BookBrowse Reviews A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi

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A Good Country

by Laleh Khadivi

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi X
A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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A timely novel about the radicalization of a Muslim teen in California - about where identity truly lies, and how we find it.

In this powerful coming of age novel, Laleh Khadivi presents a tragic and dark side of the American Dream, as the US born son of Iranian immigrants considers abandoning his privileged life in California and moving to Syria.

A Good Country is a book for our times. It tells the story of Rez Courdee, a successful high school student with a bright academic future ahead of him. But Rez's path is not as straightforward as his parents suppose. As he finishes school, typical teenage experimentation emerges – he tries drugs, has his first sexual relationship, and clashes with his father. These coming of age tensions, however, have the additional dimension of social divisions caused by terrorist atrocities, prejudice and mistrust. When Rez's best friend, Arash, is expelled from school under controversial circumstances, Arash's decision to find solace in his Muslim faith has lasting repercussions for Rez. Increasingly, Rez struggles to find himself and become a man. As events unfold, he is drawn to the extremes of Islam, the dark side of the internet, and a vision of a life of acceptance and brotherhood that may not be all that it seems.

The novel's title is particularly apt here. Khadivi forces her readers to ask themselves what makes "a good country", and turns the definition of immigrant back on itself as Rex and his girlfriend, Fatima, consider the prospect of a "new country" and a better life, even though that life would be in war-torn Raqque, Syria. Is America the good country Rez's parents believe it to be, or is it somewhere else? At face value, it seems impossible that a boy with the intelligence and advantages Rez enjoys could take such a path, but as the story unfolds his choices, however regrettable, are entirely believable.

A Good Country is beautifully written, and challenging in the best way. It is rich in metaphor, particularly relating to water and the sea. Rez, a surfer, is always seeking the peace he feels in the ocean in other parts of his life. Khadivi also immerses her reader in Rez's life and thoughts. His journey to manhood is sympathetically told and cleverly intertwined with real and imagined events. The Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 is a pivotal turning point in his story and its social after-affects are particularly thought-provoking. And when Khadivi adds a fictional terrorist atrocity committed close to Rez's home, his experience of alienation is all encompassing. The importance of events in life and how "events come from the events before them," is a key theme of the novel, and the result is that Rez's choices seem, not only believable, but frighteningly inevitable. Another strength of the novel is its minor characters, particularly Rez's surfing friends, the Muslim families he interacts with, and his own difficult relationship with his father.

Readers who seek to understand another person's life experience – whether similar or vastly different to their own – will not be disappointed in A Good Country, and they may find their world view is changed and challenged by this powerful story too.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in May 2017, and has been updated for the September 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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