The Official Description: In 1980, as the world is captivated by the Iranian hostage crisis, aspiring doctor Hesam drops out of medical school in Rome and returns to Iran to serve his country. A member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, he becomes a prison guard in Ahwaz, assigned to investigate and interrogate political prisoners. The more he learns about ethnic and religious tensions, however, the more he finds the concept of revolutionary justice questionable. Hesam finds solace in speaking with a defiant young prisoner with whom he develops a passionate bond. But when Hesam discovers damning evidence about the detainee, he has to choose between his political ideals and his conscience in a country where same-sex love is violently condemned.
Just the facts: Fiction, historical (the 1980s), Queer content, Iran
A story about secrets, politics and illegal love during the Iranian Cultural Revolution – Kinzie Things
My thoughts bit: From 1980 to 1983 Iran was in the midst of the “Cultural Revolution” – “when the academia of Iran was purged of Western and non-Islamic influences (even traditionalist unpolitical Islamic doctrines) to bring it in line with the revolutionary and Political Islam” (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Cultural_Revolution, May 16, 2020). At the time, Hesam was studying medicine in Rome but he returned to Iran to serve his people.
Soon after he arrives, he begins working as a Revolutionary Guard and begins to see how different his views are from those surrounding him. He meets a prisoner named Bahram and is curious about him… from the first time he saw his “violin covered eyes” he was intrigued. As he becomes accustomed to his job he realizes that a lot of it encompasses things he isn’t willing to do. He doesn’t want to incarcerate and beat/torture innocent people. Bahram is one of the people that Hesam is supposed to be extracting a confession from. The problem is that Bahram says he is innocent.
The character in this book are interesting. I did think there were a few too many at the beginning of the book I had a little bit of difficulty keeping track. But the author does a good job of pulling their respective plotlines together.
Bahram was an interesting fellow. He hasn’t lead an easy life by any stretch of the imagination. I won’t go into detail as I appreciated the way that his past was laid out in the story. He has been through a lot of trials that have left him feeling as though he doesn’t want to love anyone…because it will be torn away from him. Oddly enough, there are fiercely loyal characters in Bahram’s life … and that made me happy.
Hesam was also an interesting character. He seemed almost naive about his own Country when he returned from Rome. I found it frustrating that he didn’t seem to know about anything that was going on in Iran…but perhaps that actually happened and was part of the problem.
As the two men get to know each other…things become complicated. Bahram wants to help Hesam but it’s not until he does some investigating on his own that he discovers that Hesam has been lying to him. But why wouldn’t he? Hesam might have an “interest” in Bahram, but how can either know that it comes from a genuine place?
One of the things I really liked about this book was that some of the significant characters were women. The gentle, quiet power of Iranian women in this story is remarkable. They work behind the scenes as they too search for justice.. and their male family members.
This is Hamour Baika’s debut novel and I think it’s quite good. I will be interested to see him explore his talent and technique in the future.
Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) detailed description of execution, torture, firing squad described from victim’s perspective, bullying, sexual harassment, violence, murder, death by explosion, shooting.
The Author: Hamour Baika was born in Iran and lived in Ahwaz during his teen years. He wrote his first novella, a fan fiction piece about the alien creature E.T. at age 12. Baika has a master’s degree in human rights. A painter and classical pianist, he now lives in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. On the Enemy’s Side is his debut novel.
I received an ARC of On the Enemy’s side by Hamour Baika from The Author in exchange for an unbiased review.