Thirty Shadow Birds

(3 customer reviews)


a novel by Fereshteh Molavi

Print: 978-1-77133-653-6 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-654-3 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-656-7 – $11.99

206 Pages
September 30, 2019

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To pursue her dream of building a life free from violence for her son and herself, Yalda flees from her nightmarish past as well as her troubled homeland, Iran. But in her new haven, she realizes that nightmares haunt not only her past, but also her present and future. She does what she can to survive, but all her plans dissolve like the shadows and ghosts that follow her. Having fled from an authoritarian regime, and now living in a North America panic-stricken by global terrorism, Yalda is obsessed with all the forms and aspects of violence. She is estranged from her beloved son, Nader, who trains to become an armed security guard, and this means he is wearing a uniform and carrying weapons, prepared to be violent. She cannot forget that her first love was shot and killed by a young prison guard and that her beloved stepbrother also met a violent death. This family history is a wound that makes guns taboo and Yalda yearns to feel safe in a troubled world. The novel is part memory, part dream, and part present, day-to-day struggles for immigrants living in Toronto and Montreal.

“Fereshteh Molavi has put a very human face to the headlines, giving us a compelling account of how ordinary people cope with a legacy of extraordinary trauma and upheaval.”
—Nino Ricci, author of of the award-winning novel The Origin of Species and of the Lives of the Saints trilogy

“Just as a mere fraction of an iceberg is visible above water, so the existence in Canada of Yalda, an emigrant from Iran, is pedestrian compared to the profound experiences she has left behind. It’s as though she had to acquire this distance to begin to see those formative years up close. The telescope paradoxically becomes a microscope in Thirty Shadow Birds. To begin to live in the present, Yalda will have to fight all the ravening shadows with everything she’s got, from an eclectic blend of mythologies, philosophies, and religions, to magical stabs of poetry alongside non-verbal bouts of physical labour, to recovered eidetic memories laced with vertiginous hallucinations. This hard-earned grounding depends ultimately on the overarching mastery of Fereshteh Molavi with her stunning erudition, searing passion, and brutal honesty.”
—Peggy O’Brien, author of Sudden Thaw, Frog Spotting, Trusting Ice, and most recently Tongues

“Fereshteh Molavi’s main character, Yalda, drifts back and forth between dreams and memories of the past that follow her like shadows. As the past duels with the present, Yalda’s’ life is a constant struggle, yet she is strongly mindful. Having left her birthplace for a safer land, she finds the skills and education that secured her residency in her new paradise to be unappreciated. Soon, learning she is not alone in being de-skilled, she forges new goals of learning and achievements, moving steadily along her roaring river of life, yet always accompanied by the shadows of her past. Thirty Shadow Birds speaks poignantly of the sweetness and bitterness found in every newcomer’s journey to a new homeland.”
—Nasreen Pejvack, author of Amity and Paradise of the Downcasts

Thirty Shadow Birds

Born in Tehran in 1953, Fereshteh Molavi lived and worked there until 1998 when she immigrated to Canada. She worked and taught at Yale University, University of Toronto, York University, and Seneca College. A fellow at Massey College and a writer-in-residence at George Brown College, Molavi has published many works of fiction and non-fiction in Persian in Iran and Europe. She has been the recipient of awards for novel and translation. Her first book in English, Stories from Tehran, was released in 2018; and her most recent novel, Thirty Shadow Birds, was published by Inanna Publications in 2019. She lives in Toronto.

3 reviews for Thirty Shadow Birds

  1. Renée Knapp

    Fereshteh Molavi‘s Thirty Shadow Birds
    reviewed by Maria Meindl
    The Temz Review – February 10, 2020

    In Thirty Shadow Birds, we meet Yalda, an architect, an ESL teacher and single mother living in present-day Toronto who has conversations with her personal jinn and a phalanx of ghosts, a wanderer obsessed with home, and a survivor of trauma and brutal loss who has kept her dreams and passions alive as she migrated from Iran to Europe, and then to Canada.

    For all its ventures into the fantastical, this story is anchored in daily life. Fereshteh Molavi takes us inside Yalda’s skin as she juggles her various roles, staying afloat in a tough city and doing at least a modicum of what she loves. We are with her as she does her make-up in the morning, contends with back pain, drives to work, even as she undertakes her “cleaning therapy,” energetically scrubbing her toilet or facing her son’s “mountain of dirty dishes” that fill their galley kitchen. Even her jinn, her hamzad (born in the jinn world when Yalda was born in this one), visibly ages, blows her nose, bites her nails. The book’s focus on quotidian details reassures us that no matter what is going on inside her, Yalda is getting on with her life.

    The scenes of Toronto are drawn with a knowing eye, observed from the point of view of a woman who cannot turn off her calling as an architect: a coffee shop, a particular strip of Yonge street, the Beach in the early morning, The clarity of these scenes is in direct contrast to the stew of memories and internal dialogues constantly roiling in Yalda’s mind and heart.

    Thirty Shadow Birds is a richly allusive book, evoking Attar’s poem The Canticle of the Birds, its thirty chapters reflecting the number of birds who end up making the epic journey. I was hesitant to read it because I knew I would not be able to understand its many layers. I didn’t, but Molavi’s structural choices meant that I could still appreciate it. Yalda is beset by regrets, self-doubts, unfinished conversations. And each of these conversations carries with it a landscape, a particular period in history and politics. Rather than creating a linear sub-plot, Molavi jumps in and out of her past life, based on associations from her present one.

    This is a risky choice, and it works. As someone who witnessed the book’s political backdrop as nothing but a series of headlines from a distant location, I placed myself in Molavi’s capable hands for this journey, dipping in and out of times and places, anchored by Yalda’s concrete daily struggles. Still, the facts did sink in. This book shows us the larger sweep of history resonating in the most intimate corners of the characters’ lives. This book shows us the dinner table behind the headlines, the office, the bedroom, the nursery.

    And the product of that nursery. Yalda’s son Nader, now grown into a surly young man, lives behind a literal and figurative closed door. Molavi is unapologetic in her portrayal of Yalda’s rage as well as her pain. Mother and son are scarred by a series of enforced changes and fragmented relationships, of new landscapes that never quite become home. Yalda faces impossible choices, yet her decisions do not just have impact on her own life but on that of her growing son. And Nader chooses the one job that will hurt his mother the most, one that requires him to carry a gun. A gun, she tells him, is “not just a thing hanging from your belt. It’s something that makes you a target to be shot at, or that makes you shoot at a target.” Violence hovers as both a memory and a threat for the future.

    Yalda is a tormented character, but also a triumphant one, simply because her internal world is so rich with images. And because of her ability to enjoy the daily life which Molavi portrays in such loving detail: the spring breeze, the sun on her face, a bite of fruit, and because of her internal life, which teems with lush poetry as much as with regret.

  2. mina

    “Thirty Shadow Birds” is an excellent novel about Yalda, a disturbed woman who is at the peak of her major break down. Ran from her troubling homeland, she is facing challenges in new safe country considering her home. Among all the problems, the worst is coming from the damaged relationship with her son, who has made a serious decision, making Yalda so upset and frightened.
    Her everyday challenges trigger all her traumas which appear as shadows from the past and cause her internal conversation which bring different stories to the surface. Being unbearably overwhelmed, to end this situation, she needs to decide whether to “sink or swim”.
    This novel strongly affects readers with different background to develop empathy for characters. Molavi takes us to the inner conversation of Yalda in a dynamic way that helps to perceive her thoughts and emotions deeply even visible or tangible.
    I genuinely enjoyed reading this great book and recommend it to novel lover.

  3. Inanna Admin

    Thirty Shadow Birds by Fereshteh Molavi
    reviewed by Katrina Marty
    Hayden’s Ferry Review – May 9, 2022

    “Yes. I did have a tale for you … and I do have a tale for me…. Shall I tell it … or shall I not tell it?” Fereshteh Molavi writes in Thirty Shadow Birds. In this compelling novel the narrator, an aspiring architect, weaves her tale about the shadows of her past. Yalda has fled her war-ravaged homeland of Iran to provide a violence-free future for her son, Nader. But moving all the way to Canada can’t keep Yalda’s past from creeping back in. Memories of the deaths of her loved ones seem to find her even halfway across the world. She is painfully aware of all forms of violence and she questions her parenting as she discovers her son wants to be an armed guard.

    Yalda’s story flows between Tehran and Toronto, and all the places in between, and it unravels through her dreams, her past, and her present. As she tries to connect with a son who is determined to hate her, her emotional stability shatters: “Pardon, do you know how it feels when your son sees you as a fucking nightmare?” On her quest for nirvana, Yalda reveals the shadows from her past, and her present starts to make more and more sense. She has given everything up for a son who is estranged from her, while also trying to find fulfillment in an unfulfilled life.

    This novel provides a glimpse into the lives of refugees whose connection with their homeland has been shattered. Molavi’s powerful prose showcases Yalda’s physical and mental reality by revealing piece by piece how her past still affects her present. The fragments of her memories follow her around Toronto and confront Yalda in her dreams, and makes her question what it means to escape her past. Although Yalda’s story is one that is very difficult, Molavi’s writing is full of humor as well which provides a contrast to the darker content: “If you don’t want to end up in a nuthouse, get over this fucking breakdown, girl! It’s sink or swim, honey.”

    Molavi also plays around with language, calling Yalda’s car her “silver horse” while also incorporating some repeating alliteration, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” This language is consistent throughout the book, another example being where she calls her son her “little bird.” This, along with calling her car her “silver horse,” seems to show a gentle side of Yalda and her appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, which very much contrasts violence. Especially violence from man-made objects, like the gun her son gets for being an armed guard. The repeating “Bang! Bang! Bang!” throughout the novel seems to remind her of the violence she has experienced, and the violence she still could potentially experience in her world. Molavi has created a very interesting contrast between nature and violence, where Yalda questions towards the end if they are one and the same. Molavi also does a beautiful job of weaving pieces of the past into Yalda’s dreams and present, creating a very emotional tone. These shards of memories are collected throughout the novel and made whole at the end.

    Yalda transitions from many different family types: going from a child in a two-parent step-sibling household, to an unsuccessful marriage, to becoming a single mom. Through Yalda’s story, Molavi also questions the concept of “family” and explores the variety of different family dynamics. As Yalda’s family transitions into just herself and her son living in a foreign country, the mood of her present is very lonely: “She has no one to go to for solace at the end of a terrible day.” As the story unfolds, the fog surrounding Yalda’s past dissipates enough to connect how the trauma of fleeing her country has affected herself, as well as the relationship with her son. By the end Yalda has grown and is closer to nirvana, but there are many issues left unresolved, which greatly reflects her life and many refugees with similar stories.

    Molavi has presented a novel that explores the “day-to-day struggles for immigrants” and others who have had to find a home halfway across the world. Thirty Shadow Birds is a devastating, but impactful story of false escape and broken dreams.

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