Glimmer Train Fall 2014: “The Hate,” by Mehdi Tavana Okasi

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I mentioned in a previous post that Glimmer Train wants stories from places other than America. Let me expand on that: they really like stories about the Middle East, especially Iran, through an American lens. We started the Fall 2014 magazine with the Arabic boy, continued with the Iranian immigrant, and now have a story about a visit to Iran. And that story, “The Hate,” is the only one I’ve read in this issue so far that I can say is really good without any qualifications or mitigations. This one’s legit.

After a fallout between his parents, Omid and his mother travel to America. Omid grows up in the U.S. until he’s 19 and in medical school, at which point he and his mother travel back to Iran to visit family and confront Omid’s father for forging their death certificate and cheating them out of their property. In the meanwhile, two boys are sentenced to hang in Iran for the crime of a homosexual relationship. Surprise, surprise, Omid is gay as well. So before he goes meet his long-lost father, he’s compelled by reasons that “ weren’t even clear to me” (Okasi, 65) to watch the public hanging of the two young lovers.

Like “Stowaways,” “The Hate” is great at details. Particularly when it comes to body parts, such as the mother’s feet. Or even just describing a reunion as “like the first time I held a human heart” (Okasi, 76) before going into detail about what it’s like to handle an actual human heart. It’s clear to me that getting your story in Glimmer Train requires visceral, powerful similes and metaphors in your writing. The highlight of this story comes when Omid imagines what the blossoming relationship between the gay criminal boys was like. It’s well written, touching, detailed, breathless, and (speaking as a straight ally) actually kind of seductive. Or, as one of the boys puts it, it “hurts good, as if he’s tonguing a baby tooth about to fall out,” (Okasi, 66) If you didn’t have sympathy for the boys before, you certainly do after that point.

Okasi also understands that one of the most important parts of writing regards sharing wisdom. That’s probably why, despite the time I spend on movies and YouTube, books will be my one true love. Omid may be stuck as an observer for most of the story, but he’s an insightful one. He has the hindsight looking back, in the telling of this story, to see that “You think that if you reach a certain age, you are safe from… drugs, disease, violence, loss, and other heartbreaks. But then you learn there is no such age,” (Okasi, 71). Or “hate isn’t always angry and loud… sometimes hate erodes those who contain it, leaving behind hard salt,” (Okasi, 73). When you learn something as a reader, that’s where fiction becomes important. There are no easy answers here, even in a story about two boys unjustly hanged.

My main complaint for this work is that, for a story called “The Hate,” we don’t get that much of a sense of what visceral hatred feels like. Omid’s right, hate’s not always angry or love. But it’s encompassing, terrible like a hot sun, and most of all present. When the crowd cheers for the hanging in this story, there’s a sense of danger and fear. When Omid’s mother meets his father, the scene becomes cold. But because we’re limited to Omid’s perspective and distanced by Omid telling this story later in life, we don’t experience what hate feels like. That’s the critical component of didactic stories that makes them more than just wise lectures. Omid grew up his entire life watching wartime violence inflicted on Muslims on TV— even if those scenes were “a distant landscape, one that I could switch off with a remote,” (Okasi, 55), you’re telling me he has no hatred anywhere in his heart? Why isn’t the story called “The Hate” about someone that has to deal with hate? Maybe I’m making a big deal out of this because of the title. Maybe I’m disappointed because the rest of the story is so good otherwise. But if I were to say that the two most important components of a story are, I’d say its wisdom and its ability to evoke emotion. Both need support form one another to make a truly great story.

Mehdi Tavana Okasi’s other works can be found in the Iowa Review and Guernica Magazine. I’ll check him out, and you should too. “The Hate” is absolutely worth your time.

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