The Book of Absent People

Taghi Modarressi, Author Doubleday Books $15.95 (206p) ISBN 978-0-385-23042-1
Gentle, fanciful Rokni is 23, scion of the proud Heshmat Nezamis in Iran under the Shah. His physician father, dying of cancer, upbraids Rokni for wasting time painting and not getting a government post; he orders him to find Zia, a brother seized years ago by the secret police. Modarressi's first English novel (two have been published in Persian) is surreal and labyrinthine, capturing the plight of a cultivated family between two eras. While spectral gunfire and tear-gas drift from alleys strewn with Pepsi bottles, Rokni's kinsfolk cite ancient proverbs as guides for living, and the physician pores over classical tomes of herbal medicine. Clan snapshots and photos of war atrocities depict the new order; the past is beautifully summoned by Rokni's trancelike visions of Homayundokht, his dead stepmother, gazing at the stars or in a jewelled mirror like a Persian miniature. Although the novel sometimes reads like an awkward translation, it affords a firsthand glimpse of contemporary Tehran that will fascinate most readers. Modarressi, who practices child psychiatry in Baltimore, is married to novelist Anne Tyler. February 7
Reviewed on: 01/01/1986
Release date: 01/01/1986
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