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The Crack Magazine


Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar

Kaveh Akbar is an Iranian-American writer who has previously won awards for his poetry. ‘Martyr!’ is his first novel and I wouldn’t be surprised if it too scooped a gong or two. It concerns Cyrus Shams, a late 20s poet and “straight-passing” homosexual, who is also a recovering addict (drugs, but mainly booze). He arrived in the US from Iran when he very young, brought by his father after Cryus’s mother was killed in a passenger aircraft. (The aircraft was en route to Dubai from Tehran when it was blown up by a missile fired by a US Navy warship. This real life incident happened in 1988. The US government later expressed “regret”.) Despite getting sober, Cyrus is struggling with depression, and suicidal thoughts are never far from his mind. He begins to contemplate the idea of a good death – a martyr’s death – citing the likes of Joan of Arc and IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands as examples. But when he reads about Orkideh – a cancer-stricken Iranian performance artist who is spending her final days in the Brooklyn Museum chatting to visitors – he flies out to New York in the hope that she can provide him with some answers. Despite the subject matter, ‘Martyr!’ is absolutely fizzing with life and insight. The narrative – which also gives us an understanding of the lives of both Cyrus’s mother and father, as well as an uncle who served in the Iran/Iraq war – is also very funny in parts, and reads like a flipside of magic realism: the very real here being made magical. RM

Published by Picador