The Walking, by Laleh Khadivi, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£12.99, 272 pages
Laleh Khadivi’s The Walking charts the journey of two Kurdish-Iranian brothers, Ali and Saladin, who escape to Turkey after Khomeini’s fundamentalists seized power in 1979. Ali quickly becomes weary and nostalgic; Saladin, who grew up enthralled by Hollywood movies, remains intent on forging a new life in the US. But when he finally makes it to Los Angeles he finds himself wandering the boulevards alone, haunted by visions of the past.
After her much-acclaimed 2009 debut The Age of Orphans, Khadivi’s second novel is powerfully told. She depicts the Islamic Revolution as a wrenching cataclysm whose aftershocks rippled through all aspects of life in Iran. But she is at her best when considering those who fled, their mixed feelings of relief at having escaped and concern for those they left behind: “What follows us most ardently, in dogged pursuit like a neglected neighbour or a new ghost, is news of home.”
Review by David Evans
I Am Forbidden, by Anouk Markovits, Vintage, RRP£7.99, 288 pages
Zalman Stern, a Hasidic rabbi, starts a family on the Romanian-Hungarian border at the outbreak of the second world war. Within five years his firstborn, Atara, has been joined by several siblings and two orphans, Mila and Josef, and they all flee to Paris just as the borders close.
Anouk Markovits’s English-language debut follows the next four generations to Brooklyn, 2012. Zalman’s insistence on Hasidic values in a secular society sets in chain a lineage of conflict between his descendants’ yearning for the “forbidden” – knowledge, family, memory – and the strictures of their faith. Trying to reconcile these forces tears the Sterns apart, even as they seek to explain their own self-destruction: “It is sometimes necessary,” Mila grasps, “to shroud a holy act in sin.”
Using the language of the scriptures, Markovits depicts religion’s potential for both beauty and cruelty, and the inevitability of transgression even in the most devout life.
Review by Maria Crawford