cover image Symphony of the Dead

Symphony of the Dead

Abbas Maroufi, , trans. from the Persian by Lotfali Khonji. . Aflame Books, $15.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-95523-396-8

First published in Iran in 1988, this heartrending first novel recounts, using an unusual symphonic structure, the WWII-era dissolution of the mercantile Urkhani family in the provincial town of Arabdil. Rageful, narrow-minded patriarch Djaber terrorizes his children, sometimes with the enabling of his wife (“Mother”). Yousef, the eldest, is paralyzed in a childhood incident and becomes a family burden. The deep bond connecting twins Ida and her brother Ideen is broken first by Ida's banishment to the kitchen and subservient duties, then by her marriage and subsequent death. The central, triangular conflict is between Ideen, a gifted poet; his father, who thwarts his every literary advancement; and Ideen's elder brother Urhan, the favorite son, who dedicates his life to the family business. Over the course of the book's four movements, traumatic events reoccur, contrasted with the constants of daily life, and abetted by fluid shifts in time and perspective. Maroufi, who has been in exile in Germany since 1996 (when he was convicted of “insulting Islamic values”), forges a desperate cycle of self-preservation and self-destruction in this tense and sorrowful narrative.(Oct.)