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  • NYS Writers Institute

Q&A: Iranian-American writer Salar Abdoh

"...we are standing at the edge of a precipice"

-- Salar Abdoh

Salar Abdoh

We checked in with Iranian-American writer Salar Abdoh, author of Out of Mesopotamia, a novel about the war with ISIS that draws on his firsthand experience as an embedded reporter with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Told from the perspective of an Iranian journalist, the novel was named a New York Times "Editors' Choice," and a Publishers Weekly "Best Book of 2020." Editor-in-Chief of LitHub Jonny Diamond named it one of his four favorite books of the year.

Noted journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger said, "Out of Mesopotamia is a brutally realistic look at war and love and fear and everything else that humans do. The writing is impossibly good. The characters aren't characters at all--they seem to have emerged fully formed from the blood-soaked soil of Syria and Iraq. And they rise up to live out a story that is as old as history and yet somehow could only have happened today. I'm stunned by how good this book is."

The Interim Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at City College, Salar Abdoh emigrated with his family to the US from Iran at the age of 14. He divides his time between New York City and Tehran and has been awarded both awards from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Purchase Out of Mesopotamia from the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza:

What is your biggest hope for America in 2021?

I'd like to see America definitely not go back to being exactly as it was before the pandemic.

What's the most important thing we can learn from the pandemic?

That we are standing at the edge of a precipice. And thereon we'll remain, with eyes closed, if fundamental changes are not made all over our planet.

What activity are you most looking forward to enjoying after pandemic restrictions are lifted?


Is there anything on Earth that you find unexpectedly beautiful?

Goats hanging out on an argan tree as if they were fruit.

What new social or technological development excites you the most?

Well, I'd love to see technological jumps in desalination of water because the world, especially the Middle East, needs it. I also read somewhere about possible technology to record dreams. I'm not sure if I am excited by that. Probably it will lead to something not exactly innocent, as often happens. But I am definitely intrigued.

What did you most enjoy about writing Out of Mesopotamia?

That it didn't turn out as just a somber war novel, but that it was also filled with laughter, albeit sometimes quite dark, because war really is absurd - bunch of men, and sometimes women, going in this and that direction to basically kill one another.

What idea, subject or field are you most looking forward to exploring in 2021?

I'm interested to explore the world that Cervantes occupied, especially during his period of captivity in Algiers.

More about Salar Abdoh at



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