POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR'S DEBUT NOVEL Sons and Other Flammable Objects is an award-winning dark lyrical comedy. The novel revolves around the Adams family — Darius, Lala, and Xerxes — and pays special attention to the father, Darius (who for all Persian readers will have an allegorical relation to Darius the Great, who ruled at the height of the Persian Empire), and his American-born son Xerxes. The Adamses immigrate to the United States after the Iranian Revolution. As Darius attempts to transplant his Iranian roots into Los Angeles’s soil, Xerxes tries to forget his hyphenated identity, a silent signifier for social stigma given the novel’s post-9/11 context. Eden Gardens, the apartment complex where Xerxes grows up, inverts the reference to innocent, prelapsarian human relations, re-envisioning Eden as home to “the not so fragile types like The Drug Dealer and The Sorority Girls.” Xerxes longs to sever himself from his Iranian parents, and when he moves to New York for college, he doesn’t look back, living paycheck to paycheck and surviving on Fruity Pebbles. When his father visits New York and shares a rather disturbing story from his childhood, though, memories of his family and distant homeland return to him. Xerxes’s response is far from sympathetic or understanding, and their relationship strains further, especially when the Twin Towers fall, and Xerxes’s already tenuous notions of self come crashing down with them.
During Ms. Khakpour’s recent visit to Santa Clara University to discuss the intersections between “Family, Ethnicity & Politics” in her writing, we had a chance to sit down for this interview.
Roxanne Rashedi: One of the things that struck me about Sons and Other Flammable Objects — and there were many — was the way you seamlessly shifted through varying geographic locations and temporal spaces. While the members of the Adams family are foreigners in America, they live in Los Angeles, home to one of the biggest Iranian diaspora communities in the world. I found it interesting that while there was a diverse community in the Eden Gardens complex, there was still no other Iranian family mentioned living there or in the surrounding area. Was this intentional? Or, was this a function of your own upbringing in Pasadena, removed from Los Angeles’s heavily Iranian-populated Westside and Valley?
Porochista Khakpour: Bingo — yes, I grew up quite isolated from Los Angeles’s famous Iranian diaspora. And by that I mean we were about 30–45 minutes away depending on freeway traffic. We’d make weekend treks to Tehrangeles for Persian food and it was almost like visiting the zoo or going to Disneyland. It was another world. Back home in South Pasadena, I was the only Iranian in my grade and one of a handful of Middle Easterners in the entire school system. I was definitely friends with other immigrants, but I remember almost resenting the one or two other Iranian families in our tiny city, because it felt like we were obligated to be their friends. I wanted to write about that specific world of mine instead of writing about immigrants in a fairly homogenous immigrant enclave, which is what you always expect when reading about any immigrant or ethnic group. Well, I wanted to write about what was interesting to ...read more