The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour

In the legend for which the main character, Zal, is named, Zal is rejected by his father as an infant and left to die in the wild. A giant bird finds him and raises him as her own; his father later returns, recognizes his son, sets him on the throne, and Zal becomes a mighty conqueror, protected by a huge white feather from his magical bird mother. Our protagonist Zal, born in Iran with white skin and yellow hair, is rejected by his horrified mother, who calls him White Demon and delivers him into a cage, raising him as a bird alongside her more beloved bird pets. Discovered at the age of 10 by his elder sister, Zal is freed, renamed, and adopted by an American man who specializes in the psychology of feral children.

Zal becomes in interesting man; he defies the odds and reaches a surprising level of normality, considering. This is a big word for Zal, who wishes he could be himself and also be normal without having everyone around him ending their assessments of him with that word, considering, implying that his past is so overpowering that he will never be able to be just plain old normal, with no considering on the side. In his early twenties, Zal meets the very strange Asiya McDonald on the streets of Manhattan. Asiya, whose parents divorced and left her in charge of her two younger siblings - one of whom is so overweight she is confined to a bed, while the other has serious anger management issues - is an artist, a religion-hopper, and an anorexic. And also kind of crazy. Maybe.

This is a fantastic book, cleverly written and conceived, so much so that (having started reading it without referencing the blurb on the back) I only realized what it's really about until I was two-thirds of the way through. I won't say what that is here, since I think I enjoyed it much more not having that thought in the back of my head the whole time. It allowed me not to categorize it as anything but just "fiction," and I really liked it.


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