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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Tirdad Zolghadr

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To purchase Softcore

Title: Softcore
Author: Tirdad Zolghadr
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 208 pages
Availability: Softcore - US
Softcore - UK
Softcore - Canada
Softcore - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : amiable approach, a very different look at Tehran

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Star B+ 6/7/2007 William Wheeler
New Statesman C- 19/7/2007 Omid Nikfarjam

  From the Reviews:
  • "Under the guise of a thriller, Softcore serves as a smart -- if schizophrenic -- commentary on Iran at the intersection of competing cultural and political forces, where art and politics, meaning and form are interwoven, confused and exploited. () Softcore is also, ultimately, an art manifesto: A guided tour of an internationalist aesthetic dominates, full of Celtic tattoos and clever T-shirts. () The other portrait that emerges is the misunderstood paradox of Iran. () The novel's form can be exasperating with its account of trite platitudes, and it can feel like a degree in critical art theory is necessary to untangle its ironies and obfuscations." - William Wheeler, Daily Star

  • "Tirdad Zolghadr () tries to take a satirical look at modern Iranian society, but his story lacks originality and verve. () Softcore shows no sign of balance or proportion. While it is sometimes cynical and witty, it is more often pompous and pretentious. () Zolghadr has made such an effort with his story that it borders on a treatise rather than a novel." - Omid Nikfarjam, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Softcore is a slightly uneasy mix of art-scene satire, you-can't-go-home-again novel, and thriller, but with its 'exotic' setting (contemporary Tehran, mostly) is a surprising and generally enjoyable read.
       The Zolghadr-like narrator has returned to Tehran to:

re-open the family establishment, the Promessa, not as the restaurant and cocktail bar it once was but as a showroom of sorts, a space for art exhibitions, catwalks, launches, readings, screenings, student workshops, talks, corporate receptions, film sets, dance parties and such.
       The book covers the time he spends getting the place and space ready, up to the grand opening -- with a variety of side-trips and occasional digressions along the way.
       The Promessa might not sound like a promising project to set up in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but Zolghadr's account makes the city seem, for the most part, not all that different from all the other stops on the world art-scene tour. There's his friend, Mina, for example, who does a performance piece every other week:
This week, Mina has proceeded to wrap herself in thirty feet of aluminum foil on the sixth floor of an uptown shopping mall.
       The results are hardly different than they would be anywhere else.
       Indeed, it's gotten so far that:
art is mainstream all of a sudden, you know how every family used to crave those Nissan Patrol cars, now they have a daughter who goes to art school I'm telling you.
       The narrator is very much part of this international art scene, where it's hard to know what to take (or what is meant) seriously. He has his mentors -- specifically Stella, who pretty much tells him what to do --, and then there's the appropriately named I-CON foundation, which may be interested in supporting the Promessa-project. He jet-sets to Zurich to make his case (sort of) and elsewhere, but almost everyone seems to share his very casual approach to getting anything done.
       A different sort of Iranian reality does also intrude: the narrator and a friend are arrested for filming the Revolutionary Courthouse (though he tries to explain that they were filming a flower stand that happened to be in front of the courthouse ...). He winds up Shekufeh prison for a while, his casual tone and attitude somewhat at odds with at least some of what he finds there. And his "voguish fascination with generic cities, let alone retro kitsch" proves problematic in trying to explain some of what he has in his apartment: "if you overdo something, if you turn it into a toy, you criticize it" he tells his interrogator, trying to explain the kitschy Shah memorabilia he has accumulated. Needless to say, it doesn't even sound very convincing to his own ears.
       There's some local (and international) conspiracy, and the narrator finds that he is even further in over his head than he had thought, as strands are modestly cleverly tied together in the end. Along the way there are also some nostalgic looks at what the Promessa used to be, as well as a bit of reminiscing about his childhood -- in Lagos, for example.
       Zolghadr tries to do a lot in the novel, and he's pretty good at a lot of it too. The vacuous international art-scene -- softcore, indeed ! -- is presented well, and the take on Iran (and Tehran) is worthwhile if only as an antidote to the general expectations foreign readers have of the place -- though the narrator's laid-back, sometimes almost clueless attitude leave the impression that there's considerably more to it. Still, there are some good and surprising observations and insights, such as the descriptions of the Zirzamin housing complex. And some of the observations are quite nicely put, too:
     Though Iran boasts several revolutions in the past century alone, popular, vanguardist, secular, religious, violent and mellow, in various combinations, none of them worked themselves out all the way, at least not in the sense of people leaning back and saying, oh, that was worth it, good stuff, let's celebrate at that new Mexican place, and I'll finally wear those cufflinks you got me for my birthday. This may be the reason for the regime's insistence on how revolutionary it continues to be. Revolutionary Leadership, Revolutionary Guard, Revolutionary Court, Revolution Square, Revolution Avenue, on and on.
       Heavy on the international art-scene, Softcore is an odd mix of banal talk and pseudo-ideas and actual life. Zolghadr never really balances the nostalgia, action, and ideas, making for an unsettled-feeling read, but there's good entertainment value here, and an interesting glimpse of a different Tehran than one usually finds.

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Tirdad Zolghadr was born in Iran 1973.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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