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By Daphne Haneman - posted Friday, 13 January 2012

The green-eyed Kurd boy aged approximately 12 to 14 can't read. But he can kill.

In 1929 in Persia, 'soon to be Iran', Reza Pejman Khourdi the Kurd, the orphan, is folded into a uniform and taught to play with 'metal flowers' (guns) to kill his people.

The Shah's soldiers have fanned across Persia to crush the Kurd ethnic minority uprising and in one of Persia's conquered villages in the Zagros Mountains the then-nine-year-old Kurd is 'acquired' after the soldiers murder his parents. Within moments of being forced to behold his 'baba's' decapitated head the boy is declared an orphan and conscripted into the 'great' Shah's army.


In the detainee's first parentless hours and days he is 'slapped' and 'suckled' and enslaved and his child mind 'turns to madness'. And after one year of reprogramming, the now half-maniac boy soldier is rewarded with a name - 'Reza' – the namesake of Iran's then-shah The Most Imperial Majesty Shahenshah Reza Pahlavi. The shah's first name is given to all Iranian boy cadets.

These are the discernible facts about a boy, "not a man, and no longer a son."

"A child erased."

And all that remains is the deadly quiet of his mind. And a terrible consequence.

Set herein is the fiction and non-fiction of Persia, of Iran, and how it birthed an 'age of orphans'.

Every sentence invokes a heady rhythmic hymn to these children. And on every page author Laleh Khadivi questions Iran's raison d'etre.


At a point in the story Kurdish villagers ask: "What is this Iran? Who is this Iran?"

And that is the question.

'Who' is Iran? The answers are delivered via Khadivi's first-person narrators – the boy's father or 'Baba', his 'maman', one of Reza's children, a child he kills, a girl he rapes.

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This is a review of The Age of Orphans, Laleh Khadivi, 2009.

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About the Author

Daphne Haneman is a freelance journalist.

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