A colonel fleeing the repressive Theological Republic confronts a former prisoner in an unnamed northern European nation.
French-Iranian author Hachtroudi’s English-language debut, told mainly through intense first-person narration, follows the colonel’s final attempts at gaining asylum. A confidant of the Supreme Commander in his home country, he has been questioned repeatedly for five years, denying his participation in the regime’s program of kidnapping and torture. His translator at this last interrogation at the Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons turns out to be “455,” a prisoner famous for her staunch resistance to naming names. Their alternating voices are intimate and well-etched. The colonel reveals the shaky status of his quest through short, choppy sentences: “They never get tired. There is always some point that needs clarifying. Some missing element. They have nothing better to do.” The translator’s voice is more fluid: “Does language, any language, flow more easily when the subject is love?” That question becomes the crux of the story. In a frightening turn, the colonel stalks the translator, but they soon form an uneasy connection over relationships rent apart by the violence of the totalitarian regime. Because of the narration’s deeply internal monologue, events unfold nonlinearly, and it is not always clear when an event has actually occurred. Nor is it always clear when characters are actually speaking to one another or imagining conversations they would like to have with people far out of reach. This murkiness feels appropriate to the territory of traumatic memories, self-delusion, double-dealings, and half-truths.
Tightly plotted, this fierce literary thriller packs complex emotions in a small space, tackling difficult and essential questions about power and our responsibilities to one another.