Interview with Zahra’s Paradise’s Writer
|August 8, 2012|
The book, Zahra’s Paradise, is a timely example of how the Internet can be used as a platform to support online activists in totalitarian regimes. The book started off as a web-comic that covered news of Iran’s Green Movement, and was published a year later in the United States on September 13, 2011, by graphic novel publisher, First Second Book.
The book was created by a Persian writer, an Arab artist, and a Jewish editor, who have all chosen to remain anonymous for political reasons. Two of them are Iranian expatriates and wish to protect their families in Iran.
Amir is the author’s chosen name. He left Iran at twelve, "All I have from Iran are good memories. As a young child, everything was full of happiness and joy. Iran for me manifests memories of my grandmother and sweets; my grandmother whose heart was full of love and worship for god."
The story follows a mother’s search for her son, who disappeared around the time of the 2009 Iranian elections. It references the story of Sohrab Arabi, an Iranian pro-democracy student, whose death became a symbol of the 2009 post-election protests in Iran. His mother, Parvin Fahimi, was an active member of Mothers for Peace.
Sohrab disappeared on June 15, during the 2009 presidential election protests, and the case received significant media attention. Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi promised that he would release Sohrab. After nearly a month of searching, his family found out that Sohrab was killed with "a gunshot wound to the heart."
Amir confirms that the book was influenced by Sohrab’s story: “The story of him being missed, the way his mother searched for him, and the tragic ending shook me badly, but that’s not the reason that I created this book. I wanted to record a diary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency for a long time, but then after Iranians protested against the stolen election and the government reacted brutally, protests moved to a whole other level. I decided then to share Iran’s history through my book. That being said, the book is largely influenced by Sohrab’s story and others [martyrs of the Green Movement].”
The web-comic book was immediately translated into 12 languages, including: Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, German and French. Amir would write a story and send the text to Khalil, an Arab graphic designer, who created the graphics: “Fortunately, he established a very good relationship with this story and a good understanding of my posts. I am very satisfied with the work. He transferred my thoughts and feelings into pictures."
However, one might ask why Amir would publish a comic book when he isn’t an artist: “A friend of mine had worked on a comic book previously with this publisher, and I liked the creativity of it. When I decided to publish a comic book, I contacted the publisher, sent my proposal and they accepted it.”
Amir said that this book is the result of individual pictures and videos from the Internet that Iranian people posted online, and that his intention is to bond small pieces of history together to create a broader picture.