Solacers tells the touching story of a 5-year old child’s search for family life and safety following the divorce of his parents in Iran during the 1960’s. Alireza, The first child of a heartless father and a discarded mother is left to fend for himself on the streets of Mashhad, seeking food... read more
Solacers opens with the young Alireza being taken back to the foster home he has just run away from. A cold wind stings his face and hands as his mother’s new husband pedals the boy along on a bicycle, away from his mother and his sense of home. Thus begins the story of an Iranian boy who... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Solacers opens with the young Alireza being taken back to the foster home he has just run away from. A cold wind stings his face and hands as his mother’s new husband pedals the boy along on a bicycle, away from his mother and his sense of home. Thus begins the story of an Iranian boy who grows up largely without the structure of home and family, who is left to fend for himself from a very young age, who often feels abandoned, as if no one really wants him—and who nevertheless matures into a man who knows how to forgive and how to find hope and possibility even in dire circumstances.
Alireza is born in Tehran in 1956 but grows up mostly in the city of Mashhad. His parents divorce before he is three years old, leaving a sense of shame attached to his mother. The father, Assad, subsequently refuses to provide any support for either the boy or his baby sister. In fact, when Alireza’s mother goes to Assad’s house to ask for help, he lures her out to a deserted spot, beats her, and dumps her into a canal. She survives, only to discover that her infant daughter has been “taken care of”—but she will never find out what became of the girl. For some months afterwards, Alireza and his mother spend their Fridays (when most others are relaxing and having fun) searching for the lost girl, waiting outside the army base in hopes of running into Assad, or going to the shrine of Imam Reza to beg the dead imam for help.
Then Mansoor Aqa enters and changes everything. He is a handsome Iranian Turk who marries Alireza’s mother and becomes the first father figure in the young boy’s life. Alireza loves Mansoor Aqa, who introduces him to such delights as ice cream, Pepsi-Cola, and the cinema. But still all is not well. There never seems to be enough money, especially after a new baby is born. Suddenly there is a growing feeling in the family that poor Mansoor Aqa should not be stuck caring for another man’s child. Alireza is sent to live with his father “just for a little while,” as the boy begins to sense that no one wants him or knows what to do with him.
The father has no interest in Alireza and begins fostering him out to a series of relatives and acquaintances, promising to pay for the boy’s upkeep and never following through. One day, two mysterious men claiming to be friends of Alireza’s father pick the boy up and take him on a sudden trip to the middle of nowhere. They eventually, and without explanation, bring him back to the city. Forever after, Alireza would wonder if he was supposed to disappear that day just like his little sister had done.
Following this incident, Alireza is bounced from place to place, eventually landing at the Saqis’ home, where he meets Kareem, a boy a few years older who will become his next parent figure. Alireza finds stability of a sort in this home, at least for a while. He begins attending school and grows with the attention Kareem shows him. But still his position is uncertain, becoming even more so when Kareem leaves home. Alireza’s mother has by now moved away to Tehran, and his father has once again stopped paying for his upkeep. When his new “family” moves on, he is left to fend for himself.
What follows is a tumultuous period of uncertainty when Alireza, only ten years old, makes do with little food and no proper clothing. The adults in his life either don’t know how desperate his situation is or can’t (or won’t) help him—and he refuses to beg. Somehow, against all odds, Alireza survives and even stays in school, earning his sixth-grade certificate and eventually walking two hours each way just to go to high school.
But this story isn’t all bleak. Alireza finds love for the first time with a girl who seems to have materialized from some wonderful past life. He receives frequent guidance from a dream figure, a man seemingly straight from ancient Greece who silently lets him know everything will be all right. And then there are his day-to-day solacers, those like Kareem who show him kindness and give him hope. One storeowner forgives Alireza’s debt (incurred on someone else’s credit), thus saving him from certain trouble and possible rejection. A friend’s mother who never seemed to like him gives him a hot meal and an old jacket that will allow him to continue to attend high school. He also discovers poetry and begins to dream of a future in America—a dream that will come true.
Solacers is the story of a forgotten, disregarded child, but it is also a story of hope, integrity, and forgiveness. Alireza seemingly has every reason to give up, to sink into feelings of personal martyrdom or resolve to take vengeance on those who have harmed him. Yet that is not what he does. Instead, he keeps an open heart, able to be touched by the kindness others show him, able to feel love and seek possibility in any circumstance. And he learns to listen to the dreams of his past and future and set himself on the path that will turn his dreams into his reality.
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