My Neighbor's Paradise.
Munich: btb, 2020.
224 p.; Euro 20,60.
From child soldier in the Iran-Iraq War to guru of the German industrial design scene – Ali Najjar, one of three main characters in Nava Ebrahimi's second novel has more than survived. His professional success is based on the resolution to never be a victim again. What distinguishes him from the middle-class German kids who had security and stability growing up, and whose careers he now determines, is that he verges without compromise on ruthless, and he is willing to take risks.
Ali Najjars antagonist is Ali-Reza. He's been sitting in a wheel chair since he was wounded as a child soldier in the Iran-Iraq war, and has never left Iran. Maryam, Ali Najjar's mother, looked after him until her death. The lives of Ali-Reza and Ali Najjar, who have never met in person, are linked through Maryam.
The third character from whose perspective the story is told is Sina Khoshbin, an industrial designer from Munich with a Persian father. Initially, he tries to slip out of the grasp of his new boss Ali Najjar. Then, however, the boss makes him an offer that promises to break through the stagnation and mediocracy. Together with Ali Najjar, Sina flies to Dubai to meet Ali-Reza, who is to hand over a letter with the legacy of the late Maryam. With the trip to Dubai, the tension intensifies and the previously parallel courses of action seep into one another against a backdrop of hypercapitalism.
My Neighbor's Paradise is a well calibrated novel that opens up in multiple perspectives. Nava Ebrahimi negotiates complex issues of belonging and foreignness, of responsibility and guilt, in an unpretentiously accessible way that never veers into theoretical discourse. The sophisticated constellation of characters creates a constant heightening of suspense, making it almost impossible to put the book down. Highly readable, cleverly composed, and as politically relevant as it is distinctive, My Neighbors Paradise is an exceptional novel.