THE BOOK OF ABSENT PEOPLE by Taghi Modarressi (Doubleday: $14.95). Taghi Modarressi wrote his first novel in Iran in his native Persian in 1956 at age 23 and promptly became a major voice in Iranian fiction. Since then, he has lived in America, where he completed his medical training, married novelist Anne Tyler, wrote his second novel in Persian and is now on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“The Book of Absent People” is his first novel in English and reads somewhat like a literal translation. The prose aside, however, Modarressi brings to English all his acumen as a virtuoso Persian storyteller.
The tale unfolds with a growing sense of intricate symmetry--slowly and obscurely, then with increasing speed and clarity. What is gained thereby is a deepening insight into a generational family conflict. A dying father bids his young son to find his older brother, missing for 11 years after a mysterious outburst. The search takes the youth through the streets of prerevolutionary Tehran, only to bring him back with more questions. Not until his father’s death and burial, however, do all the pieces fit together and do the absent members of the family reunite, only to separate again.
The final disclosures are poignant and rewarding. All the reader needs is patience getting there. Meanwhile, one wonders how much more appealing this haunting, probing tale would have been in the author’s native language.