“A Good Country” (2017) / Laleh Khadivi / 7.7.17

20 Oct

A Good Country, Laleh KhadiviWhen I first read about this book in an article a friend had forwarded me, I wasn’t actually interested in reading it so much as I was interested in seeing how the author would pull it off. From what I read in the article, this was a simple, straightforward story (no clever catch or trick) about an American boy of Iranian descent growing up in Southern California who becomes radicalized, who goes from being a kid who makes out with girls, smokes weed, and surfs to a kid who makes his way to Syria to join ISIS.

Bold, timely, I thought. Probably not very good, I also thought.

But I had to find out. And as I waded through the novel’s early sections, I found myself reacting almost snootily to the writing, thinking to myself that Khadivi was trying too hard to make our protagonist (Reza Courdee, who, of course, goes by Rez) appear to readers as cool, as plainly American as can be, and not even getting the jargon of weed-smoking or surfing right. It all seemed so forced, and I wondered why she didn’t make Rez a little more nuanced, rounded, real. She was setting herself up for a difficult transition, it seemed to me. If he starts out so blatantly, stereotypically American, it will make his transformation to radical Islamist feel all the more phony.

Laleh KhadiviAnd then I read the rest of the book. I take it all back. She pulled it off, stuck the landing. I won’t say much more about the plot because here’s a novel the end of which you already know (basically), so all the enjoyment is in discovering how it gets there. But after my initial incredulity and skepticism, I really settled into the thing, and found myself quite unable to put it down, and grew fonder and fonder of young Rez as a I read, and became quite frustrated at some of the happenings therein.

A significant tip of my hat to Khadivi, an author I’d never read before this, for tackling such a topic as this, and largely succeeding in my estimation. A crucial and wonderful lesson of this book is that there is not any single thing that we can point to as ultimately causing someone’s radicalization. Rather, there’s a complex ballet of motivating factors and influences beating down on such a young man as Rez growing up in the United States, and Khadivi’s exploration of this concept in A Good Country is riveting, serious, a little fun even, and ultimately enlightening.

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