Books

Review: Folklore combine for 'unflinching portrait' of war in 'Moon Brow'

Written by great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour, “Moon Brow” is a powerfully imaginative novel about war and its long-lasting repercussions.

Here is the story of Amir Yamini, a young playboy who willed away his days drinking, reading poetry, and chasing women until, after a particularly spectacular bit of drinking, he attacked his father. This event, coupled with the changing political climate, set Amir’s life off on a very different trajectory: he served in the Iran-Iraq war and spent years in a mental hospital before being found by his mother and sister.

Now back at home with an amputated arm, Amir is celebrated as a living martyr but also feared because of his delicate mental state. Amir claims to not be mentally ill — he says he was hiding in the hospital — but his family believe differently and hire guards to keep him confined to the walled garden.

Amir’s condition has a profound effect on both the novel’s form and content. The narrative unspools in surprising ways, moving between settings, time periods and narrators, most notably twin scribes — one on Amir’s right shoulder, one on his left. The cacophony of voices immerses readers in the foggy haze of Amir’s mind, giving us the full sensation of peace, or panic, or frustration when the truth continues to slip away.

The novel’s momentum comes from Amir and his family struggling to piece together his faulty memory and discover what exactly happened to him during the war, and who is the mysterious woman who appears in his dreams, a woman he’s named Moon Brow?

A rich literary work filled with allegories and folklore, “Moon Brow” is an unflinching portrait of the complications of war.

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