Book by AMIR AHMADI ARIAN
Reviewed by FEROZ RATHER
Amir Ahmadi Arian’s Then the Fish Swallowed Him is an unswerving portrayal of an individual’s tormenting journey to self-realization in a totalitarian theocracy. By reproducing the minutiae of one man’s stolen solitude, Arian has created a powerful critique not only of the Mullah-dominated politics of Iran, but also of the very nature of political life in this society. Arian, an Iranian novelist, translator, and journalist who currently lives in New York City, has in the past translated novels by E.L. Doctorow, Paul Aster, P.D. James, and Cormac McCarthy to Farsi, as well as written two novels and a book of nonfiction in his native language. Released in March of 2020 in the U.S., Then the Fish Swallowed Him is Arian’s debut novel in English.
The book begins amidst a raucous union strike near the Jannatabad Bus Terminal in the northwestern part of Tehran, when middle-aged bus driver Yunus Turabi watches Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plainclothes militia—the Basijis, a zealous bunch of young Revolutionary Armed Guards—violently beat a woman. As the wife of an imprisoned activist is kicked in the ribs and flung on the ground, Yunus’s fellow bus drivers scream and shout. During the ensuing clash with the police, who are shielding the Basijis, Yunus is jolted out of his humdrum existence and is spurred to action by his colleague’s protests. But his punches, ecstatic and involuntary, are warded off with the blows of an electric baton. Numbed, he tears away from the crowd and hides on the roof of an empty bus.