Before shrapnel severed his left arm during the Iran–Iraq war, Amir Khan lived the life of a carefree playboy. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers and bring him home to Tehran. His memories decimated, Amir is haunted by the vision of a mysterious woman he believes is his fiancée. He never sees her face: there is a shining crescent moon on her forehead, and he names her Moon Brow.
His sense of humor (though perhaps not his sanity) intact, Amir cajoles Reyhaneh into helping him find her. Reluctantly she agrees, if only to heal her ruptured family, reminding Amir that while he’d been tormenting their devout parents with his lovers and parties, she’d been a “headscarf-shrouded prisoner” in her powerful father’s house. Now Amir is the one who cannot escape the garden walls: his father’s guards hail him as a living martyr to the cause of Imam Khomeini and the Revolution, yet treat him as a dangerous madman. Amir decides there’s only one solution to his dilemma: return to the battlefield and find his severed arm—along with its engagement ring.
All the while, twin scribes—the angel of virtue and the angel of sin—sit on our hero’s shoulders and narrate 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.
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.
“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 (2009), elicited allusions to M.C. Escher and Rubik’s Cube, does not do things simply here in his second, either.... 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…. 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
“[Mandanipour’s] highly inventive and playful writing as well as Moon Brow’s structure cast the reader into a psychological minefield that captivates and leaves us in awe of the writer’s ability to move from the historical and political reality of his own society to the poetic and elusive power of universal human love.”
– Persis Karim, World Literature Today
“Moon Brow, by an Iranian, Shahriar Mandanipour, blends war memoir with an evocative love story…. Translated into lush English prose by Sara Khalili, Moon Brow mixes messy modern politics with the dreamlike intensity of myth."
– Tara Isabella Burton, The Economist
“Mandanipour's prose is graceful and poetic, curving and weaving like the recurring swans, their necks wrapped gracefully around one another in a sensual embrace…. This is how Mandanipour's story moves me: the dance of the masculine and feminine is slow and dangerous with ignorance and assumptions, and in the dance there's a haunting search for something elusive amidst the broken seashells, broken swans beaks, broken bodies, broken memories.”
– Karen Zarker, PopMatters
“Shahriar Mandanipour's extraordinary Moon Brow is the story of one broken man's way back—not only from having fought in the horrific Iran-Iraq War, but also from a scattered, purposelessly lived life beforehand. Mandanipour's portrayal of this man's shattered psyche—he literally is grasping at fragments, coping with all manner of wounds, physical and otherwise—and the parts others play (his sister, his parents, other characters coming and going), is haunting, harrowing, disturbing, deeply powerful.”
– Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
“The most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year…. With Moon Brow, Mandanipour pulls his lovelorn characters out of the dark alleys and obscure chatrooms he explored in Censoring an Iranian Love Story into grander and more violent slices of Iranian history…. Despite its length and structural originality, Moon Brow pulls the reader along with grace, humor, and suspense. At once a war novel, a mystery, and an investigation of the relationship between love and personal growth, this book is a must-read from one of Iran’s greatest writers.”
– Walt Evans, The Sewanee Review
“In this beautiful and ambitious novel, Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) tells the story of Amir Yamini, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who lost his left arm and much of his memory in battle.... Set in Iran before and after the revolution, Mandanipour’s novel is by turns comic and tragic, both a fantastic love story and a searing portrait of a nation caught between its past and future. Mandanipour’s story is imaginative and captivating.”
– Publishers Weekly
“One of Iran’s most acclaimed writers-in-exile, Mandanipour possesses a gift for weaving together symbolism and metaphor with straightforward narrative…. Sara Khalili—who also worked with Mandanipour on the English translation of Censoring—masterfully captures both the beauty and lyricism of the prose itself and the alternating quirks and gravitas crafted into the scenes…. Moon Brow is an invitation into the heart of Iran—not just its trials and reckonings and all their implications, but the endless possibilities for redemption, healing, and change.”
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