Arts & Humanities

A Good Country— by Laleh Khadivi ’98

(Bloomsbury, 2017)

Angie Jabine ’79 | December 1, 2017

In 2009 Laleh Khadivi published The Age of Orphans, the first volume of her trilogy about a Kurdish man named Reza Khourdi and his American descendants. In 2013 she followed up with The Walking, about Reza’s son Saladin, who struggles to find his footing in Los Angeles in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

When these two books first appeared, most American readers were well acquainted with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but we had only inklings of a violent new Islamist group (variously called ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State) that was recruiting Western youths into its fold. A group much like ISIS plays a suspenseful role in 2017’s A Good Country, the third volume of Khadivi’s trilogy.

The “good country” is the United States, and the locale is contemporary Orange County. Saladin is married and living comfortably in Laguna Beach. Saladin’s son Reza—“Rez” to his friends—is the very definition of callow. A straight-A student with little sense of his parents’ heritage or struggles, he blends in with his affluent Anglo peers who share his passion for surfing, drug-fueled raves, and hot teenage sex.

But after a disastrous surfing trip to Mexico, his buddies become more standoffish, and he gravitates to another classmate, Arash, whom he sees as someone “not at all in the process of becoming, but who already and completely just was.” Through Arash he meets Fatima, whose sheltered upbringing puts her in daily conflict with her burgeoning sexuality and Americanized friends.

As Islamist terror attacks and the American backlash further isolate the three outsiders, they become ever more susceptible to Islamist recruitment. The effect is of a sickening nightmare, of a car stalled on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. Rez and Fatima argue:

“. . . I’ve heard all about that group in Raqqah. It’s not the Islam I know...It is an interpretation, an old Islam and it can be very violent.”

“You know all this is bloody and violent too?”

She looked up at the beach.

“All what?”

“These kids, all these families, having fun, driving cars, living in big houses, watching stupid sports games, voting for war in the Middle East every chance they get? How much violence do you think it takes to keep this all so pretty?”

Khadivi, who was Reed’s commencement speaker in 2016, meets the millennials on their own turf. Where The Age of Orphans took a self-consciously poetic approach to a time and place she never experienced, A Good Country is plainspoken, almost documentary. What all three books share is an unflinching glimpse of cultures in conflict

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