Khadivi, Laleh. “A Good Country”, Bloomsbury, 2017.
“A Good Country” is set in Laguna Beach California in 2010 and is the story of Alireza Courdee, a Muslim teen searching for and ultimately finding his identity.
Alireza Courdee is a fourteen-year-old straight-A student and whiz at chemistry. When he smokes pot for the first time, he changes from being the high-achieving son of Iranian immigrants becomes a happy-go-lucky stoner. He has sex and loses his virginity, becomes a surfer, and sneaks away from home to go all-night raves. He stops being Alireza and becomes just Rez as he becomes a real American teen. We see that if he can change that quickly, he must be vulnerable and so when he becomes friendly with a group of surfers (“bad boys”) who share his background, he is easily filled with a new sense of purpose and during the year that follows, he is radicalized so much that he and his girlfriend leave America and go to Syria to be part of a Muslim nation enduring civil war. Here is the story of a young man who is caught between two different worlds. His story is the story of living the modern world and religious radicalization. We, in turn, then think about whether or not we decide how to live or is that decision made for us.
We follow Rez through his high school years, his initiation to and then his obsession with sex and drugs, his friendships, his complex relationship with his father and we are shocked and appalled by his bad choices. Yet we remain hopeful that he will be able to overcome this and come to terms with his thoroughly American life while at the same time embrace his Persian heritage. However, that is not how it goes here and we see Rez’s mixed-up and convoluted reasoning.
Writer Laleh Khadivi’s tries to give us a plausible explanation as to why a nice, smart, successful, Americanized son of rich Iranian parents could be drawn into the shadowy world of ISIS thus making this a very timely read.
We meet Rez whose parents are Iranian but do not practice the Muslim faith, and he has never needed to learn what they have sacrificed for him to be born an American. Rez is, undoubtedly, an all-American teenage boy who loves to surf, gets high, parties, and, as per many American teenage boys, is distractedly infatuated by girls and sex. We see that everything comes down to events, as a friend of his recognizes in the book. Events cause other events and Islamophobia is what changes Rez’s self-perception and his understanding of the world. As he changes, his surfer friends want less and less to do with him and so he turns to other immigrant teenagers who are descended from the world Islam. He seeks a community as white America continues to reject him. Turning to the mosque, he finds peace
Khadivi here shows how fundamental misunderstanding causes untold suffering and we see the devastation that this causes. She shows us why a young man could become so radical and we then understand what would motivate a sheltered, young person to run away to join extremists .
At the beginning of the story Rez almost can’t even acknowledge his parents are Iranians because he so badly wants to be American and fit in with his peers. “A Good Country” powerfully looks at how much we actually determine our destinies.