Amid the alleyways of the Zamzam neighborhood of Tehran, a woman lights herself on fire in a desperate act of defiance, setting off a chain reaction of violence and protest. Haunted by the woman's death, Issa is forced to confront the contradictions of his own family history, throughout which his late brother Hashem, a prominent queer artist in Tehran's underground, had defied their father, a skilled martial artist bound to traditional notions of honor and masculinity. Issa soon finds himself thrown into a circle of people living on the margins of society, negotiating a razor-like code of conduct that rewards loyalty and encourages aggression and intolerance in equal measure. As the city explodes around him, Issa realizes that it is the little acts of kindness that matter most, the everyday humanity of individuals finding love and doing right by one another.
Compelling ... The Issa-Nasser-Mehran plot is the novel’s most intriguing, but it’s hampered by other competing dramas ... Consequently, Issa, and our emotional investment, sometimes feel splintered among too many concerns ... Raises the possibility that love — or more vitally, connection — can still be forged in a difficult world.
Plenty of bed-hopping, both considered and consummated, happens on Iranian-born, New York-based professor Abdoh’s provocative pages, resulting in a poignant dark, dark dramedy exposing the elusive, performative nature of never quite true love.