The Last Illusion
By Porchista Khakpour
There is an ancient Persian myth about a boy named Zal, born of a king, but raised by a large bird because his father is horrified when Zal is born an albino. The Last Illusion is a brilliant re-imagining of this myth taking place in the last years of the 20th century and culminating in the tragedy of September 11th in New York City. The contemporary Zal is born in Iran to an elderly couple, and his father dies before he is born. His mother is already sliding into dementia, and when she sees her albino son she believes he is cursed. She calls him the white demon, and puts the infant in a bird cage in her courtyard filled with her precious pet birds. Zal grows up eating seeds, squawking instead of speaking, and wondering why he cannot fly like his brothers and sisters. Eventually Zal is discovered and adopted by an American psychologist who specializes in feral children, and is taken to live in New York City where he slowly attempts to become 'normal'.
This beautifully rendered story brings up questions about what the lines are between crazy, normal, and everything between. Zal in befriended by an illusionist who is going to make the twin towers disappear for his last great illusion; and a girl who makes artwork out of dead birds, and is plagued with premonitions of an imminent disaster that no one believes. The story boarders on absurdity from time to time, but the humanity and dimension Khakpour gives her characters somehow holds it back from spinning into chaos and instead imbues it with an atmosphere of magical realism.