What mattered to us when we started this project, and what matters to us now, is witnessing the plight and reversing the tragedy that has befallen the Iranian people. The tragedy is personal. Its details and dimensions are unfathomable. It is also legal, political, religious, and cultural.Zahra’s Paradise is a fictionalised account of the aftermath of the fraudulent 2009 presidential election in Iran. The book, which began its life as a webcomic, is about a young man’s disappearance and his family’s incessant search for him. The story is told from the point of view of Hassan, a blogger whose younger brother goes missing the night of the largest demonstration in what became known as Iran’s Green Revolution.
It was hard for us, like millions of other people outside Iran, to watch Iranian mothers and fathers grieve over the loss of their sons and daughters in Zahra’s Paradise—the actual cemetery—and not feel singed by their grief or touched by their dignity. That is the origin of this work. It is their gift to us. And ours to them.
We have tried to capture and reflect the Iranian people’s dignity, humanity, love, and grief in the mirror of ZAHRA’S PARADISE. And yes, also the violence, cruelty, and ignorance that causes so many to suffer around their absent children, children who lie beaten, betrayed, buried – but not forgotten – in the bottom of a constitution and tradition established in the name of the Hidden Imam.From the Afterwords by Amir and Khalil
When Mehdi doesn’t return home that night, Hassan and his mother Zahra’s concern quickly turns into full-fledged panic. Their search for Medhi takes them from hospital to hospital that first night; and later to seemingly endless bureaucratic labyrinths, to dead ends where nobody seems to have any answers, and finally to Zahra’s Paradise, a large cemetery on the outskirts of Tehran and one of the origins of the book’s title.
As the afterword carefully explains, Zahra’s Paradise is a work of fiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s divorced from history. Medhi’s fictional story condenses the countless real stories Amir and Khalil heard in the weeks and months that followed the 2009 Iran election. The authors (who have remained anonymous for obvious political reasons) focus on the repercussions that the Iranian government’s violent repression of the demonstration had on the lives of individual citizens - repercussions that are often forgotten in dominant political narratives. This is a deeply political story, but it’s told in such a way that we are reminded that its personal dimensions cannot be divorced from its wider implications.
I love the fact that Zahra’s Paradise makes the distinction between the Iranian people and Iran’s political regime absolutely clear. People like Medhi, Hassam and Zahra suffer the consequences of arbitrary power displays from a dictatorial regime in ways that most of us in the West can hardly conceive of, and are therefore more directly invested in the need for social and political change than any external commenter could be.
I’m always grateful to find stories told by voices from within Iran; stories which focus very clearly on the political dimension of what is happening in the country; stories which, unlike much Western media coverage, never essentialise Iran’s problems. Zahra’s Paradise suggests that the seeds of democratic change in Iran can already be found in the will of its people, and that hope for the future lies in everyday acts of defiance both large and small, rather than in any form of external intervention
Zahra’s Paradise is a memorable story, and also an important work of political dissent.
Reviewed at: Blue Print Reviews
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