Best Nonfiction Finalist
Stanford University Libraries
William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
by Arion Golmakani
Solacers tells the touching story of a 5-year old child’s search for family life and safety following the divorce of his parents in Iran during the 1960’s. The first child of a heartless father and a discarded mother is left to fend for himself on the streets of Mashhad, seeking food and shelter wherever he can. His lonely early years are an unbelievable tale of cruelty and betrayal on the part of nearly everyone who might be expected to help, save for one aunt who does her best to keep him from starving.
But living a harsh and solitary existence has one advantage for this little boy: other than forcing him to be self-reliant, no one attempts to indoctrinate him on rural Iranian society's archaic cultural values and religious beliefs. And so he never accepts his wretched state as fate, choosing instead to dream big dreams about getting an education, having his own family, and starting a new life – possibly in the faraway land called America. He makes a plan and by the age of 17 he boards a plane to the land of possibilities, where his dreams eventually also take flight.
“I finished the last pages of your book today. It has consumed me since I picked it up last week, and I have often had to tear myself away from the urge to keep reading, when necessary tasks awaited my attention. It was not only the events of your story (which were remarkable), but the literary qualities of your retelling: the detail you provided of all five (even six) senses, the foreshadowing, and the emotional depth combined to make this a riveting read. I felt deeply involved with the story, and had to suppress strong emotional responses.
I confess, when I read the publisher's blurb about your book online, my expectations were low. I feared it would be another "escape from Iran" narrative, in which Muslims (or people "from there") featured as the enemies of reason and civilization. There are so many such Orientalist tales in circulation, and they feed into a politics of fear which I find very dangerous. How wonderful to be surprised by a story that captured the people you encountered in all their humanity: the compassionate, the cold, the helpless, and the brutal. These were not one-sided depictions, and your effort to understand even your worst abusers (like your father) increased the power of the account. We all have the potential for both the best and worst acts.
I was also delighted by the way you captured the differences of ethnic background, religious orientation, and regional variation in Iran. It will be a book I recommend to others.” – Eva Sajoo- Research Associate, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
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