January: “Martyr!” by Kaveh Akbar

Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar

Our January 2024 Book of the Month


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.


Kaveh Akbar is the author of the novel Martyr! and two books of poetry, Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf. He is also the author of a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, and editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine and, with Paige Lewis, co-editor of Another Last Call: Poems on Addiction and Deliverance. Born in Tehran, Iran, Kaveh teaches at the University of Iowa. His writing appears in the New Yorker, PBS NewsHour, Paris Review, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. Since 2020, Kaveh has served as poetry editor for The Nation.

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