Political comic gives insight into the “green revolution”

Imagine: it is July 2009 and you are in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives 63 per cent of the vote; the election has been stolen. Iranians do not need international monitors to tell them, that much is obvious.

As you look out your window, a crowd three million strong begins to take to the streets to show their anger and desire for a voice that will be heard.

Crowds fill the streets and fill Freedom Square, but there is no freedom left in Iran. The crackdown is swift and brutal. So many go missing, too many to keep track of. How do you find just one? How do you find your son, Mehdi?

Zahra’s Paradise is a bold fictional comic built on a framework of real life experiences. Iranian expatriate Amir and Algerian-born Kahlil, who only use their first names for protection, watched hundreds of YouTube videos and read dozens of blogs flowing out of Iran in order to produce the basis of their comic.
In the events of the narrative, nineteen-year-old Mehdi has gone missing; his mother Zahra and older brother Hassan are faced with the daunting task of pursuing the truth of what exactly this means.

The story, told through the lens of Hassan’s blog, shows him sifting through hospitals, morgues, government bureaucracy and deep into the secret underbelly of the Islamic state to discover the truth about his missing brother.

Meaning in Zahra’s Paradise is multilayered. The novel seeks not only to condemn the Islamic republic for its continuing crimes against its own people, it also introduces the reader to the vibrant culture that exists outside of Western conceptions of Iran.

Throughout the story, explanations are provided in the margin about Islamic culture so the full meaning of referenced events can be attained. The novel’s title also consists of multiple meanings. Zahra’s Paradise is both a place of sorrow and of peace.

It refers to the massive graveyard adjacent to Tehran — and it is also the name of Mehdi’s mother, Zahra, on a journey to reclaim her personal paradise, alive in her two sons.

Further, Zahra’s Paradise is the name of Hassan’s blog, the only place he is truly free to voice his opinion about the events transpiring around him.

Following the end of the novel, the afterward is filled with additional information about Iran’s rich history since the 1979 revolution, as well as relevant information relating to the protests of 2009.

Amir and Kahlil have taken great length to ensure their readers will not simply take their fiction as pure fact or journalism. Most powerfully, the final 13 pages contain the Omid memorial: a collection of the 16,901 individuals killed by the Islamic Republic since 1979.

With a compelling, well written storyline and powerful illustrations, Zahra’s Paradise is a worthwhile read for any comic enthusiast.

The reach of the story extends past this small community, as the message of compassion, truth and justice for an oppressed people is universally understood.

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