known by a date rather than a name? To ignore 9/11 entirely would be too conspicuous an omission, but repurposing it in fiction is both stylistically and morally tricky. Porochista Khakpour’s audacious second novel, which has been much acclaimed in the US, is set during 2000 and 2001, and the impending attacks are foreshadowed explicitly. First, there are the premonitions of Asiya, an anorexic, mentally unstable young artist who obsessively photographs dead birds and who becomes ever more convinced that something terrible is about to happen to Manhattan. Second, there are the delusions of Silber, an ageing celebrity magician, intent on pulling off one final stunt to crown his career. After wowing audiences with the illusion of flight he craves something bigger, and alights upon the idea of “disappearing” the World Trade Center.

Khakpour’s imagination is similarly ambitious in its scope. The narrative is not Silber’s, or even Asiya’s, but belongs to the young man who fascinates them both – Zal, the last and 19th child of Khanoom, a demented woman living in a small village in Iran. Zal’s mother is so horrified by her son’s paleness, by this “sickly yellow-white thing in her arms”, that she calls him “White Demon” and locks him in a cage in her aviary. There he grows up (if his stunted early life can be described thus) eating bugs and birdseed and mimicking the shrieks and squawks of the canaries that surround him. As the novel’s preface indicates, this is a reimagining of one of the most famous tales in theShahnameh, the epic Persian poem in which an albino child’s parents are so horrified by his whiteness that they abandon him on a mountaintop, where he’s raised by a huge mythical bird.

More here.