What started as a webcomic – serialized online since 2010 – Zahra’s Paradise is a story that will make readers cry, rejoice, and ultimately feel despair at the story of a woman searching for her son in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian elections – elections which many felt were stolen from the people of Iran. Many Iranians took to the streets to demand justice only to be beaten, tortured or killed. This book, a “fictional composite” is finally giving a voice to many who have been silenced.
Zahra is searching for her son Mehdi. Mehdi has gone down to the street protests to join his fellow country men and women in demanding that their votes be heard and counted. Yet, he never returns home, and his mother and brother – a blogger who is detailing the story throughout – keep searching for him even though they, oftentimes, feel as though he’s already gone.
Readers are taken on a journey throughout the county of Iran to prisons, morgues, copy shops, and more with Mehdi’s brother – an activist who has put those days behind him…even though he still keeps up his blog. We meet men, women and children who all join in the search for Mehdi and, ultimately, a search for an Iran that is lost to them. Mass graves, secrecy and silence meet our narrator at every turn, but he refuses to give up his search for his brother, and readers will also go with him on his journey, no matter the sadness, no matter the pain.
Writer Amir and artist Khalil, both remaining anonymous as to keep their families who still live in Iran safe, bring a story of hope and sadness to many who are far away – but, no matter the distance, it is a very powerful story. The black and white line drawings of Khalil perfectly accompany the story by Amir – characters are fully realized in both text and drawing; the story is sad and hard, yet the illustrations give much depth and heart to the characters portrayed within the story. A glossary is included at the back of the book as well as footnotes interspersed through the panels. Historical information about the elections as well as about the country of Iran and those who have died are included, as well, and provide more information for readers who are interested.
Although the content might be best suited for adults due to depictions of extreme violence and some nudity, older teens would also appreciate the story and the book would be extremely useful in schools studying Iranian history. This story is extremely touching and engaging; readers will have a hard time putting it down or forgetting the story and its people.
Art by Khalil
First Second, 2011