Before he enlisted as a soldier in the Iran–Iraq war and disappeared, Amir Yamini was a carefree playboy whose only concerns were seducing women and riling his religious family. Five years later, his mother and sister Reyhaneh find him in a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, his left arm and most of his memory lost. Amir is haunted by the vision of a mysterious woman whose face he cannot see—the crescent moon on her forehead shines too brightly. He names her Moon Brow.
Back home in Tehran, the prodigal son is both hailed as a living martyr to the cause of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution and confined as a dangerous madman. His sense of humor, if not his sanity, intact, Amir cajoles Reyhaneh into helping him escape the garden walls to search for Moon Brow. Piecing together the puzzle of his past, Amir decides there’s only one solution: he must return to the battlefield and find the remains of his severed arm—and discover its secret.
All the while, to angels sit on our hero’s shoulders and inscribe the story in enthrallingly distinctive prose. Wildly inventive and radically empathetic, steeped in Persian folklore and contemporary Middle East history, Moon Brow is the great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour’s unforgettable epic of love, war, morality, faith, and family.
Praise For Moon Brow…
— Kirkus, Starred Review
“In dazzling flashbacks, Amir gradually pieces together the narrative of his past as a womanizing Casanova and a soldier who sees the horrific casualties of war up close. Mandanipour uses this love story, ably translated by Sara Khalili, as the canvas for a larger picture of a country routinely disrupted by revolution and war. In a sense, Khan’s fractured mind might just as well be a stand-in for Iran’s own fragile history…. [A] dazzling mosaic of a troubled young man and a troubled yet gloriously rich nation."
— Poornima Apte
“Written in the heightened language of dreams, if dreams were always so dark, this long-anticipated work from exiled Iranian award winner Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) features Amir Yamini, a young wastrel given to drinking, womanizing, and blasphemy, who shames his devout Iranian family and is finally carted off and flogged by the Revolutionary Guards…. These scenes are ingeniously imparted by two scribes: Amir’s more manageable self, reputedly perched on his right shoulder, and a demonically angry self perched on his left, mirroring his split soul and that of his country. VERDICT: Highly recommended for literary lovers.”
— Barbara Hoffert
“[Mandanipour’s] highly inventive and playful writing as well as Moon Brow’s structure cast the reader into a psychological minefield that captivates and leaves us in awe of the writer’s ability to move from the historical and political reality of his own society to the poetic and elusive power of universal human love.”
— Persis Karim
“Moon Brow, by an Iranian, Shahriar Mandanipour, blends war memoir with an evocative love story…. Translated into lush English prose by Sara Khalili, Moon Brow mixes messy modern politics with the dreamlike intensity of myth."
— Tara Isabella Burton
“Mandanipour's prose is graceful and poetic, curving and weaving like the recurring swans, their necks wrapped gracefully around one another in a sensual embrace…. This is how Mandanipour's story moves me: the dance of the masculine and feminine is slow and dangerous with ignorance and assumptions, and in the dance there's a haunting search for something elusive amidst the broken seashells, broken swans beaks, broken bodies, broken memories.”
— Karen Zarker
“Shahriar Mandanipour's extraordinary Moon Brow is the story of one broken man's way back—not only from having fought in the horrific Iran-Iraq War, but also from a scattered, purposelessly lived life beforehand. Mandanipour's portrayal of this man's shattered psyche—he literally is grasping at fragments, coping with all manner of wounds, physical and otherwise—and the parts others play (his sister, his parents, other characters coming and going), is haunting, harrowing, disturbing, deeply powerful.”
— Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
“The most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year…. With Moon Brow, Mandanipour pulls his lovelorn characters out of the dark alleys and obscure chatrooms he explored in Censoring an Iranian Love Story into grander and more violent slices of Iranian history…. Despite its length and structural originality, Moon Brow pulls the reader along with grace, humor, and suspense. At once a war novel, a mystery, and an investigation of the relationship between love and personal growth, this book is a must-read from one of Iran’s greatest writers.”
— Walt Evans
“In this beautiful and ambitious novel, Mandanipour (Censoring an Iranian Love Story) tells the story of Amir Yamini, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who lost his left arm and much of his memory in battle.... Set in Iran before and after the revolution, Mandanipour’s novel is by turns comic and tragic, both a fantastic love story and a searing portrait of a nation caught between its past and future. Mandanipour’s story is imaginative and captivating.”
— Publishers Weekly
“One of Iran’s most acclaimed writers-in-exile, Mandanipour possesses a gift for weaving together symbolism and metaphor with straightforward narrative…. Sara Khalili—who also worked with Mandanipour on the English translation of Censoring—masterfully captures both the beauty and lyricism of the prose itself and the alternating quirks and gravitas crafted into the scenes…. Moon Brow is an invitation into the heart of Iran—not just its trials and reckonings and all their implications, but the endless possibilities for redemption, healing, and change.”
— Maikie Paje
Restless Books, 9781632061287, 464pp.
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
About the Author
Mandanipour was born in 1957 in Shiraz, Iran, and started writing from a young age. He studied political science at Tehran University and bore witness to the 1979 revolution. After the onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, he joined the military and volunteered for duty at the front, where he served as a non-career officer in the 191st Infantry for more than fourteen months. In cement trenches or holes dug in earth and stone, he wrote in the light of a paraffin lantern, between the mortar attacks.
The first collection of his stories, Shadows of the Cave, was published in 1989, and the second, The Eighth Day of the Earth, in 1992. Though he continued to write in the years that followed, due to censorship he was not published again until 1997, following the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, and four of his books were published one or two years apart. In 1999, he became Editor-in-Chief of the monthly literary journal Asr-e Panjshanbeh (Thursday Evening), and remained so until it was banned in 2007.
In 2006, Mandanipour moved to the United States and has held fellowships at Brown University, Harvard University, Boston College, and at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. Some of his short stories and essays have been published in anthologies such as Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature and Sohrab’s Wars: Counter Discourses of Contemporary Persian Fiction: A Collection of Short Stories and a Film Script; and in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Short works have been published in France, Germany, Denmark, and in languages such as Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish.
Mandanipour’s first novel to appear in English, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, translated by Sara Khalili and published by Knopf in 2009, was named by The New Yorker as one of the reviewers’ favorites of 2009, by the Cornell Daily Sun as Best Book of the Year for 2009, and by NPR as one of the best debut novels of the year; it was awarded (Greek ed.) the Athens Prize for Literature for 2011. The novel has been translated and published in eleven other languages and in thirteen countries throughout the world.
Sara Khalili is an editor and translator of contemporary Iranian literature. Her translations include Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi, The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee, and Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali. She has also translated several volumes of poetry by Forough Farrokhzad, Simin Behbahani, Siavash Kasraii, and Fereydoon Moshiri. Her short story translations have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, EPOCH, GRANTA, Words Without Borders, The Literary Review, PEN America, Witness, and Consequence.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. How does the narration, alternating between two angel scribes on Amir’s shoulders, shape your reading experience? Why do you think the author chose to write the novel this way?
2. Apart from the innovative narrative technique, Moon Brow is also a story that plays with time and space. How does the non-linear progression of the narration align with the story and its protagonist?
3. How do the descriptions of Amir’s environment—his home, the garden, the mountains, the hospital—interplay with those of his wartime traumas, physical and psychological?
4. What is the importance of Baba Shahu’s character in Amir’s journey? Is he a metaphor?
5. How is Amir’s quest to find his the remains of his arm like or unlike a traditional hero’s journey? How do the other characters—Reyhaneh, Agha Haji, Amir’s mother—fit into it?
6. Women play a central, if conflicted role in Amir’s present and past. How would you describe Amir’s relationships with women, and how do they change?
7. “Moon Brow” comes from an old Persian folktale that, in a sense, is the Persian version of Cinderella: in Moon Brow’s story, her father convinces her to kill her own mother so her father can marry someone else. His new wife becomes her cruel stepmother, treating the girl as a servant. When she helps a monster at the bottom of a well, the girl receives a glowing diamond crescent on her forehead as a reward. Why do you think Mandanipour chose this title? Could the novel be considered a modern folktale?
8. How might Agha Haji be a symbol or a metaphor for the Islamic Revolution and its limitations?
9. Mandanipour used to be the chief editor for a literary magazine that was banned in Iran, and many of his stories have been censored in his homeland. Does his experience with censorship come through in this narrative, both in terms of language and character?
10. If you were to categorize this novel into a genre, which one would you pick? Why?
11. How did reading this novel alter your perceptions of Iran, the Islamic Revolution, and the Iraq-Iran war?