A nearby country called love

Salar Abdoh

Book - 2023

"A sweeping, propulsive novel about the families we are born into and the families we make for ourselves, in which two brothers struggle to find their place in an Iran on the brink of combusting 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 within his own family as his brother Hashem, a prominent queer artist in Tehran's underground, defies 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 a society at t...he brink of combusting, 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. Vibrant and evocative, intimate and intelligent, A Nearby Country Called Love is both a captivating window into contemporary Iran and a portrait of the parallel fates of a man and his country-a man who acknowledges the sullen and rumbling baggage of history but then chooses to step past its violent inheritance"--

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[New York] : Viking [2023]
Main Author
Salar Abdoh (author)
Physical Description
245 pages ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Deported after a decade-plus in New York City after getting caught with illegally acquired anti-anxiety pills, Issa returns to the Tehran apartment he shared with his dead, abusive father and tormented-because-he-was-gay, dead older brother. When he's not selling washing machines, Issa teaches English. "He wasn't lacking . . . [but] he didn't have love," a connection he continuously seeks. His late brother's theatrical community offers him welcoming solace, in which he (re)meets plenty of lonely souls. Love, in contemporary Iran, can be fatal, as Issa quickly learns, infected by his friend Nasser's obsession with the recent, public self-immolation of a desperate wife. Toxic masculinity is the ubiquitous cultural norm, Issa realizes, that prevents Nasser from accepting his finally found true love, that keeps Issa's sort-of "sister" chained to a tyrannical ex-husband who separates her from their son, that denies a gifted teen education, and that mandates she marry her cousin. 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.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Abdoh (Out of Mesopotamia) offers a moving and nuanced study of gender and sexuality in contemporary Iran. Issa has reluctantly returned to Tehran from New York City ("sometimes there simply was no story of triumphing elsewhere in the world"). Back home, his longtime friend Nasser wants him to help take revenge on an unnamed widower whose wife set herself on fire after years of abuse. En route to visit the widower, Issa remembers the persecution that Hashem, his late queer brother, faced in their neighborhood. When they finally confront the widower, Issa is struck by the "futile maleness of it all." The plot, such as it is, follows Issa as he reckons with the various contradictions of religious law and codes of patriarchal honor. One episode involves Mehran, an old friend of Hashem's who's now in a relationship with Nasser. When Nasser tells Issa he plans to force Mehran into gender reassignment surgery so their relationship can be legal, Issa is disgusted. Out of this sad, low-key chronicle, Abdoh brings life to Issa's longing, which is fueled by memories of his brother ("Don't forget this is the land of One Thousand and One Nights, Issa. Anything is possible," Hashem once told him). It's an artful rendering of hope amid despair. Agent: Jessica Papin, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Nov.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A Tehran resident navigates his friends' personal entanglements--and his own. "Tehran is like a bad marriage one gets trapped in." Those words, spoken to Issa, the protagonist of Abdoh's novel, encapsulate the challenges facing many of this book's characters. For his part, Issa is haunted by memories of his father and brother, both dead. His father was a martial arts instructor; his brother, Hashem, a queer playwright whose sexuality put him at odds with their father. This fraught family background isn't all that Issa must contend with. When he returned to Tehran after attending graduate school in New York, he lost a teaching job over an accusation of "godlessness." Much of the novel focuses on his complicated friendship with a firefighter named Nasser. As Abdoh writes, "a guy like Nasser cultivated the notion that protecting the weak was not a fairy tale, but rather an occupation, a religion." That friendship is tested when Nasser meets Mehran, a colleague of Issa's late brother. Nasser's growing attraction to Mehran eventually curdles into something bleaker, leaving Issa increasingly frustrated by his friend's abusive side. Nasser and Mehran aren't the only people whose presence causes Issa to rethink his assumptions about society; old friends from his childhood and his time in New York also re-enter his life to further complicate matters. As Mehran tells Issa, "The people you thought were your friends, they can turn on you in a moment." Issa struggles to find the right thing to do in a series of ethical challenges, even as he tries to navigate his own ambitions and desires. An emotionally complex narrative anchored by a protagonist who's deeper than he seems. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.