From the critically acclaimed author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects comes a bold fabulist novel about a feral boy coming of age in New York, based on a legend from the medieval Persian epic the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings.
In an Iranian village, Zal's demented mother, horrified by the pallor of his skin and hair, is convinced she has given birth to a “white demon.” She hides him in a birdcage for the next decade. Rescued by a behavioral analyst, Zal awakens in New York to the possibility of a future. A stunted and unfit adolescent, he strives to become human as he stumbles toward adulthood. As New York survives one potential disaster, Y2K, and begins hurtling toward another, 9/11, Zal finds himself in a cast of fellow outsiders. A friendship with a famous illusionist who claims-to the Bird Boy's delight- that he can fly and an affair with a disturbed artist who believes she is clairvoyant send Zal's life spiraling into chaos. Like the rest of New York, he is on a collision course with devastation.
In tones haunting yet humorous and unflinching yet reverential, The Last Illusion explores the powers of storytelling while investigating magical thinking. Its lyricism, inventiveness, and examination of otherness can appeal to readers of Salman Rushdie and Helen Oyeyemi. A celebrated chronicler of the 9/11-era, Khakpour reimagines New York's most harrowing catastrophe with a dazzling homage to her beloved city.
About the Author
Porochista Khakpour's debut, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, was named a New York Times Editor's Choice, one of the Chicago Tribune's Fall's Best, and the 2007 California Book Award winner in the first fiction category. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and her nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Harper's, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others. She teaches at Columbia's M.F.A. program, Fordham, and Wesleyan. She lives in New York City.
Praise for The Last Illusion…
One of NPR's "Best Books of 2014"
One of Kirkus Reviews' "Best Fiction Books of 2014"
One of BuzzFeed's "24 Best Fiction Books of 2014" and "28 Best Books by Women in 2014"
One of Vol. 1 Brooklyn's Favorite Books of 2014
One of The Millions' and Flavorwire's "Most Anticipated Books of 2014"
One of The Huffington Post's "30 Books You Need to Read in 2014"
One of Dazed's "Top 10 American Writers You Need to Read This Year"
"Utterly original and compelling, Porochista Khakpour's The Last Illusion weaves Iranian myth with very contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own. This ambitious, exciting literary adventure is at once grotesque, amusing, deeply sad--and wonderful, too."
"The Last Illusion deftly, unexpectedly, blends Persian myth with modern life, and with the perils and pleasures of magic. In a gripping, sinuous, sometimes explosive voice, Porochista Khakpour tell us a story like no other, with a protagonist like no other--and there is not a reader who will not remember him always."
"Magical and hysterical, each sentence more beautiful than the next, The Last Illusion proves Khakpour a novelist-dazzler on the magnitude of an Aimee Bender or a Jonathan Lethem. The English language has a new master tickler and it is laughing out loud."
"The Last Illusion is a book full of hard-fought wonders, harsh and yet full of grace, with a touch of myth, and an abundance of love. A haunting novel that lingers long after the last page."
"Funny and haunting, bridges the distance between ancient myth and the modern world. As much a coming-of-age story as it is a clear-eyed account of our contemporary lives. This is a work of pure imagination."
"Khakpour's elegant, mysterious, hilarious novel contains the most intriguing and inventive collection of heartbreaking characters you'll ever meet: a mystic in search of a religion, a magician with only one trick, and of course, Zal, the feral boy who just might be a bird. Powerful, passionate, essential work!"
"This novel confirms Khakpour as one of our best new satirists, partly because she is never as moving as when she is entirely sincere."
"One of the books Flavorwire has been looking forward to all year, Khakpour's latest is a stunning, darkly humorous, and at more than a few points totally heartbreaking novel abut an Iranian boy who thinks he's a bird after years of torture. We invite you to read it--and help us figure out how one writer can take such a subject and spin it into something you just want to wrap yourself in. An absolute stunner."
"An audaciously ambitious novel that teeters along a tightrope but never falls off."
"A boy raised among birds is rescued and brought to pre-September 11 New York in Porochista Khakpour's savagely funny, Persian folktale-inspired The Last Illusion (Bloomsbury), in which coming-of-age and first love are complicated by dreams of flight and chocolate-covered crickets."
"Lauded American Iranian critic and novelist Khakpour writes another gripping tale that mixes myth and history . . . . Khakpour's writing walks a line between mythical and realistic, somehow melding the two seamlessly and keeping reality in sharp focus; the reader aches for Zal, who fumbles through life as neither completely bird nor completely human."
"Khakpour's prose is fluid and visceral, while the narrative plays smoke and mirrors with reality and perspective . . . . This novel is a literary gem full of sadness, guts, and wonder. For any adult who enjoys good fiction."
"Ambitious, bursting with ideas, vivid characters and lush language . . . . Sad and funny in turn, real and poignant on every page . . . Khakpour's vision of a bustling, multicultural New York--stuffed with layers of idiosyncratic detail, fully alive and fully overwhelming--is literature of the first order . . . Her daring new book is a testament to the relentless search for self and connection to others, no matter how daunting the journey. A major new work of fiction."
"Porochista Khakpour retells a tale of the imagination at its most sublime . . . Imagination fuels stories and stories fuel hope. If your imagination needs fuel, read this book."
"The Last Illusion captures, in a way that few other 9/11 novels have, that contradictory sense Americans have of how easy and trivial life was before the attack . . . Khakpour is able to . . . offer us a more complex portrait of ourselves."
"A darkly glittering story that draws you in from its very first pages and mesmerizes you until the last."
"A storytelling masterpiece, strikingly original and ambitious in its modern retelling of an ancient myth."
"The most impressive feat in Porochista Khakpour's magnificent new novel, The Last Illusion, is that it manages to peel back the calcified layers of myth and memorialization, all that 9/11 has come to mean since, and to capture the dread that [people] felt that first morning . . . Captivating."
"Khakpour's sophomore novel focuses on a boy who sort of believed he was a bird. We all construct different coping mechanisms for the terrible things in our lives, but in The Last Illusion, Khakpour has created one such mechanism that is both a little sad, but randomly funny, too. It also doesn't hurt that the writing is super-smooth, and above all, extremely consuming. If you're looking to be taken away, but with an anchor to the familiar, this is your summer novel."
"The Last Illusion is an epic amalgamation of humanity. Like the novel's characters, and like Khakpour herself, it is never one thing or the other. It is legend and reality, fiction and history, Middle Eastern and American, good and evil."
"It's hard not to think of . . . One Hundred Years of Solitude when reading Porochista Khakpour's excellent new novel, The Last Illusion (Bloomsbury) . . . The Last Illusion has the same sense of regional character that Marquez created in his fictional Macondo . . . Like Márquez, Khakpour is a magical realist who believes that the closer to reality the magic is, the more fantastic is its effect."
"Khakpour has contributed essays and journalism to publications both 'mainstream' and independent, but it's her dark, funny, piercing novels, Sons and Other Flammable Objects (2007) and this year's The Last Illusion, which draws on a mix of contemporary history, Iranian myth, and psychology, that make her work feel so new and important."