“Khadivi is sure-footed” – A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi

The third book in the Kurdish trilogy – preceded by The Age of Orphans and The WalkingA Good Country can be read as a standalone book (we think – because we haven’t read the preceding two books – yet). It’s Laguna Beach, California, 2010. We’re in the company of Rez, the young son of Iranian immigrants, as he starts to tentatively dabble with the adult worlds of drugs and sex and surfing.

For the longest time, you could easily mistake A Good Country for a novel by Kem Nunn. Khadivi brings the surfing world vibrantly to life. You get the sense she listens well, her dialogue rings true and helps bring her characters to life. This could easily be a novel of immigrant life alone, in which we see a young man come to terms with his family’s past in what is ostensibly, still, a new world. But no: Khadivi is working harder than that. A Good Country is a book about the awakening of a consciousness.

There are atrocities, far away and then very close. “Events,” Rez is told, “come from the events before them.” These words resonate. Everything is connected.

“Nothing since the big bang has happened without a reason… if the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003. The United States would not have had the fertile ground for the lie it told about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein etc, etc, if not for Osama Bin Laden and 9/11. Osama Bin Laden would not have been able to recruit those men to learn how to fly planes and then crash them into buildings…”

The on the ground reality of life for an immigrant in the wake of an attack – the grind of racism and violence, the ugly bureaucracy, the subtle segregations – all work their magic. “What is a Muslim in the world?” Rez is asked, when he visits a Mosque for the first time at the invitation of a friend.

“It is a man, or woman, who moves with Allah as their guide. Do not let yourself be distracted by the circus around you. The devil has devised many enjoyable and dark temptations, and heaven will slip from your grasp.”

Slowly, Rez starts up a relationship with Fatima, and a friendship with a boy called Arash, and the three of them explore their identities and come to various early understandings of what their lives could be. Of the three, Rez appears to struggle the most, the attractions of youth (particularly sex and surfing) a heady draw.

Khadivi is sure-footed, though, never overplays her hand and doesn’t go anywhere near melodrama. What we have here is a story we hear relatively often, and you read suspecting Rez will go one way (when he in fact goes another) – and the book surprises you pretty much up to its close.

It would be easy for Rez to lose sympathy, easy to dismiss his mistakes as the follies of youth (he definitely makes mistakes and the mistakes are small, in their own way, and plausible) but we live in a world that no longer forgives certain mistakes – and what might once have been the follies of youth are now acts that condemn generations. Khadivi doesn’t overmilk the drama (she leaves us to imagine what life might be like for characters other than Rez in the aftermath of what he does), but the hard focus makes the reader’s sympathy all the greater.

Any Cop?: A Good Country should have done better than it did, should’ve snapped up prizes here and there. Khadivi is a real talent and this is a sturdy, powerful book. We’ll be looking forward to what she does next.

 

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