Review: Ritual of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali

Routine brings stability, but it can also bring restlessness, as is the case for Kamarn Khosravi in Iranian author Yaghoub Yadali’s book Rituals of Restlessness, an allegory both about life in Iran and the drudgery of middle age. Kamran is married with a steady bureaucratic job, but after six years of work he finds the results of his labor – a house, a car, a wife – to be meaningless, since it was all done “in the hopes that his life would return to the carefree days before” his marriage, when there were no rituals, no day-to-day grinds – just absolute freedom. “Grasping the unfairness or, better put, the absurdity of this was not difficult.”

So in a twist reminiscent of Camus or a very dark Jimmy Stewart, Kamran fakes his own death and begins again in a new city, in a seedy apartment all his own. At first his “absolute freedom” brings euphoria – he keeps a slovenly house, entertains women, takes swimming lessons – but there are rituals with freedom, too, and Kamran soon discovers he can’t escape his sense of nihilism. Or can he?

Rituals of Restlessness won a series of prestigious literary prizes when it was published in 2004, but Yadali found himself sentenced to prison in Iran for depicting an adulterous affair. Readers in the States, in turn, may be appalled at Kamarn’s callousness, particularly in the opening section. But as the book continues and Kamran becomes more introspective, we realize he is both “one of the most cold-blooded creatures on the planet, and one of the most laughable.”

The novel is banned in Iran, and became available in the States only recently through Phoneme Media. It’s a fascinating, and surprisingly suspenseful read about the struggle to find meaning in a life that seems largely out of your control.