By: Babak Hodjat
Publication Date: February 1, 2022
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: February 12, 2022
Author, entrepreneur, and inventor Babak Hodjat recalls, through deftly interwoven stories, his Iranian youth in the period of revolution and warfare in his debut novel, The Konar and the Apple: Fun, Beauty, and Dread—From Ahwaz to California.
Hodjat’s book opens with Babak in boyhood, in Iran, preparing with his classmates to make their school ready for a visit from the Shah. Told to clean up the library, Babak and one friend question the validity of this chore, since the Shah should see the school, they believe, as it is – and why would the Shah care if there were missing cards in the card catalog? Babak and his classmate are sent to the principal’s office and though they avoid punishment, it is an early lesson in “speaking no evil” about their government and their leaders. This stricture is reinforced by Babak’s parents, who have skirted possible imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions.
Once the Islamic revolution is under way, Babak notes that there is not only open warfare, a sort of constant “boom,” but because of the change to Islamic dominance, the girls now have to sit on one side of the classroom, boys on the other. No protest is allowed. As a teenager, a random “official” steals his ID and orders him to get a haircut though he had always preferred long hair; this vignette offers a clear view of the challenges imposed by such a culturally explosive atmosphere. The boy realizes at one point that his parents are happy that his uncles are imprisoned, because it means they are alive. With bombings getting closer to home and shortages the general condition for all, the family will leave their home in Ahwaz for Teheran, a danger-fraught journey described in harrowing detail. Ultimately, almost without realizing it, Babak will depart Iran by a whirlwind of tangled but timely coincidences, with a visa for study overseas and a new wife to accompany him.
Hodjat is a story dweller as well as teller, having experienced directly much of what he writes about and demonstrating his active imagination in bringing memories to life. One significant segment – inventing an elaborate board game of soccer during a time when outdoor play was nearly impossible – highlights the restrictions that young people must endure during national shutdown. In his stories the reader will note both the simple amusement of family squabbles and childish pranks and the more sophisticated observations of an intelligent teen coping with the perilous paradoxes of revolution – and figuring out how to kiss a girl for the first time. For those who, like the author, feel connection with the happenings in the Middle East in the 1970-80s, this book revives the headlines and provides a salutary reminder of how crucial incidents in one small country can affect so many more, and continue to do so.
Quill says: Focused on events surrounding the Iranian/Islamic Revolution seen through youthful eyes, Hodjat’s The Konar and the Apple offers both education and entertainment, for those affected by that era as well as those learning about it now, through the author’s creative construction.