Man of My Time

  • Review
By – May 12, 2020

Even the most sta­ble of fam­i­lies must weath­er the tur­bu­lence of chil­dren fum­bling toward matu­ri­ty. Bad choic­es by rebel­lious teens can frac­ture a sol­id foun­da­tion, but a healthy fam­i­ly moves past the dam­age, the mis­cre­ant wis­er from hav­ing learned from mistakes.

But what if such choic­es have the pow­er to dis­in­te­grate the fam­i­ly bedrock? Such is the case in the nov­el Man of My Time, by Dalia Sofer. In her sec­ond nov­el — like the first, set in Iran — this sce­nario plays out as the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion gath­ers force and explodes in 1979, with cat­a­clysmic results. With­in this polit­i­cal back­drop, the sto­ry of the Mozaf­far­i­an fam­i­ly unfolds toward the present, its nar­ra­tor the eldest son, Hamid.

In Part One,” set in 2017, Hamid trav­els to New York on Iran­ian gov­ern­ment busi­ness, where he sees his moth­er and broth­er for the first time in near­ly four decades — since the day he dropped them and his father off at Mehrabad as they fled their coun­try. As he returns to Tehran with his father’s ash­es, Hamid reflects on his child­hood, a par­tic­u­lar­ly ter­ri­ble choice he made as a teen, the vio­lence that marked it, and how he was told — and believed — that this action had set him on a path of no return.

Themes of betray­al, fate, and loss per­me­ate the nov­el and inten­si­fy in Part Two.” Sofer bril­liant­ly paces her sto­ry, inter­weav­ing past and present as Hamid reflects on his mar­riage and divorce, acknowl­edg­ing how he has caused his wife and beloved daugh­ter, like his par­ents and broth­er, to suf­fer. And Hamid is not the only one in his fam­i­ly to betray his loved ones; one might say it is a tra­di­tion. As he sits in a Tehran café, he con­sid­ers how, under polit­i­cal pres­sure in a dif­fer­ent era, his father betrayed his best friend and how he has betrayed his loved ones — and how such per­son­al tragedies with­in a larg­er polit­i­cal con­text seem inevitable. Look­ing at the peo­ple around him, Hamid reflects that they, like me, were trapped in the tra­jec­to­ry of some unknow­able misfortune.”

Sofer offers a metic­u­lous­ly researched, authen­tic por­tray­al of how a society’s implo­sion and an individual’s choic­es with­in it can rever­ber­ate with­in and ulti­mate­ly destroy a sin­gle fam­i­ly. Man of My Time is also an ele­gy for Iran, the place of her birth in 1972. Hamid reflects — more sen­si­tive than many, despite a job that dead­ens his human­i­ty: I knew that what was hap­pen­ing in the world, despite its absur­di­ty, would one day be writ­ten up as his­to­ry, as every­thing up until that moment had been.…Suddenly, I felt in my heart a pierc­ing pain that fore­tells a loss. It was a stab not at the van­ish­ing of peo­ple, but of places, those that were mine…and those that weren’t.”

Ear­ly in the sto­ry the teenag­er Hamid returns home from a polit­i­cal meet­ing, sur­veys his fam­i­ly com­fort­ably arranged in the liv­ing room, and thinks: The city is crack­ing. He has no idea how right he is, and read­ers are well advised to take this cau­tion­ary tale to heart. The tragedy with­in this mag­nif­i­cent nov­el is what makes it, sad­ly, real­is­tic on two lev­els: how youth­ful betray­als that frac­ture a family’s foun­da­tion may be, in the end, irrepara­ble; and how the destruc­tion of a seem­ing­ly sta­ble coun­try can occur with star­tling speed — whether it’s a devel­op­ing coun­try in the 1970s fight­ing ghar­bzadeghi—“west­ox­i­fi­ca­tion” — or a first-world coun­try in 2020, expe­ri­enc­ing fis­sures with­in its own bedrock.

Amy Spun­gen, a free­lance edi­tor and writer, has a BS in jour­nal­ism from Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ty and an MA in Eng­lish from North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. She lives near Chica­go in High­land Park, Illinois.

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