Wednesday 9 April 2014

Zahra's Paradise (by Amir & Khalil) - A Review

Zahra's Paradise

Location: Iran
Creators: Amir & Khalil
Format: Graphic Novel
Publisher/Year: First Second Books/2011
Genre: Drama (Political)
Theme: The tale of a family's attempts to find a young protester who vanished without a trace following the 2009 Presidential Elections in Iran.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Presidential Elections, young activist Mehdi disappears under mysterious circumstances, almost certainly abducted and detained by the government's secret police. This is not an uncommon tale in Iran, but one that's rarely told. But thanks to the efforts of his brave mother Zahra, his brother Hassan (a blogger) and other friends, Mehdi's tale gradually unfolds, and along the way the tenacious group hears from many others of their own tragedies. As the tale draws to a close (but not an end, by any means) they find themselves at the cemetery Behesht-e-Zahra (literally 'Zahra's Paradise,' for some sense of irony), a burial place for many opponents as well as supporters of the regime.

Like Cuba: My Revolution, this is a graphic novel set in a tumultuous period and the protagonist is a female character confronting some harsh truths about an autocratic regime. That's where the similarities end, however. Zahra, the main protagonist of this tale, is not a naïve young girl whose enthusiasm about the regime is shattered. No, she is a strong woman who does not truly know her strength until it's tested by the unthinkable, the disappearance of her son Mehdi.

This is the tale of one brave family, using modern means in the hunt for a missing son/brother. But it is by no means solely the tale of Mehdi's family. This is a narrative that highlights numerous tales of tragedy and instigates readers and subjects to keep fighting for a better nation. It is simple in its premise, but powerful and oh-so-current.

The protagonists are well etched out, and the locale is well established. This is a rare look at life in Teheran under the current regime, set against a modern backdrop with technology a dominant force. The writing is good, and the art is clean. At the end, though, this is not a work that's about the plot/narrative or the stylistic aspects - it's about the message. It's about revealing the way things really are in modern Iran, and it does that very well.

Is it a truly groundbreaking work? Not really. Is it a great novel? Again, probably not. But it is a good look at Iran as it is, something that most of us only hear speculation about. If you'd like a look at it, it's also serialised online (as I found out after reading it), so go check it out.

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