Salar Abdoh: On the Writing of Tehran at Twilight
To celebrate the release of Tehran at Twilight, we’re pleased to feature a statement from author Salar Abdoh on the psychology behind his new book. Click here to see a discussion guide for Tehran at Twilight. Also check out Tehran Noir, the latest in Akashic’s Noir Series, edited by Salar Abdoh.
Tehran at Twilight is a book that I’d been thinking about for the better part of a decade. In two earlier novels, I’d treated both the prelude to and the beginning of the terror wars of the new millennium. In Tehran at Twilight, however, I wanted to deal with the aftermath of these wars but also try to get at a critical psychological dimension that I hadn’t quite touched on before. How, for instance, does a rabid anti-American like Sina Vafa even happen? Conversely, how does Sina’s counterpart, James McGreivy, a dedicated and sincere former American Marine captain, happen? Finally, what’s the recourse for someone in between, someone like Reza Malek, the main protagonist of the novel, who has a deep pull for his original home, Iran, and also his adopted home, America, but even deeper reservations regarding both countries? Where is Reza’s place in this world? How must he negotiate the duality that is a constant in his life? This is a duality that I myself have had to contend with all of my adult years. Forever shuttling back and forth between the US, Europe, and the Middle East, often I’ve felt as if I were living everywhere and nowhere, that I was an entity whose loyalties were, at best, questionable. In a time of war, and one that directly involves you and yours, such questions become acute, painful. Whom should one be loyal to? One’s country? Which country? One’s closest friend or friends? One’s family? No one?
I’ve always been struck by how easily people allow themselves to take the high moral ground when they’ve never, for example, lived in the vicinity of war or witnessed periods of intense upheaval such as a violent revolution. It is too easy to be an armchair ethicist and see the world as either entirely black or white. What am I to feel for some twenty-year-old Marine kid from middle America thrown into the nightmare of a battlefield like Fallujah who must make split-second decisions about pulling the trigger or not? At the same time, what are my feelings about a man who watches from the distance as his entire family is, mistakenly, obliterated by an American drone plane and so decides to take up guns against the Goliath? These are questions that I wrestle with every day because, I believe, it is my job to do so. As a writer. As a person from the Middle East. As a passport-carrying American. As a professor in a public college in Harlem, New York City, where most of my students are working class minority and immigrant kids—and a few of them war veterans.
I believe that a writer must, if he’s true to his craft, cut through the artificiality of the world, even if he uses artifice to hold a mirror to a culture that constantly strives to deceive us. Living through just about the entire year of the Green Movement in Iran, the precursor of the so-called Arab Spring, I saw from up close how even the best of intentions can be hijacked by people with their own agendas—whether they are foreign journalists and scholars who are out to make names for themselves, or so-called freedom fighters and “political artists” who care about little other than furthering their own careers. I believe that a writer must write about these things. And so I did. But not as a polemic, rather as an unfolding drama that involves soldiers, terrorists, academics, journalists, intelligence agents, and also those who, like Reza’s and Sina’s mothers, have been forgotten or sacrificed and fallen through the cracks of time and brutal history.
Finally, I wanted, in Tehran at Twilight, to write, as well, about the notion of redemption and/or forgiveness, two things that a war or a revolution usually call for afterwards. Where does one draw the line to forgiveness? Does one, for example, forgive a former executioner who is now repentant and acts as a liberal reformer? Does one consider extraordinary times and circumstances in weighing these kinds of matters? And just how deep should one dig into themselves before they can let bygones be bygones? Or else, decide that that scale of forgiveness is simply not within them (at least in regards to certain past chapters) and that they must stick to their fury and hostility and bitterness to the end of time?
SALAR ABDOH was born in Iran, and splits his time between Tehran and New York City, where he is codirector of the Creative Writing MFA Program at the City College of New York. He is the author of The Poet Game and Opium. His essays and short stories have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, BOMB, Callaloo, Guernica, and on the BBC. He is the recipient of the NYFA Prize and the National Endowment for the Arts award. He is the editor of Tehran Noir and the author of Tehran at Twilight, his latest novel.
Posted: Oct 8, 2014
Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: Salar Abdoh, Akashic Insider, Writing, Tehran at Twilight, New York City, Iran, Middle East, author statement, duality, revolution, identity, Fallujah, Harlem, war, veterans, Arab Spring, Green Movement, journalism, redemption, forgiveness
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