The Last Illusion

Porochista Khakpour's second novel, The Last Illusion, is ambitious, bursting with ideas, vivid characters and lush language. Rooted in the Persian epic poem the Shahnameh, The Last Illusion is the tale of Zal, a boy raised among birds. Born as an albino to a woman obsessed with her feathered "children," Zal is immediately banished to a birdcage for the first 10 years of his life and becomes a feral, fragile thing. Rescued by man who becomes his surrogate father, Zal makes his way to New York City on the cusp of the new millennium.

His heroic quest for normalcy despite his avian imprinting (he still has a hankering for insects) is sad and funny in turn, real and poignant on every page. He meets chic hipster girls with death wishes, an illusionist with the grand idea to make the Twin Towers disappear (how could that go wrong?) and always the city, overflowing with its residents' contradictory impulses. Khakpour's vision of a bustling, multicultural New York--stuffed with layers of idiosyncratic detail, fully alive and fully overwhelming--is literature of the first order. Through Zal's struggles, she is able to state valuable truths about the protean nature of identity and how even those who are trying to heal us can undermine our deeper essence.

Khakpour's disparate characters are drawn together by their shared rootlessness and achieve adulthood only after jettisoning each illusion. Her daring new book is a testament to the relentless search for self and connection to others, no matter how daunting the journey. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

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