Synopses & Reviews
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.
One of The Millions "Most Anticipated Books of 2014"
One of Flavorwires “Most Anticipated Books of 2014”
One of Flavorwires “May 2014 Must-Read Books”
One of “2014s 10 Best Works of Fiction So Far” —Flavorwire, on June 24, 2014
One of Flavorwires “50 Excellent Fabulist Books Everyone Should Read”
One of Huffington Posts "30 Books You NEED to Read in 2014"
One of Dazeds “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.” —Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs
“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.” —Amy Bloom, author of Away
“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.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
“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.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
“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.” —Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of When Skateboards Will Be Free
“Khakpours elegant, mysterious, hilarious novel contains the most intriguing and inventive collection of heartbreaking characters youll 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!” —Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution
“This novel confirms Khakpour as one of our best new satirists, partly because she is never as moving as when she is entirely sincere.” —Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh
“One of the books Flavorwire has been looking forward to all year, Khakpours latest is a stunning, darkly humorous, and at more than a few points totally heartbreaking novel abut an Iranian boy who thinks hes 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.” —Flavorwire
"An audaciously ambitious novel that teeters along a tightrope but never falls off." —Kirkus, starred review
“A boy raised among birds is rescued and brought to pre-September 11 New York in Porochista Khakpours 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.” —Vogue
“Lauded American Iranian critic and novelist Khakpour writes another gripping tale that mixes myth and history . . . . Khakpours 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.” —Booklist
“Blazingly original.” —The Millions
"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." —Library Journal
"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." —Shelf Awareness, starred review
"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 Rumpus
"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." —Los Angeles Times
"A darkly glittering story that draws you in from its very first pages and mesmerizes you until the last." —Bustle
"A storytelling masterpiece, strikingly original and ambitious in its modern retelling of an ancient myth." —Largehearted Boy
"Mesmerizing." —Vanity Fair
"The most impressive feat in Porochista Khakpours 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." —The Marginalia Review
"Khakpours 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 doesnt hurt that the writing is super-smooth, and above all, extremely consuming. If youre looking to be taken away, but with an anchor to the familiar, this is your summer novel." —Barnes & Noble Book Blog
"The Last Illusion is an epic amalgamation of humanity. Like the novels 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." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Its hard not to think of . . . One Hundred Years of Solitude when reading Porochista Khakpours 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." —Santa Fe New Mexican
"Khakpour has contributed essays and journalism to publications both ‘mainstream and independent, but its her dark, funny, piercing novels, Sons and Other Flammable Objects (2007) and this years The Last Illusion, which draws on a mix of contemporary history, Iranian myth, and psychology, that make her work feel so new and important." —Dazed, “Top Ten American Writers You Need to Read This Year”
In a tiny village in rural Iran, Zals demented mother—horrified by his pale skin and hair, the opposite of her own—becomes convinced her baby is evil. She puts him in a wire birdcage on her veranda with the rest of her caged flock, and there he stays for the next ten years: eating birdseed and insects, defecating on the newspaper he squats upon, squawking and shrieking like the other birds.
He is rescued from that hell and adopted by a behavioral analyst who brings him to New York and sets out to help him find happiness. Zal is emotionally stunted, asexual, physically unfit, and trying desperately to be human as he stumbles through adolescence. His fervent desire to be normal grows as he ages, but the fact that he still dreams in “bird” and his secret penchant for yogurt-covered beetles make fitting in a challenge. He forges a friendship with a famous illusionist who claims he can fly—another of Zals bird-like obsessions—and embarks on a romantic relationship as well. His girlfriend, Asiya, crumbling under the weight of her supposed clairvoyance, sends Zals life spiraling out of control. Like the rest of New York, he is on a collision course with tragedy.
The Last Illusion is a wild, operatic, and startling homage to New York and its most harrowing catastrophe. It is tragic but laugh-out-loud funny, irreverent yet respectful, hugely imaginative yet universal.
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.
“Utterly original and compelling, The Last Illusion weaves Iranian myth with contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own.” —Claire Messud
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.