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An critically-acclaimed Iranian author makes his American literary debut with this powerful and harrowing psychological portrait of modern Iran—an unprecedented and urgent work of fiction with echoes of The Stranger, 1984, and The Orphan Master’s Son—that exposes the oppressive and corrosive power of the state to bend individual lives. Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, An critically-acclaimed Iranian author makes his American literary debut with this powerful and harrowing psychological portrait of modern Iran—an unprecedented and urgent work of fiction with echoes of The Stranger, 1984, and The Orphan Master’s Son—that exposes the oppressive and corrosive power of the state to bend individual lives. Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, leads an unremarkable life. A solitary man since the unexpected deaths of his father and mother years ago, he is decidedly apolitical—even during the driver’s strike and its bloody end. But everyone has their breaking point, and Yunus has reached his. Handcuffed and blindfolded, he is taken to the infamous Evin prison for political dissidents. Inside this stark, strangely ordered world, his fate becomes entwined with Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator. The two develop a disturbing yet interdependent relationship, with each playing his assigned role in a high stakes psychological game of cat and mouse, where Yunus endures a mind-bending cycle of solitary confinement and interrogation. In their startlingly intimate exchanges, Yunus’s life begins to unfold—from his childhood memories growing up in a freer Iran to his heartbreaking betrayal of his only friend. As Yunus struggles to hold on to his sanity and evade Saeed’s increasingly undeniable accusations, he must eventually make an impossible choice: continue fighting or submit to the system of lies upholding Iran’s power. Gripping, startling, and masterfully told, Then the Fish Swallowed Him is a haunting story of life under despotism.


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An critically-acclaimed Iranian author makes his American literary debut with this powerful and harrowing psychological portrait of modern Iran—an unprecedented and urgent work of fiction with echoes of The Stranger, 1984, and The Orphan Master’s Son—that exposes the oppressive and corrosive power of the state to bend individual lives. Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, An critically-acclaimed Iranian author makes his American literary debut with this powerful and harrowing psychological portrait of modern Iran—an unprecedented and urgent work of fiction with echoes of The Stranger, 1984, and The Orphan Master’s Son—that exposes the oppressive and corrosive power of the state to bend individual lives. Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, leads an unremarkable life. A solitary man since the unexpected deaths of his father and mother years ago, he is decidedly apolitical—even during the driver’s strike and its bloody end. But everyone has their breaking point, and Yunus has reached his. Handcuffed and blindfolded, he is taken to the infamous Evin prison for political dissidents. Inside this stark, strangely ordered world, his fate becomes entwined with Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator. The two develop a disturbing yet interdependent relationship, with each playing his assigned role in a high stakes psychological game of cat and mouse, where Yunus endures a mind-bending cycle of solitary confinement and interrogation. In their startlingly intimate exchanges, Yunus’s life begins to unfold—from his childhood memories growing up in a freer Iran to his heartbreaking betrayal of his only friend. As Yunus struggles to hold on to his sanity and evade Saeed’s increasingly undeniable accusations, he must eventually make an impossible choice: continue fighting or submit to the system of lies upholding Iran’s power. Gripping, startling, and masterfully told, Then the Fish Swallowed Him is a haunting story of life under despotism.

30 review for Then the Fish Swallowed Him

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    This novel has a lot of ambition but sometimes we see the ambition more than the story. Gorgeous language. Interesting structure. But the protagonist is underdeveloped and his interrogator Hajj Saeed is like a composite of a dastardly interrogators from movies about prison and torture. The ending is very abrupt. But still, there is something interesting here about totalitarian governments and how people are easily subsumed by their need for control.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paige

    Yunus is a fourty-four year old bus driver in Tehran. Gathered at a bus drivers strike, things quickly intensify and chaos ensues. Violence breaks out and one thing leads to another. Yunus is arrested and sent to Evin Prison where he fights to hold onto the truth. The corruption of the justice system is exposed during his time in prison and later when he goes to trial. After he is arrested, stories alternate between interrogations and flashbacks. The flashbacks occur during the 1970’s-2005 for Yu Yunus is a fourty-four year old bus driver in Tehran. Gathered at a bus drivers strike, things quickly intensify and chaos ensues. Violence breaks out and one thing leads to another. Yunus is arrested and sent to Evin Prison where he fights to hold onto the truth. The corruption of the justice system is exposed during his time in prison and later when he goes to trial. After he is arrested, stories alternate between interrogations and flashbacks. The flashbacks occur during the 1970’s-2005 for Yunus. Most flashbacks focus on his relationships. Though there are flashbacks, the majority of the book takes place in Evin prison. His time in prison when he was alone without his interrogator made me slightly bored. For example, there were pages about his turd, masturbation, and another about a string. (Though very well-written pages about his turd.) At these moments, it felt like it was taking a long time to reach the resolution. The character Yunus is not a very interesting character. It’s hard to really make a strong connection with him because he is such an unremarkable guy. The political situation surrounding him keeps it interesting. The prose is beyond beautiful. It is the star of the book and caused me to look forward to reading more. I loved A. Arian's use of language and will be looking for his next book. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. Opinions are my own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Yunus Turabi is a bus driver in Tehran who gets stuck taking the fall for a bus driver protest. You wouldn't believe how quickly a society falls apart without bus drivers! Most of the novel is his interrogation where more pieces of his story slowly fall into place. This is very contemporary despite the cover, 21st century Iran. There's definitely a feeling that Yunus has been... wait for it... thrown under the bus, but has he really? Or is their surveillance just very detailed? I had a copy from Yunus Turabi is a bus driver in Tehran who gets stuck taking the fall for a bus driver protest. You wouldn't believe how quickly a society falls apart without bus drivers! Most of the novel is his interrogation where more pieces of his story slowly fall into place. This is very contemporary despite the cover, 21st century Iran. There's definitely a feeling that Yunus has been... wait for it... thrown under the bus, but has he really? Or is their surveillance just very detailed? I had a copy from the publisher through NetGalley and it came out March 24.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    DnF at 20%. Not for me. Too much i object to reading about. Won't go in to details because it's not my intention to slam the book. Just not the kind of stuff I need to read right now. I'll leave it at that. DnF at 20%. Not for me. Too much i object to reading about. Won't go in to details because it's not my intention to slam the book. Just not the kind of stuff I need to read right now. I'll leave it at that.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    This was an engrossing read. A thorough examination of solitude, captivity, coercion, corruption, torture, violence, loyalty, manipulation, and politics gets worked into the narrative of post-revolutionary Iran. There's even a fascinating section exploring the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. The last couple of chapters packs an emotional wallop and the book ends on such a melancholic note. It's a disheartening end but also a powerful image. These last chapters really demonstrate Arian's talent wh This was an engrossing read. A thorough examination of solitude, captivity, coercion, corruption, torture, violence, loyalty, manipulation, and politics gets worked into the narrative of post-revolutionary Iran. There's even a fascinating section exploring the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. The last couple of chapters packs an emotional wallop and the book ends on such a melancholic note. It's a disheartening end but also a powerful image. These last chapters really demonstrate Arian's talent when it comes to atmosphere and imagery. 

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    An allegory set in Post-revolution Iran. Intellectually, this was an interesting book. That said, did I like it? Not particularly, but I give it an extra star for depth. My main disassociation from the book was the distinctively male viewpoint, which highlights the visceral aspects of life.  Now, I hear you saying that a book that revolves around an imprisoned male is going to inevitably focus on body and self. But, it isn't just that, there are some underlying patriarchal issues that don't appeal An allegory set in Post-revolution Iran. Intellectually, this was an interesting book. That said, did I like it? Not particularly, but I give it an extra star for depth. My main disassociation from the book was the distinctively male viewpoint, which highlights the visceral aspects of life.  Now, I hear you saying that a book that revolves around an imprisoned male is going to inevitably focus on body and self. But, it isn't just that, there are some underlying patriarchal issues that don't appeal to me. And I think this quote probably put me in a place of opposition with Yunus, the protagonist of the story: Wasn't she cheating on my best friend? She had no right to tell me what to do. I hated her and I hated myself. Fundamentally, this is a tale of resurrection. Yunus, which means Jonah, like the prophet and the one swallowed by the whale/large fish as reflected in the cover imagery.  Zolm is defying the order of the world. It is the imposition of your preferred order on God's design. Interiority and introspection as one would expect with an epiphany. Why four years in prison, if Jonah was in the whale for three days and three nights. Four represents matter and the balance between them: four elements, four season, four directions, and four phases of the moon. There are also four archangels and four books of Islam. Four aspects of the believer and four components to prayer. Four witnesses required for fornication, adultery, and rape. I feel less able to speak to the differences between Christianity and Islam, so I'll stop here, but needless to say, this is more complex than one thinks at first glance.  Water is purification and also a metaphor for semen. And while men do love their penises and find ways to use them I really would need to reread the book to understand the connection between the masturbation scenes and purification. Perhaps another review can elucidate this.  Final thoughts, though the ending seems an non-ending I think that the implied message is in the pigeons. Pigeons symbolize kindness or tenderness. And Yunus learns kindness, while in prison, after inspecting the bird's feces he saves some food to feel them in the yard. Later, he goes to the store to buy bread to feed them instead of engaging in protests going on. Ascribed to Mohammad, "One should not say I am better than Jonah." Original image in totality: Met Museum

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    As someone who has read multiple books about Iran and Persia in general [and loved them, even the tough ones - it IS amazing what great writing can do for an uncomfortable book], I did not enjoy this book at all. Not even when I switched to an audiobook [because I was having a hard time staying focused - the audiobook helped a little with that, but I was mostly distracted while listening]. It is vulgar and profane [and not in a good way], very poorly written, and while it does show how poorly pe As someone who has read multiple books about Iran and Persia in general [and loved them, even the tough ones - it IS amazing what great writing can do for an uncomfortable book], I did not enjoy this book at all. Not even when I switched to an audiobook [because I was having a hard time staying focused - the audiobook helped a little with that, but I was mostly distracted while listening]. It is vulgar and profane [and not in a good way], very poorly written, and while it does show how poorly people are treated within the justice system in Iran, it shows very little else. The blurb makes you think that there is going to be a profound connection and relationship between Yanus and Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator - both personal and psychological. They are highly mistaken. While they do meet regularly and Hajj attempts to get Yanus to confess to things he has not [and truly was not capable of]doing, there is no real "relationship" there. It was very misleading and I feel that I was deceived into believing this was going to be a book filled with a rich relationship that develops out of the circumstances and nothing actually happens. It was a huge disappointment. Add to that the absolute vulgarity and truly gross descriptions of things Yanus thinks about and does, and you have a book that does not even remotely live up to the hype. Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers/HarperVia for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    Then the Fish Swallowed Him offers a perceptive and painful look at life in post-revolutionary Iran. The central character is Yunus, a largely apolitical bus driver who participates in a strike and quickly finds himself a prisoner under interrogation. This novel is an Iranian equivalent of Darkness at Noon, or even The Trial, in which a man finds himself fighting unjustified accusations that are never fully revealed to him. Because he is kept in solitary confinement, Yunus comes not just to fear Then the Fish Swallowed Him offers a perceptive and painful look at life in post-revolutionary Iran. The central character is Yunus, a largely apolitical bus driver who participates in a strike and quickly finds himself a prisoner under interrogation. This novel is an Iranian equivalent of Darkness at Noon, or even The Trial, in which a man finds himself fighting unjustified accusations that are never fully revealed to him. Because he is kept in solitary confinement, Yunus comes not just to fear his interrogator, but also to feel an unsettling connectedness with him. His perspective on his small cell grows and diminishes during his imprisonment. At times, he has an ability to see the vastness his cell can contain and the freedom to think that it offers, and he uses these to strengthen himself. At other times, the space is claustrophobic and atemporal—time has stopped and Yurus is in surroundings so bare they can seem like nothingness itself. The questions this novel asks about justice—in all the complicated senses of that term—make it an engrossing, rewarding read. I also appreciated the glimpse of ordinary life in Iran during and after the revolution, which challenges the "good guys-bad guys" narrative in which recent Iranian history is depicted in the west. I receives a free electronic review copy of the novel from the publisher via EdelweissPlus. The opinions are my own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    A low-key story of one man caught up in a repressive government’s attempts at social control (Ahmadinejad-era Iran). 3.5 stars rounding up.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Very probably the first novel I’ve read by an Iranian author and about Iran, this depiction of Yunus Turabi a bus driver from Tehran and how his life is changed by a drivers strike and its consequences is thoughtful and compelling at the same time. The way in which Arian balances the prison scenes worked really well for me in that he doesn’t shy away from brutality or mental torture but also doesn’t wallow in it. He also effectively creates that sense of time moving slowly with interludes where Very probably the first novel I’ve read by an Iranian author and about Iran, this depiction of Yunus Turabi a bus driver from Tehran and how his life is changed by a drivers strike and its consequences is thoughtful and compelling at the same time. The way in which Arian balances the prison scenes worked really well for me in that he doesn’t shy away from brutality or mental torture but also doesn’t wallow in it. He also effectively creates that sense of time moving slowly with interludes where Yunus looks back on different parts of his life and reflects when there is nothing else for him to do. I appreciated the picture of Tehran he builds and of the way he weaves in the relatively recent history of Iran without making it feel like an info dump or patronizing in any way. It became clear how much I don’t know about the country and would like to learn but at the same time, the kind of power dynamic and abuse of power that is portrayed in the novel is unfortunately familiar from countries around the globe. Reflective, poignant and with fluid and evocative writing, I’d be keen to read more from Amir Ahmadi Arian.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    Well written book by Iranian author Amir Ahmadi Arian making his literary American fiction debut. The story of Yunus Turabi a bus driver in Tehran, and subsequent strike by the drivers leads the Turabi to be imprisoned in the infamous Evin prison. We learn before he is imprisoned how apolitical he is. Inside the stark prison, he is interrogated by Hajj Saeed, an accomplished man in his cruelty. Turabi has many choices to make, or not make, given the despotism in Iran and the prison itself.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Mckinney

    Amir Ahmadi Arian creates what feels very like a modern fable in "Then the Fish Swallowed Him," in which the ordinary life of Yunus Turabi is turned upside down by a union strike. The reader follows Yunus back into the past, seeing Iran (a secondary character, herself) grow and change from the 1970s to the modern day and then forward as he endures arrest, interrogation, humiliation, loss, and a newfound freedom that encapsulates the realization that we are only ever free because the powers that Amir Ahmadi Arian creates what feels very like a modern fable in "Then the Fish Swallowed Him," in which the ordinary life of Yunus Turabi is turned upside down by a union strike. The reader follows Yunus back into the past, seeing Iran (a secondary character, herself) grow and change from the 1970s to the modern day and then forward as he endures arrest, interrogation, humiliation, loss, and a newfound freedom that encapsulates the realization that we are only ever free because the powers that be haven't slammed shut the doors to our cage. Befuddled by the forces that have wrested control of his life, Yunus seeks and answer and is given this: "Look at this through their eyes. You mishandled a strike and beat up working people. The Western media are sitting there like vultures ready to jump on your every single fuckup, and people are glued to their TVs like zombies and believe everything they see. This creates enormous anger. If you're the government, you can't explain it away, but you need to at least have a story to keep your base happy. You understand?" Yunus's story is that story. What should strike and frighten that reader is that the same story could easily have him or her at its center.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stefanie Merrifield

    I wanted to love this book so badly! It was on the top of my list of books I really wanted to convince HarperCollins to give me during PLA in a few weeks. Having said that, it isn't a bad book, not by any means at all. Then the Fish Swallowed Him follows apolitical Iranian bus driver Yunus Turabi during and after a citywide bus strike in Tehran. Yunus is arrested and taken to Evin prison where he is beaten, interrogated, and left in solitary confinement. Arian used amazing prose to bring this st I wanted to love this book so badly! It was on the top of my list of books I really wanted to convince HarperCollins to give me during PLA in a few weeks. Having said that, it isn't a bad book, not by any means at all. Then the Fish Swallowed Him follows apolitical Iranian bus driver Yunus Turabi during and after a citywide bus strike in Tehran. Yunus is arrested and taken to Evin prison where he is beaten, interrogated, and left in solitary confinement. Arian used amazing prose to bring this story to life, and to demonstrate what life is like under depotism. Though beautifully and poignantly written, I just couldn't get into it. I didn't care about Yunus, and kept waiting for something more to draw me in. Halfway through I realized that something more was probably not going to happen. I'd like to stress that this isn't the fault of the author, rather it was my own expectation of how this story was going to unfold. As such, I hope you see beyond my rating of this story, and take a moment to read the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicole D.

    This is the first English language novel by the author. Remember back in early 2020 when we had the whole Iran thing? (you know, like 15 minutes ago but long forgotten) I thought it would be interesting to read about live in Iran. And it was .... but wow this was a harsh and visceral book. It takes place in 2005 during a city wide bus strike in Tehran. The bus drivers were trying for better conditions. But it turned into a nasty political and even religious situation and we learn through our hap This is the first English language novel by the author. Remember back in early 2020 when we had the whole Iran thing? (you know, like 15 minutes ago but long forgotten) I thought it would be interesting to read about live in Iran. And it was .... but wow this was a harsh and visceral book. It takes place in 2005 during a city wide bus strike in Tehran. The bus drivers were trying for better conditions. But it turned into a nasty political and even religious situation and we learn through our hapless protagonist about the severity of Evin prison. The story is based on actual events, though I don't know how much of it is actually true. It does seem as though Evin prison is one of the worst places you would ever want to end up. Dark and heartbreaking - hard to enjoy but interesting and the writing was very good.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hoda هدى

    Loved it!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    A fascinating book, presenting both extremely specific detail of external aspects of bus-driver Yunus Turabi's experiences, memories, conversations, and surroundings, with the internal life of a very solitary man caught up in situations that he seemed to have fallen into. In some ways, Yunus is a self-aware, reliable narrator, even during periods of extreme stress that threaten his sanity; on the other hand, his characterization of himself as an innocent victim of circumstances ultimately seems A fascinating book, presenting both extremely specific detail of external aspects of bus-driver Yunus Turabi's experiences, memories, conversations, and surroundings, with the internal life of a very solitary man caught up in situations that he seemed to have fallen into. In some ways, Yunus is a self-aware, reliable narrator, even during periods of extreme stress that threaten his sanity; on the other hand, his characterization of himself as an innocent victim of circumstances ultimately seems a bit suspect. The plot revolves around a strike of unionized -- and deeply political -- bus drivers, and the repercussions. The episodes about Yunus and his interrogation by Hajj Saeed at Evin Prison frightened me at first; I don't enjoy gratuitous violence and don't have the stomach for the kind of suspense that keeps me waiting for terrible, sadistic violence. But these scenes are much more subtle; there is some violence, but it's almost banal (I think it's no accident that the writings of Hannah Arendt are mentioned, as she wrote about the banality of evil). I am glad to report that even though this novel shows terrible misuse of a regime intent on maintaining power, it's not a simple formula: Look How Terrible Life in Iran Is. It's far more respectful of the complexity of human beings -- in this case Iranian human beings -- as well as the power of memory, the dangers of allowing others to pierce our solitary existences, and, finally, the sad and sometimes distressing reality that people can get caught up in dramas much bigger and more complicated than they know, where it seems that fate has as much to do with their destiny as anything they may have planned, worked towards, or seem to have "earned." I enjoyed reading this book, difficult as the larger story was. Arian can write, and has mastered his character Yunus's realization: "Finding beauty in the beautiful was redundant, I told myself. Finding it in the dull, the abject, was the task ahead." (107). A beautiful book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Troy Hill

    Amir Ahmadi's first novel in English provides a window for Westerners into daily life in Tehran through the eyes of Yunus Turabi, an everyman bus driver, while delivering a universal tale of corruption, abuse of power, and the malleability of human nature. The depiction of the world inside Evin prison at times carries the gravity of an extreme closeup and the slow yet gripping quality of a Clarice Lispector novel. Meanwhile the narrative arc of Yunus's relationship with his interrogator creates Amir Ahmadi's first novel in English provides a window for Westerners into daily life in Tehran through the eyes of Yunus Turabi, an everyman bus driver, while delivering a universal tale of corruption, abuse of power, and the malleability of human nature. The depiction of the world inside Evin prison at times carries the gravity of an extreme closeup and the slow yet gripping quality of a Clarice Lispector novel. Meanwhile the narrative arc of Yunus's relationship with his interrogator creates page-turning suspense. Flashbacks to the narrator's childhood and adult exploits provide rich characterization and the compelling reveal of his seemingly isolated romantic relationship. The ending left me gutted, though perhaps with the slimmest glimmer of hope.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Reminiscent of The Stranger, Then The Fish Swallowed Him is about Irani bus driver Yunus who partakes in a protest and because of his beating a younger man, ends up getting dragged off to be interrogated, tortured, jailed and ultimately ruined, left to be another among the dregs of society. Yunus doesn’t have much of a personality, no ambitions, family, nada. He is dealt a hard hand and like many of his countrymen he suffers greatly. This is certainly well written, Arian, well done!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vshipp

    4.25 I will definitely track this author to see what else he creates. I learned a little and felt a lot of his pain.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hagai Palevsky

    You are not alone. I was here before you. I am thinking about you.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Haydon

    3.5 stars

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bob Lopez

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very good novel about a bus driver, advocating for drivers' rights, and his subsequent arrest and trial following a protest and an unfortunate incident where he assaulted the son of a minister (?). The majority of the novel is spent between interrogation scenes and flashbacks to the subjects of those scenes. I found it interesting how the tried to turn him--initially, it was by using the fact that he betrayed a friend against him, it was almost...mundane. However, that suggests how insidious the Very good novel about a bus driver, advocating for drivers' rights, and his subsequent arrest and trial following a protest and an unfortunate incident where he assaulted the son of a minister (?). The majority of the novel is spent between interrogation scenes and flashbacks to the subjects of those scenes. I found it interesting how the tried to turn him--initially, it was by using the fact that he betrayed a friend against him, it was almost...mundane. However, that suggests how insidious the government could be. The eventual confession and trial were heartbreaking.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Omid Rezaee

    The story is easy to read and tells perfectly how it looks like in Iran to get involved in politics and society.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I’ve read this story many times before, maybe different regimes, but this novel didn’t seem specific to Iran. It is little more than a vivid description of torture so I didn’t even learn much about the politics that led to the imprisonment or Arab spring.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rose Kryjak

    DFN'd at Chapter 19 out of 25. Did not want to listen to the narrator describe what his excrement looked like. This wasn't the first revolting description (two of which were sexual in nature), and I'm sure there are more to come in the chapters ahead, so I'm tapping out now. The GOOD: - the political landscape of Tehran - the descriptions of culture and life in Tehran - the interrogations scenes between Yunus Turabi and his interrogator, Hajj Saeed. Their relationship and interactions are the strong DFN'd at Chapter 19 out of 25. Did not want to listen to the narrator describe what his excrement looked like. This wasn't the first revolting description (two of which were sexual in nature), and I'm sure there are more to come in the chapters ahead, so I'm tapping out now. The GOOD: - the political landscape of Tehran - the descriptions of culture and life in Tehran - the interrogations scenes between Yunus Turabi and his interrogator, Hajj Saeed. Their relationship and interactions are the strongest part of this book, and their back-and-forth mind games should have been the main focus of the novel. Unfortunately, we spent more time in Yunus' past, his cell, or his mind. The BAD: - Yunus Turabi, who, unfortunately, is the main character. He's a hollowed-out husk of a person, deliberately written this way, with no friends, no living family, no interests of his own - essentially, an Everyman Martin Freeman stock-character, a non-actor in his own life but bumbling his way into the jaws of injustice all the same. He's so wholly empty inside that he is easily influenced by whatever prevailing political wind happens to blow in his direction (as shown in multiple scenes throughout the book), seeming to hold no real convictions or morals of his own besides the ones he adopts from those around him. One would think, then, that a character like Yunus - devoid of purpose and driving force - would very soon break under the pressures of interrogation and torture, bending to the will of his interrogator. Not so! The only consistent character trait Yunus seems to have is that (so far, as of chapter 19) he refuses to break. And I have no idea why. Why, Yunus? Why are you holding out in solitary confinement when you have nothing to live for, nothing to fight for? What's stopping you from just giving in? Honestly, at this point, I'm beginning to suspect some crazy twist ending (secret double agent! It's all just a dream! Or better yet, Yunus isn't even real!) because the level of dedication Yunus has to not cracking is unreal at this point. This book has been compared to 1984, but you know what? (view spoiler)[Even Winston Smith cracks in the end - and he sure has a lot more going for him. (hide spoiler)] As I mentioned before, it does seem like Yunus is deliberately written to be a character so scooped out that he allows anything & everything to inhabit him. The fact that the author crafted such a malleable character is intriguing at the very least, and I was invested enough in Yunus' story to want to follow him until the bitter end if only to see if his character's internal void will be explained in a thematic way. But I don't have the stomach to find out, and that's because of... The UGLY: - the asshole - the fly - the human grime & filth - the chicken carcass - the vomit - the bodies, his & everyone else's - the semen - the shit - the sex (which I suppose was consensual but was written to be so slimy and hurl-inducing that it read as closer to rape) Here's the thing. Graphic content can be a pleasure to read. Filth & degeneracy can make for titillating, stimulating literature. I've read plenty of literary fiction that's had descriptions of less than savory actions, locales, etc, but I was able to stomach those scenes because they were all in service to the intent of the author. They were not thrown in randomly in order to add shock value for the reader but to add actual value to the narrative. But the vulgar scenes in Then the Fish Swallowed Him did not connect to any overarching themes. The vulgar scenes were not trying to drive home a point about the nature of evil, or what it means to be human. The vulgar scenes in this book were written purely to be vulgar. They were disconnected from the plot. They were meant to draw out a visceral reaction from the reader (or listener) and did they ever. The sex scene was where I almost tapped out the first time; I cringed the entire time I listened to that part of the audiobook, and when the scene had passed, I promised myself that if there was one more gratuitous scene of vulgarity, I was done. Then, two chapters later came the detailed description of human excrement. And, well, here I am. Just a gentle reminder. Great, provocative fiction about the horrors of human evil doesn't need to stoop so low as to nauseate the reader. TL;DR: So uncivilized.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ana-Maria

    As I have been reading this book, the international press covered the riots in Russia as an expression of support for Aleksei Navalnîi and there were reports about people who participated in those protests and were arrested by the Police. I thought that the story of Yunus Turabi - the middle-aged bus driver in Teheran, Iran who gets arrested and convicted for colluding against the state after the participation in a bus driver union strike, might be the story of any of the participants to protest As I have been reading this book, the international press covered the riots in Russia as an expression of support for Aleksei Navalnîi and there were reports about people who participated in those protests and were arrested by the Police. I thought that the story of Yunus Turabi - the middle-aged bus driver in Teheran, Iran who gets arrested and convicted for colluding against the state after the participation in a bus driver union strike, might be the story of any of the participants to protests who got arrested on a political basis. In this book, we follow Yunus, who lives alone and who finds himself arrested and framed for colluding with the CIA against the Iranian state. The absurd of the situation is described with a clinical accuracy, more like a report. Yunus seems a bit disconnected from the events that he accounts with precision: interrogation, solitary confinement, the mock-up of the trial, his prison experience, and then, the return into a world that has drastically changed in 4 years ( he does not know what "Facebook "or "selfie" stand for). Him being swallowed by the state prison and its bureaucratic system is similar to the biblical story of the man who was swallowed by the fish. Inside the fish, everything changes: perception of time, the relationship with own body, the acceptance of pain and of living without various essentials, the appreciation of relationships ( even a fly becomes hugely important when one is in solitary confinement), the unexpected beauty in the horrific and abject. In an interview, the author confesses that his book was perceived in the US as a dystopic novel, yet that for any reader in Teheran, it would not look as such, rather it would be considered quite soft or part of the ordinary. I liked the fact that Arian did not choose a special character, a morally superior person, but actually someone who was not a great son, and not the best citizen in the world, yet his reactions to pain, confinement, and abolition of rights is universal.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    "And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers...when he ran away to the laden ship. And he drew lots and was among the losers. Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy. And had he not been of those who exalt Allah, He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected." Qur'an 37:139-144. Thus begins this story of Yunus Turabi, an ordinary man, 44 years old, a bus driver in Tehran, who describes himself as quiet, harmless, trustworthy, a man who embraces solitude. "And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers...when he ran away to the laden ship. And he drew lots and was among the losers. Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy. And had he not been of those who exalt Allah, He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected." Qur'an 37:139-144. Thus begins this story of Yunus Turabi, an ordinary man, 44 years old, a bus driver in Tehran, who describes himself as quiet, harmless, trustworthy, a man who embraces solitude. Yet somehow he finds himself arrested for the beating of a young, militant rabble-rouser and taken to Evin prison for political prisoners. There he is charged with more serious crimes specifically, "acting against national security", something of which he had no knowledge. It is in Evin that most of the story unfolds comprising intimate details of the relationship between Yunus and Hajj Saeed, his interrogator. There also are flashbacks that reveal much more about his past and his road to prison. I was fascinated with the descriptions of prison life for Yunus (not nearly so horrible as I might have imagined), the ways that Hajj sought to influence Yunus toward his own purposes (which are never actually revealed but may involve the Transportation Minister), and the strength of resistance shown by Yunus to the manipulation of those around him. The raw truths of this tale, almost a fable, present an unforgettable situation of the 21st century in which anyone in a repressive autocracy might find themselves. Haunting and unforgettable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    My brother and my father were bus drivers, like Yunus. Both strong union members and shop stewards. But that was in England. How painful to read about an ordinary working bus driver, with an unremarkable and not very fulfilling life, swallowed by “the big fish.”Probably it’s not necessary to tell readers that his name is more familiar to most westerners as Jonah. I hope that great myth is still well known. The scene is Iran, it could be any authoritarian state: I was reminded of A Day in the Life My brother and my father were bus drivers, like Yunus. Both strong union members and shop stewards. But that was in England. How painful to read about an ordinary working bus driver, with an unremarkable and not very fulfilling life, swallowed by “the big fish.”Probably it’s not necessary to tell readers that his name is more familiar to most westerners as Jonah. I hope that great myth is still well known. The scene is Iran, it could be any authoritarian state: I was reminded of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and of survivors’ reports of Chinese re-education centres and others around this sad and cruel world. Beware of the power grabbers and autocrats, and fight the descent into fascism wherever it raises its head. If you wait, it will be too late.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    Yunus, a bus driver, never expected to find himself under interrogation in Evin Prison but now he's in solitary there with little hope. Arian has shown a light on the repressive tactics used by the Iranian regime against its people. Saeed, his interrogator, pokes, prods, and provokes Yunus. The suspension of time, the claustrophobia of solitary confinement, and the terror of the accused all come through loud and clear. Great writing and intriguing characters made this a very good read. Thanks to Yunus, a bus driver, never expected to find himself under interrogation in Evin Prison but now he's in solitary there with little hope. Arian has shown a light on the repressive tactics used by the Iranian regime against its people. Saeed, his interrogator, pokes, prods, and provokes Yunus. The suspension of time, the claustrophobia of solitary confinement, and the terror of the accused all come through loud and clear. Great writing and intriguing characters made this a very good read. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction and those interested in Iran.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John F

    Odd, intense and introspective narrative illustrating some moments in a National bus driver’s life in Tehran, during a driving strike and so forth. Sans spoilers, Yusuf is merely habitating as unrest and revolution swirl around his mundane existence. The pivotal lapses in his judgement and perfectly poor coincidences push him to his blindfolded judgement in front of his holy, pious, brutal confessor. Poetic imagery blooms on every page until we may or may not return to an ordinary life in Iran. Odd, intense and introspective narrative illustrating some moments in a National bus driver’s life in Tehran, during a driving strike and so forth. Sans spoilers, Yusuf is merely habitating as unrest and revolution swirl around his mundane existence. The pivotal lapses in his judgement and perfectly poor coincidences push him to his blindfolded judgement in front of his holy, pious, brutal confessor. Poetic imagery blooms on every page until we may or may not return to an ordinary life in Iran. A beautiful gift of short literature in an ugly world, that turns inward and backward to slowly love the story forward in time.

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