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Jefir Zaqq lives a simple life in Taboor City, Zazaristan, a (fictional) Islamic nation in Central Asia that’s experienced dizzying shifts in political fortune. Jefir sells melons with his brother, Rahim, but lands himself in trouble one day when he’s stopped at a checkpoint by Bashir Hallazallah, a powerful warden looking to shake him down. Jefir attempts escape, and in the process stabs Hallazallah’s son with a corkscrew, which proves fatal. Now Jefir’s life in Zazaristan is in danger, but while on the run, he finds unexpected help from mysterious businessman Wahiri Shwarma, who arranges to smuggle him out of the country on a cargo ship. For nine days, Jefir hides in a prefabricated home headed to somewhere in North America, which turns out to be Honolulu. Jefir changes his name to Jeff Zachary and almost immediately finds work as a fisherman on a tuna boat, the Monkey Fist, captained by the cantankerous Tasha Hale. Henry artfully combines satirical hilarity with genuine drama in these pages as Jeff is doggedly pursued by Customs and Border Patrol agents as well as a vengeful Hallazallah as he tries to raise funds to have Rahim join him in Hawaii. The plot is entertainingly absurd throughout; Henry shows himself to have a keen eye for the ludicrous and a sharp wit in its literary expression, as when he humorously lays out Zazaristan’s political upheavals in list form: “Centrally Planned Market Oligarchy, Proletarian Empire, Traditional Monarchy, Mixed Fascism, Second Wave Monarchy, Plutocratic Democracy, Full-on Anarchy, Uruguayan-Style Co-Participation, Social Republic, etc.” Indeed, this novel is a rarity in that it’s simultaneously politically irreverent, genuinely funny, and impressively thoughtful.

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