The Qur’an has mentions two angels that record a person’s life, the kiraman katibin. One angel, which sits on the right shoulder, writes down all the good a person does, thinks, and feels. The other records all the bad and sits on the left shoulder. In Shahriar Mandanipour’s masterful novel Moon Brow (translated by Khalili Sara), the two angels that sit on Amir Yamini’s shoulders tell us all the good and bad in Amir’s violent, confused, angry, lonely life. The two angels spare no embarrassing detail or tantrum, creating a far from flattering portrait. And yet, seeing all of Amir’s warts means that I ended up feeling enormous sympathy for him.
By the time we meet Amir at the beginning of Moon Brow, he has lost most of his left arm and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in the Iran-Iraq War. He’s lost a lot of his memory, even his ability to remember what he’s said from one hour to the next some days. His sister and mother retrieved him from a mental hospital, where he fetched up after running away to join the Iranian Army. The angels take turns explaining how Amir got to this point. They move back and forth through Amir’s life to tell us about his past romantic exploits and life as a privileged young man in the years right before the Iranian Revolution.
The angels also reveal details about the young woman Amir fell in love with while he was away at war. At the beginning of the book, all he can remembers is that she was his true love and that they had exchanged rings. Over and over, Amir pesters his sister, Reyhaneh, about what she remembers about his life before he ran away. Then, once he exhausts her memory, Amir pulls in every favor that he might possibly have been owed to try and find the ring that was lost with his left arm and hand.
All the memories and Amir’s nearly impossible quest to find his lost love reveal a tormented man. His memory problems (both what he remembers and what he doesn’t) and the fact that he is trapped in his father’s house mean that he is angry and frustrated most of the time. He takes it out on everyone and, for much of the book, I found him very unlikable. He never really became likable but, because he was so interesting, this was never a problem for me. Then, once Amir started to try and hunt down the girl he initially calls Moon Brow, I kept reading because I just had to know what happened.
Moon Brow is a masterpiece. Structurally, psychologically, plot-wise, setting-wise—it was all brilliant. I would strongly recommend this to readers looking for in-depth psychological portraits.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 24 April 2018.
Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who would like to understand post-traumatic stress disorder.