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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Moon Brow

Shahriar Mandanipour

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To purchase Moon Brow

Title: Moon Brow
Author: Shahriar Mandanipour
Genre: Novel
Written: (Eng. 2018)
Length: 446 pages
Original in: Farsi
Availability: Moon Brow - US
Moon Brow - UK
Moon Brow - Canada
Front de lune - France
Augenstern - Deutschland
  • Farsi title: ابرو هلالی
  • Although written in Farsi, Moon Brow was first published in its English translation
  • Translated by Sara Khalili

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Our Assessment:

B : solid personal Iranian saga

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 2/4/2018 .
TLS A 20/7/2018 Tabish Khair
World Lit. Today . 7-8/2018 Persis Karim

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mandanipourís 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. Mandanipourís story is imaginative and captivating." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Skilfully translated by Sara Khalili, Moon Brow is a major novel by an outstanding Iranian author whose modern sensibility is steeped in history and lore. Eschewing easy answers, it plunges the reader into the stark realities of war, love and faith. Often excruciating and bleak, it is never entirely without humour, or hope." - Tabish Khair, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mandanipour is concerned with the idea that readers glimpse both the specifics of Iran and Iranian history (his novel is replete with references to the events of Iranís revolution and aftermath) but, more importantly, engage with the ideas of freedom and restriction and of the power of love to transport us beyond social, spiritual, and political confinement. He draws our attention to both the possibilities for freedom and redemption as well as the soul-crushing realities of war and power to imprison the human soul and psyche. Mandanipourís ambitious and highly complex novel demands from his readers an attention to the much bigger questions of human life" - Persis Karim, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The protagonist of Moon Brow is Amir Yamini, still suffering from the aftereffects of injuries suffered in the Iran-Iraq war: he lost an arm, and much of his memory. Amir's late-teen rebellion against his pious family had him drinking and womanizing, culminating in an outburst that led his father, Agha Haji to call "his friends at the local Revolutionary Guard station" who wound up arresting him. Raging against the regime even after he sobered up, Amir was sentenced to a flogging -- "If it were not for Agha Haji pulling strings, they would probably have executed you", Amir's sister, Reyhaneh, tells him -- and then he went off to fight in the war.
       Years later now, after being at the front and in a psychiatric hospital, Amir is tortured by what he's lost:

Damn it ! A lousy mortar shell explodes and plenty of people and memories that were really important fly away, as if they never existed. I lose my arm and it's as if I never had it.
       He lives back at the family home but barely interacts with his parents, just his sister -- whom he suspects: "is drop-by-drop returning him to normal life", or at least trying to. Amir's rusted Alfa Romeo with flat tires is one of the few reminders of his wilder days; but few other traces remain: his father burnt his books, and even the photographs he eventually uncovers only give a partial glimpse of the past. Most frustrating is the woman he can only indistinctly recall, the Moon Brow of the title whom he now desperately seeks.
       Moon Brow is quest-tale, as Amir sets out to find this woman whom he was clearly so close to -- apparently even engaged to. But his quest is also an attempt at making himself whole again -- and so, appropriately, he comes to believe the key lies in finding his lost arm, and he then goes to great lengths to find where it might be buried, and to reclaim it. As it turns out, his notion isn't as ridiculous as it sounds: there are buried secrets for him to unearth.
       Presented in short chapters, the novel moves back and forth between the present, where Amir, still lashing out in frustration, tries to recover the past, and various points from that past. Much of the novel describes his time on the front and the wartime experiences there, leading also to his terrible injury and questions of guilt and fault. More carefree times in Tehran, before he went to war, are also presented -- often surfacing first in present-day encounters revealing their eventual toll: the friend he shared an apartment with who his family says has fled the country, the girl he was close to who committed suicide.
       The narrative is, even aside from the back and forth in time, not a straightforward one. Mandanipour presents his protagonist from two sides, with a scribe on each shoulder, each with a distinctive voice and focus, making for a constant shifting in perspectives, as well some creative variations on simple story-telling. With so little of his memory, Amir is something of a blank, and Mandanipour's approach is an effective technique to enliven the story as it is slowly filled in.
       Moon Brow presents an interesting look at Iranian conditions, from pre-revolutionary times through the 1990s. Over the course of the story, Mandanipour -- through Amir -- revisits the radical change that came with Khomeini's ascendance, and then the long years of the Iran-Iraq war. The place and role (and frustrations) of women are well-presented in characters such as Reyhaneh and Khazar, whom Amir was involved with, with Reyhaneh, as Amir's main foil and support, a particularly successful counter-part and companion in the story; in a nice touch, Mandanipour also closes the novel with a shift towards her now coming into her own (and finding her own voice(s)). Amir's father, the successful but very pious businessman who is both loving and proud, but overwhelmed by Amir's university-age rebellion, is also well-drawn, his interaction with Amir more realistically complex than such a character is usually allowed. Meanwhile, the many scenes on or near the front also make for a fascinating look at the terrible Iran-Iraq conflict.
       Moon Brow is quite successful in its picture of near-contemporary Iran, and the horrors (and aftereffects) of war -- here inevitably mixed with the huge strains on a society that shifts from one form of repression to another (with the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic state) as well as local religious and ethnic issues. The struggles of women in adapting to the roles now demanded of them is particularly well-presented over the course of the novel.
       The creative approach to the presentation of the story is also quite effective; it's certainly a lively tale -- though also one that goes on rather long.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 April 2018

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Moon Brow: Reviews: Shahriar Mandanipour: Other books by Shahriar Mandanipour under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Shahriar Mandanipour (شهریار مندنی پور) was born in 1957.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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