Tag Archives: Ahmad Akbarpour

Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour, illustrated by Morteza Zahedi, translated by Shadi Eskandani and Helen Mixter

Award-winning Iranian writer Ahmad Akbarpour uses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988, claiming 1.5 million lives) as the backdrop for this indelible, meaningful story about a young boy who lost his mother – and his leg. “The story is set in Iran,” Akbarpour explains in his author’s note, “But it could be the story of any child in any country where a war is fought for economic, strategic, ideological or other reasons, and in the end leaves everyone far worse off than they were before, especially the innocent victims.”

Alas, the world never seems to have a shortage of deadly conflicts … and no one suffers more than children: if they manage to survive death and destruction, they will have to live the longest with the tragic consequences. Children in war zones are forced to grow up far too early, and need ways to process their trauma. Those who are blessed to be war-free throughout their youth, would do well with exposure to age-appropriate materials that bring awareness of alternatives to intolerance, violence, hate, and body counts.

In the midst of playing alone in his room, a young boy is interrupted by his father, and reminded to remove his prosthetic leg when at home because “[i]t makes a lot of noise and you might damage it.” He does so reluctantly and resumes his game, determined that he “‘… will avenge [his mother’s] death!’” The boy is the titular ‘Commander’ – fighting invisible foes and their land mines, grenades, and injured screams. His only break is a call to the dinner table, where his father, grandmother, aunts, and uncles have gathered to celebrate his father’s upcoming remarriage.

While the Commander replays his terrifying memories – as if repetition might somehow dull the tragedy – life for the rest of his family moves on. Now faced with a major change – a “new mother”! – the Commander works harder than ever seeking justice for his own beloved late mother. Yet when his imagination places him face-to-face with another motherless soldier boy missing his leg, the Commander doesn’t shoot, but instead allows his imaginary enemy to borrow his prosthetic leg “only for tonight.” He calls a cease-fire, initially ashamed, but then his mother commends him from her picture on the wall: “‘Congratulations, Commander. I’m proud of you.’”

Akbarpour’s illustrator, fellow Iranian Morteza Zahedi, channels the stick figures common in toddlers’ drawings, adding hauntingly detailed expressions especially on the face of the young boy. The result is chillingly effective, the boy’s unfiltered insight a sobering reminder of how children clearly comprehend the world around them. Thanks to the great wisdom of the world’s youngest citizens, the promise of peace looms.

Readers: Children

Published: 2005, 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, Iranian

That Night’s Train by Ahmad Akbarpour, translated by Majid Saghafi, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Banafsheh, a blue-eyed little girl aged 5, is traveling with her grandmother one night on a train, and notices a young woman sitting across from them reading a book. “If my mother were alive, she would be reading a book, too,” she thinks longingly to herself.

The reader, who turns out to be both a writer and a teacher, puts aside her book and quickly develops a friendship with the little girl. Before the young woman alights at her stop, she assures a delighted Banafsheh that she will call and visit the coming Friday. Alas, the young woman breaks her promise, and even the return of Banafsheh’s father who comes home bearing storybooks to share aloud, cannot cheer the disappointed little girl.

While Banafsheh waits, the young woman presents her story-in-progress about her night train reveries to her fifth-graders, asking for their opinions and predictions for what might happen next in her developing narrative. “‘Don’t be afraid to say whatever is on your minds,’” she tells her students. The more she discusses the possible outcome, the more she realizes she needs to see the little girl …

Into a simple story about childhood disappointment and saving redemption, Ahmad Akbarpour, winner of the Iranian National Book Award, weaves a layered treatise on the nature of storytelling when so-called reality and the writer’s imagination overlap, merge, and diverge. The young woman encourages her students to dramatically enhance the story-thus-far by inventing surprising twists and turns. And yet the young woman is absolutely startled when she receives a heartfelt letter from one of her book’s readers who feels she’s been misrepresented by one of the young woman’s characters.

Meanwhile, Banafsheh can only look upon the young woman’s scribbled sheets which hold her work-in-progress with wariness and distrust. Akbarpour then adds yet another meta-layer with his closing “Author’s Note” which details his own experience teaching a “Story Writing for Children class in the summer of 1997″ – not unlike the young woman’s class – during which a blue-eyed second-grader named Banafsheh insists she doesn’t “… even like the Banafsheh in the story.’”

Reading and writing both become their own characters in Akbarpour’s sly prose, as he blends and blurs what might be real-life characters with their unreliable narrators to create quite the literary adventure. Younger audiences will have one sort of experience, we oldsters will certainly have another. Shouldn’t even the simplest stories always be so exciting?

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Iranian