February 10th, 2010 13:54 EST
Judyth Piazza chats with Mehrdad Balali, Author of Houri
Mehrdad Balali is an Iranian-born American who returned to his homeland as a career journalist in 1991. He worked for the next 15 years for international news agencies such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Economist and frequently appeared as commentator on CNN, BBC and NPR. After being banned from working in Iran, he returned to the United States to spend his time writing fiction.
Autobiographical Novel of family and Militant conflict by Middle East Journalist Mehrdad Balali
In this time of political turmoil, Iran occupies the center stage in international news reporting. Few have been able to dramatize the terror of actual living in a fundamentalist Islamic state as journalist Mehrdad Balali has. In his autobiographical novel Houri (released by The Permanent Press in New York), Balali paints a fascinating portrait of a country torn by religious extremism and raw violence. It is a revealing portrait of often contrasting Islamic and Persian cultures as powerful as The Kite Runner, while sharing the raw honesty of childhood poverty found in Angela`s Ashes.
Shahed is a tormented Iranian expatriate in the U.S. who journeys to his homeland after his father`s death, to discover his childhood world stripped to religious austerity, punishment and fear. He returns in memory to his life as a dreamy 12-year-old boy in Tehran, dominated by his larger-than-life father, an exuberant hustler whose exploits leave his family in grim poverty. Young Shahed`s world is bound by his school and its greedy, sadistic principal, and a neighborhood of picaresque operators presided over by his dad.
Craving American delights such as hamburger and Coca-Cola, Shahed begins stealing to get a taste of the American wonderland. The boy`s heart is captured by the sensuous Houri, an embodiment of all Paradise promises. As his petty crimes and hopeless love escalate, he`s brought into competition with his father and ultimately suffers a crushing betrayal that scars him for life.
But in the stark realities of post-Revolution Iran, Shahed understands his father`s true legacy to him: the power to hungrily devour every moment of life, however harsh or corrupt it may be, and live to the fullest.
HOURI reveals vivid, authentic details of a culture alien to most Westerners in a country that has been named an ideological and nuclear threat to the world. Amidst the horrors of militant fundamentalist takeover, the novel contains a universal story of bitter rivalry and harsh love between father and son, seasoned with the dark humor essential to survival in a harsh world.
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