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Review of Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar

This is probably my favourite debut so far this year! In this powerful novel we follow Cyrus Shams, a man trying to make sense of life having lost his mother at an early age in a plane crash. In grappling with the idea of death (in particular, the concept of martyrdom), he meets an artist whose wisdom and life experience opens his eyes and encourages him to look at things differently.

Cyrus is the son of Persian parents but moved to America as a young child. I found the book’s window into both Persian culture and what it’s like to be a migrant in the US enlightening, approaching the concept of martyrdom from a perspective I hadn’t considered before. 

Kaveh Akbar seamlessly weaves together poetry and prose to build his overarching narrative. I particularly liked how he used humour to help the discussions of death, the afterlife and martyrdom retain a sense of relatability and realism. I was surprised by how much I cared for the characters, and I particularly liked the concept of engaging with art to better understand one’s self.

My only critique would be that in some places the language felt a little self indulgent but ultimately I really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what Akbar does next! 

Reviewed by Helen.

Martyr! was published on 07/03/24 by Picador.

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