The Last Illusion
From the critically acclaimed author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects comes a bold fabulist novel about a feral boy coming of age in New York, based on a legend from the medieval Persian epic The Shahnameh, the Book of Kings.
In a rural Iranian village, Zal’s demented mother, horrified by the pallor of his skin and hair, becomes convinced she has given birth to a “White Demon.” She hides him in a birdcage and there he lives for the next decade. Unfamiliar with human society, Zal eats birdseed and insects, squats atop news- paper he sleeps upon, and communicates only in the squawks and shrieks of the other pet birds around him.
Freed from his cage and adopted by a behavioral analyst, Zal awakens in New York to the possibility of a future. An emotionally stunted and physically unfit adolescent, he strives to become human as he stumbles toward adulthood, but his persistent dreams in “bird” and his secret penchant for candied insects make real conformity impossible. As New York survives one potential disaster, Y2K, and begins hurtling toward another, 9/11, Zal finds himself in a cast of fellow outsiders. A friendship with a famous illusionist who claims—to the Bird Boy’s delight— that he can fly, and a romantic relationship with a disturbed artist who believes she is clairvoyant, send Zal’s life spiraling into chaos. Like the rest of New York, he is on a collision course with devastation.
In tones haunting yet humorous and unflinching yet reverential, The Last Illusion explores the powers of storytelling while investigating contemporary and classical magical thinking. Its potent lyricism, stylistic inventiveness, and examination of otherness can appeal to readers of Salman Rushdie and Helen Oyeyemi. A celebrated essayist and chronicler of the 9/11-era, Khakpour reimagines New York’s most harrowing catastrophe with a dazzling homage to her beloved city.
Praise for The Last Illusion
“Utterly original and compelling, Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion weaves Iranian myth with very contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own. This ambitious, exciting literary adventure is at once grotesque, amusing, deeply sad—and wonderful, too.”
— Claire Messud, Author of The Woman Upstairs
“The Last Illusion deftly, unexpectedly, blends Persian myth with modern life, and with the perils and pleasures of magic. In a gripping, sinuous, sometimes explosive voice, Porochista Khakpour tells us a story like no other, with a protagonist like no other— and there is not a reader who will not remember him always.”
— Amy Bloom, Author of Away
“The Last Illusion is a book full of hard-fought wonders, harsh and yet full of grace, with a touch of myth, and an abundance of love. A haunting novel that lingers long after the last page.”
— Dinaw Mengestu, Author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
“Magical and hysterical, each sentence more beautiful than the next, The Last Illusion proves Khakpour a novelist-dazzler on the magnitude of an Aimee Bender or a Jonathan Lethem. The English language has a new master tickler and it is laughing out loud.”
— Gary Shteyngart, Author of Little Failure
“Khakpour’s elegant, mysterious, hilarious novel contains the most intriguing and inventive collection of heartbreaking characters you’ll ever meet: a mystic in search of a religion, a magician with only one trick, and of course, Zal, the feral boy who just might be a bird. Powerful, passionate, essential work!”
— Deb Olin Unferth, Author of RevolutIon
“Funny and haunting, bridges the distance between ancient myth and the modern world. As much a coming-of-age story as it is a clear-eyed account of our contemporary lives, this is a work of pure imagination.”
— Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Author of Brief Encounters With The Enemy
“This novel confirms Khakpour as one of our best new satirists, partly because she is never as moving as when she is entirely sincere.”
— Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh