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Tehran at Twilight by Salar Abdoh

Tehran at Twilight

by Salar Abdoh

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3210347,362 (3.68)7



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Reza, an Iranian English professor in New York gets pulled into espionage by working as a translator for a friend, or he gets pushed into it because he knows that corruption is the way his world works. Reza is competing with a U.S. veteran who has published a best selling book about Iran; competing for prestige, honor, and perhaps the affection of a young black woman in Reza's class. Too many things happening and I just got lost as to who was credible and who was not. ( )
  minxcr1964 | Jul 5, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This ambitious book is at once a political thriller, a family saga, and examination of friendship and loyalty.

His childhood friend Sina uses bonds of their shared past to summon the protagonist, Reza Malek, back to Tehran after many years. Tehran is described in all of its post-revolutionary chaos, hustles competing with principles for attention and prominence in a country defining itself anew.

Malek’s mission there is both dangerous and obscure. Once in Tehran, Malek meets his mother Soaad, lost to him for many years, and becomes entangled in her political and economic drama along with those of Sina’s parents and of Soaad’s mysterious friend Anna. Malek is both intelligent and educated. Yet he seems to blunder his way around his hometown of Tehran and his adopted home in US academia without developing the necessary focus to succeed in either sphere.

Characters of ambiguous morality and trustworthiness including a former lover and an on the make middle-man weave through the narrative, popping up with (sometimes too convenient) plot twists which reveal Malek’s ignorance and gullibility. Quite a bit of suspension of disbelief is required to swallow some of the relationships: you might take for granted lifelong closeness with a childhood friend, but the relationship between Malek and Sina is never clarified or fleshed out.

Malek’s relationship with a fellow faculty member, hired in part upon his recommendation, is particularly impenetrable. While perhaps there’s a natural affinity of colleagues, this friendship felt artificial, as though James is a kind of sock puppet, pulled out to divert the reader when the plot needs an improbable development or boost.

After an opening chapter that tries too hard, the writing is awkward in places, but moves the story along its winding path. As literature, I would like to have seen this writer go deeper. As a page turner, this book succeeded reasonably well. ( )
  LNDuff | Mar 10, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Abdoh's Tehran at Twilight is smart and artful, centering on a jaded academic who is both transplanted Iranian and American translator & professor. His interweaving of politics with intrigue, day-to-day frustration with basic emotion and common sense, and jadedness with idealism, make it a frighteningly realistic book, one which follows a man who does his best to remain impartial and jaded, and is still, irrevocably, swept up.

The book's sole failing is that, if anything, protagonist Reza Malek is portrayed too believably as he moves between the chaos of Tehran and the stale politics of his barely-retained job at a small university in America. He is, absolutely, jaded and detached from all about him, and believably so given his position. The untenable position of the novel, though, is to make a character such as this engaging and human, and in a short span of time. Abdoh succeeds at the task, but it isn't a quick journey. As such, the first half of the book proceeds as something of a testimonial to events with Malek as the witness, but his lack of emotion puts the reader in a similar position--it's difficult, at best, to engage with the humanity behind the book. Yet, for readers who follow through, drawn on by the plot, the second half of the book is all but a one-sitting read, as Malek is forced to reckon with the fact that impartiality can only take him so far, and that his two countries will, very simply, force him to make choices and acknowledge his own humanity, and that of his family and friends.

Simply, he cannot remain impartial and entirely detached in a world that refuses to view him as such.

In the end, the book is powerful, but it is also a slow-burner. I went into the second half of the book acknowledging that it was well-written, but all the same, ready for it to hurry and finish. And then, after having plodded along slowly for more than a week, I couldn't put the book down for those last 115 pages. Call it political noir or a thriller or a drama or anything else you wish--this book truly does defy boundaries; and while it is, if anything, too realistic to move quickly in the beginning, it is also unfailingly impressive by the end.

No doubt, I'll be looking for more of Salar Abdoh's work in the future, and if noir or the politics of a chaotic world could entice you to read anything...well, this comes recommended. Wander through the beginning, I'd say, and then hold on until you reach the end. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Mar 3, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I got this book as part of LT early reviewers giveaway.

I have been a big fan of books from various Iranian authors so I picked this up with a lot of hope.

The book is pretty well written. However, the story just didn't do it for me. I failed to identify or empathize with the characters. While the author tried to convey suspense and mystery, it just didn't pull me enough. I liked the writing style though and I believe with a little polish this book would have earned another star for me.

I will still like to read the future works from the author. ( )
  mohitgoel | Jan 27, 2015 |
I’ve been doing my best to read any fiction I come across that depicts life in contemporary Iran. Thus far, Salar Abdoh’s Tehran at Twilight is the best of those I’ve read.

Abdoh’s Iran is a place where the question isn’t if one has been complicit, but rather the extent of one’s complicity. Malek Reza, the novel’s protagonist, is an Iranian-American, one who initially supported the revolution, but moved to the U.S. with his father when the revolutionary government became as violent towards its own citizens as the shah’s had been. As Reza notes near the end of the book, “Change always carried a price. Often that price was that there would be no change at all”—words that, unfortunately, ring true in too many countries, including the U.S.

Reza’s best friend, Sina Vafa, has returned to Iran after he and Reza finished their educations at U.C. Berkeley. Vafa is still committed to the revolution despite its disappointments, still eager to engage in clandestine activity in Iran or in surrounding countries.

After years of separation, Vafa contacts Reza, asking him to return to Iran and—upon Reza’s return—asking him to accept Vafa’s power of attorney. This request, not surprisingly, is more complex than it seems, ultimately sundering the two men’s friendship:

Later on, whenever he thought about it, Malek would come back to this night as the precise moment when something broke between him and Sina. It was like he was watching his friend drift away in a boat and there was nothing he could do to stop it or reel him back in. Something was finished. But they still had to play along.

Part of the novel’s richness is that it looks beyond these characters’ lives to see present-day Iran through other sets of eyes as well. There’s James McGreivy, a former marine grown critical of U.S. policy, who’s been hired to teach writing at the same New York college where Reza is employed. Importantly, there are two mothers as well: Reza’s, who walked away from him and his father before the revolution, and Vafa’s, living in straightened circumstances since her son evicted her from the one piece of property she’d been able to reclaim from the revolutionary government. The relationships among these characters balance love, distrust, and bitterness in varying amounts. In the Iran of the novel, no relationship is simple.

Tehran at Twilight begins a bit slowly, but is worth sticking with. As the characters and their predicaments engage you, you’ll find yourself reading more quickly, hungrily, and feeling unwilling to put the book down. Read this book both for the picture of Iran it offers and for its insights into human relationships. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Dec 4, 2014 |
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Iranian ex-pat Reza Malek's quiet professorial life is upended when he returns to Tehran to help his best friend Sina Vava who is involved with Shia militants.

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