The author of My Father’s Notebook is an Iranian exile, now living in Holland and writing in Dutch. His pseudonym, Kader Abdolah, was chosen in honour of two of the writer’s friends, killed by the current Iranian regime. This fine translation should serve as a welcome introduction to an English-speaking audience.
The novel depicts the recent history of Iran, seen through the eyes of Aga Akbar, a deaf tapestry mender from the remote province of Senejan, a place which is ‘not beautiful and has no history to speak of’ and whose only writer of note wrote poems about sand. The area’s only merits are its beautiful Persian rugs and a cave with an ancient cuneiform inscription. This cave becomes the mystery at the heart of the novel and Shahs and ayatollahs use its symbolic power to bolster their respective tyrannies. Aga Akbar’s son Ishmael is forced to flee repression in his homeland and take refuge in Holland, where, years later, a notebook written by his father in the same cuneiform script finds its way into his hands.
As the notebook is gradually deciphered, revealing secrets about its compiler and his country, the reader is taken through a patchwork of folk tales, songs and poems on a journey of discovery about parenthood and belonging, community and loss.
My Father’s Notebook is a touching and evocative portrayal of individuals adrift in a harsh world. Its method of using a family saga to clothe the bare bones of history is by no means new but, in Kader Abdolah’s skilful hands, the reader forgets the convention and focuses on the humanity.