Martyr!: A novel (Hardcover)

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Martyr!: A novel By Kaveh Akbar Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

A young man of Persian dissent, struggling with addiction, tries to reconcile his mother’s senseless death by exploring the notion of a meaningful death, aka "martyrdom." His search leads him to a performance artist who is living out her final days in/as an exhibition called “Deathspeak.” Akbar is an award-winning poet with a gift for language. Funny and philosophical, this is the most original novel I’ve read this year.

— Eve

February 2024 Indie Next List

“Kaveh Akbar is a major new voice in American literature and Martyr! is his tour de force. In a mix of penetrating insight and profoundly funny stories, this entertaining and moving tale holds a mirror up to our society.”
— Casey Protti, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR SO FAR FOR 2024 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW • A newly sober, orphaned son of Iranian immigrants, guided by the voices of artists, poets, and kings, embarks on a remarkable search for a family secret that leads him to a terminally ill painter living out her final days in the Brooklyn Museum. Electrifying, funny, and wholly original, Martyr! heralds the arrival of an essential new voice in contemporary fiction.

“Kaveh Akbar is one of my favorite writers. Ever.” —Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of There There

“The best novel you'll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, homesickness.” —Lauren Groff, best-selling author of Matrix and Fates and Furies

Cyrus Shams is a young man grappling with an inheritance of violence and loss: his mother’s plane was shot down over the skies of the Persian Gulf in a senseless accident; and his father’s life in America was circumscribed by his work killing chickens at a factory farm in the Midwest. Cyrus is a drunk, an addict, and a poet, whose obsession with martyrs leads him to examine the mysteries of his past—toward an uncle who rode through Iranian battlefields dressed as the angel of death to inspire and comfort the dying, and toward his mother, through a painting discovered in a Brooklyn art gallery that suggests she may not have been who or what she seemed.

Kaveh Akbar’s Martyr! is a paean to how we spend our lives seeking meaning—in faith, art, ourselves, others.

About the Author

KAVEH AKBAR’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections: Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City.

Praise For…

“Incandescent . . . Akbar has created an indelible protagonist, haunted, searching, utterly magnetic. But it speaks to Akbar’s storytelling gifts that Martyr! is both a riveting character study and piercing family saga . . .  Akbar is a dazzling writer, with bars like you wouldn't believe . . . What Akbar pulls off in Martyr! is nothing short of miraculous.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant . . . steeped in humor and absurdity but deathly serious as well . . . The strength of Martyr! is that Akbar arranges its various messes well and doesn’t strive too hard to reconcile them.” Los Angeles Times

Martyr! is almost violently artful, full of sentences that stab, pierce, and slice with their beauty . . . Reading this prose can feel like watching an Olympic athlete perform household tasks: Akbar’s writing has the musculature of poetry that can’t rely on narrative propulsion and so propels itself. It’s tonally nuanced—in command of a dazzling spectrum of frequencies from comedic to tragic—rigorous, and surprising.” The New Yorker

“Wry, blasphemous, grim, grimy and moving . . . Martyr! is so much its own creation that comparisons don't help. Maybe you could think of it as something of an Iranian American spin on John Kennedy Toole's comic picaresque A Confederacy Of Dunces, wedded to Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, another meditation on a missing mother and the unpredictable power of art.” —NPR

“Reading Martyr! is a delight. Sensual, oneiric and wonderfully strange, Akbar intuits the mind’s talent for distilling meaning from the surreal. His fiction taps his expertise in conjuring an experiential purity—through metaphor and with humor that lands.”The Washington Post

“An existential comedy about the difficulty of finding beauty in banality and sense in suffering . . . In writing this novel about a would-be martyr lost amid the banal clichés and tired stories Americans tell themselves in order to live, Akbar has shown that the only way to make meaning out of meaninglessness is to become the author of our own story.” —The Atlantic

“Akbar's debut is full of love, fury, humor and wisdom. Protagonist Cyrus Shams-poet, recovering alcoholic, son of one of the passengers- is coming straight for your heart.”People

“A deep-feeling, beautifully bruised debut novel . . . [Martyr!] reads like the book that Akbar has been building up to most of his life.” San Francisco Chronicle

“A dazzling, thrilling debut novel about identity and loss . . . Martyr! thrillingly depicts why we cobble selves from alloys of words and cultures.”Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A brilliant and blisteringly alive novel about not just how we go on, but also why. Kaveh Akbar's first novel is so stunning, so wrenching, and so beautifully written that reading it for the first time, I kept forgetting to breathe. I will carry this story, and the people in it, with me for the rest of my life." —John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

"I can’t remember the last time a book made me feel like this. Martyr! is simply extraordinary. The language moves across the page like a symphony, and the story vibrates with an energy that made the book impossible to put down. Kaveh Akbar has written a novel that will stay with me forever. What a story. What a voice. What a gift.” —Clint Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed

“Kaveh Akbar renders the full spectrum of life, and death, with great beauty and care.” —Raven Leilani, author of Luster

“Kaveh Akbar is a radiant soul, a poet so agile and largehearted it comes as no surprise that his first leap into fiction is elegant, dizzying, playful. MARTYR!  is the best novel you'll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, homesickness for people longed for but forever unknown, the way art as eruption of life gazes back into death, and the ecstasy that sometimes arrives—like grace—when we find ourselves teetering on the knife-edge of despair.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies

“An absolute jewel of a novel. A diamond. I haven’t loved a book this much in years. Kaveh’s writing is so thoroughly powerful and gorgeous you can feel it from where dreams come, and in all over your brain, and straight from the bottom of your heart. This book does everything. It is so entirely funny and sad and true and beautiful. Kaveh Akbar is one of my favorite writers. Ever.”
—Tommy Orange, author of There There

“Kaveh Akbar has given birth to a hilarious marvel of a novel. Rip-roaringly funny. Wise and wise-assed. It’s about addiction and love, self-pity and rage and moving instants of profound redemption. Akbar stands among our greatest poets, but calling this novel lyrical isn’t code for lack of plot. Akbar is a black-belt storyteller, and Martyr! is a page-turner I couldn’t put down." —Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club

“I disappeared into Martyr!—utterly consumed by it—and then it returned me to the world with wider eyes, a swollen heart, and sharpened nerve endings. This is a book that understands the strangeness and grief and ecstasy of being alive; that understands the strange envelope of a body, the proximate sublime on the bare chest of a beloved; the baffled wonderment of sobriety, the grief that spans every scale of the human project—and, more than anything, the impossible salvation of love persisting not despite but through these materials. Kaveh Akbar writes with the staggering entirety of his mind and heart, and Martyr! will stay in my soul for good—a fever dream, a reckoning, a heartbreak, a shattering and mending, a delight—its double-helix of dreams and conversation now part of my own DNA for good." —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

“Poet Akbar (Pilgrim Bell, 2021) is an almost deliriously adept first-time novelist, writing from different points of view and darting back and forth in time and into Cyrus’ satirical dreams and the lives of Iranian poets from Rumi to Farrokhzad. Akbar creates scenes of psychedelic opulence and mystery, emotional precision, edgy hilarity, and heart-ringing poignancy as his characters endure war, grief, addiction, and sacrifice, and find refuge in art and love. Bedazzling and profound."Booklist (starred review)

“Sublime . . . [Akbar’s] writing makes just enough time for beauty while never languishing . . . although a novel cannot capture what life is, its truths and inventions can powerfully gesture toward what life is like: full of both pain and pleasure, with death inevitable, and love a choice.” —Bookpage (starred review)

Martyr! stands out as a work of uncommon artistic assuredness and vibrancy . . . As carried through by [Akbar’s] poetic pen and perspective, the novel is rich in humor, sharp observation, and a plea for self-love, and all bleakness balanced by a tenderness that generously insinuates itself like sun through shut blinds.” Library Journal (starred review)

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593537619
ISBN-10: 0593537610
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English