I Will Greet the Sun Again

A Novel

About the Book

“[A] masterful debut . . . a novel of survival and longing and love, and in many ways a modern portrait of an artist as a young man . . . a book written for us, we Iranian Americans whom you don’t often hear about.”Porochista Khakpour, The Washington Post (Best Books of the Year)

“A triumph . . . a book of astonishing accomplishment and bravery.”Dina Nayeri, The Guardian

Winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association • Finalist for the California Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award

An Amerie’s Book Club Pick • A Phenomenal Book Club Pick

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley with his two brothers, all K wants is to be “a boy from L.A.,” all American. But K—the youngest, named after a Persian king—knows there’s something different about himself. Like the way he feels about his closest friend, Johnny, a longing that he can’t share with anyone.

At home, K must navigate another confusing identity: that of the dutiful son of Iranian immigrants struggling to make a life for themselves in the United States. He tries to make his mother proud, live up to her ideal of a son. On Friday nights, K attends prayers at the local mosque with Baba, whose violent affections distort K’s understanding of what it means to be a man and how to love.

When Baba takes the three brothers from their mother back to Iran, K finds himself in an ancestral home he barely knows. Returning to the Valley months later, K must piece together who he is, in a world that now feels as foreign to him as the one he left behind.

A stunning, tender novel of identity and belonging, I Will Greet the Sun Again tells the story of a young man lost in his own family, his own country, and his own skin. Staring down the brutality of being a queer kid and a Muslim in America, Khashayar J. Khabushani transforms personal and national pain into an unforgettable and beautifully rendered exploration of youth, love, family—and the stories that make us who we are.
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Praise for I Will Greet the Sun Again

“[A] heartbreaking debut.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Masterful . . . This is a novel of survival and longing and love, and in many ways a modern portrait of an artist as a young man. . . . A book written for us, I can hear so many people of so many different demographics say—we Iranian Americans whom you don’t often hear about. . . . Reading I Will Greet the Sun Again, you are not a voyeur—you are an accomplice, a keeper of secrets, a friend on this journey of relentless intensity.”Porochista Khakpour, The Washington Post
“Tender and gut-wrenching . . . a book of astonishing accomplishment and bravery . . . This book is a triumph, one that will help the next generation understand our specific American childhood—how it felt to grow up with broken immigrant parents and one foot still in Iran, sitting in front of a TV in a sad apartment complex, dreaming of the good life.”Dina Nayeri, The Guardian
“Beautiful . . . Khabushani renders K’s experiences in poignant vignettes that speak to the young boy’s sensitivity as he dreams of a better, albeit uncertain future. This heartrending tale will stay with readers.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A tale of diaspora that is as gutting as it is tender . . . Every word, deft and unassuming, shatters.”Anahit Behrooz, The Skinny

“Haunting and poetic.”San Francisco Chronicle

“A marvel . . . Reading it, I felt the thrill and joy of encountering a major writer at the beginning of his career.”—Megha Majumdar, author of A Burning

“A heat map of longing, shame, and resilience.”—New York Magazine

“A moving debut, teeming with desire and light, and quietly devastating . . . Khabushani’s voice keens and surprises, and at the center of the book, we find K, tenderhearted, spirit glowing like a beacon.”—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

“This is a book I’ve dreamed of reading my whole life. . . . Better late than never, Khashayar J. Khabushani. I am jealous of the generation of people who will grow up in a world with I Will Greet the Sun Again in it. I will be thinking about these characters forever.”—Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell

“A story for us brown kids who grew up in apartment complexes, making our own breakfast, lunch, and dinner because our immigrant parents were away at work . . . Khabushani’s voice is a revelation; he has written a novel that shows what it means to grow up into a beautiful young man.”—Javier Zamora, author of Solito

“Exquisite, heartbreaking, incredibly beautiful . . . this is a novel to return to again and again.”—Caleb Azumah Nelson, author of Open Water

“Khashayar J. Khabushani has taken a coming-of-age story and flooded it with light. . . . This is a gorgeous and wrenching debut from a writer I’ll be following for many years to come.”—Catherine Lacey, author of Nobody Is Ever Missing

“A work of meticulous care and genuine candor . . . Khabushani is a poetic visionary, as generous as he is brave.”—Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock

“Deeply moving and courageous . . . an intimate and unflinching story about the ways in which we hurt each other and how we all need love and acceptance to survive.”—Sahar Delijani, author of Children of the Jacaranda Tree

“Tender, heartbreaking . . . Khabushani is an incredibly talented writer.”—Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers

I Will Greet the Sun Again glimmers with wisdom and beauty and pain . . . a book that feels as dark, as light, and as alive as youth itself.”—Aria Aber, author of Hard Damage
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I Will Greet the Sun Again

Chapter I

Named After a King

I climb down the bunk ladder and leave the small room me and my brothers share. The apartment is still and stuffy and Maman is asleep on the living room floor. I head out the door, careful to close it quietly behind me.

In the courtyard I run my fingertips along the yellow stucco wall. On my forearm I have this bright bumpy scrape from when Shawn tackled me against the building playing Smear the Queer. It’s like a tattoo and reminds me how good it feels to become older, tougher.

Early morning is the only time I get to be out of the apartment on my own. The Valley’s sky is white and empty. A leaf blower runs loud somewhere. I can’t see the city from here, but I know one day I’ll have more than just these stucco walls and patches of brown grass.

For once the laundry room isn’t coughing out its weird smelly steam. I take the pebble-stone staircase to the second floor, clearing two steps at a time. Back inside through a chalky metal door, down a sticky hallway and then another, stamping over brown soda stains and cigarette burns in the carpet.

I knock on Johnny’s door loud enough for him to hear, but quickly. I don’t want to bother his mom, who’s probably pouring a cup of coffee, halfway through her first cigarette. She barely cracks the door open. Still getting his beauty sleep, Cynthia says, a quick stream of smoke passing through her lips.

I’ll come back later, I tell her and hurry back to our apartment before Baba gets home.

Maman hasn’t woken up yet. Her breathing is silent and her face shiny with sweat. A thin beige bedsheet pulled up to her chin, her chest gently rising, Maman looks beautiful as she sleeps.

Shawn’s sitting on the floor in front of the triple bunk Baba built for us, crunchy boogers in the corners of his eyes. He blows the snot from his nose onto the sleeve of his shirt.

And you wonder why girls don’t like you, Justin says, leaning over from the top bunk. Shawn laughs and I do, too.

Shawn asks, Doesn’t Johnny’s mom get tired of you running upstairs and knocking on their door at the crack of dawn?

Like I haven’t already thought of that myself. I don’t want Shawn to come with me when I go back, so I lie and say, Nobody answered.

Shawn passes a controller up to Justin, whose scrawny legs are dangling over the wooden ledge. Justin asks Shawn for the millionth time why, if he doesn’t like playing basketball in real life, he would want to in a video game?

What are you talking about? says Shawn. I love basketball. I just don’t get to do it.

Why not? I ask.

Why do you think. Look the f*** around.

It’s Friday, our last weekend of summer break. In the living room I hear Maman starting her morning. First folding up her bed, which isn’t actually a bed, just a couple of sheets and a pillow on the floor and the thick fuzzy blanket she brought with her from Isfahan, then storing it all in the closet. She is setting the kettle on the stove for chai when Baba gets home.

Baba calls for me and my brothers, his voice booming through our bedroom walls.

I find Baba emptying out his pockets onto the floor. Dozens of twenty-dollar bills. More money than I’ve ever seen Baba have. His face is proud after a rare good night at the casino. We’re going to celebrate, he promises. He walks over to the sofa, where we’re not allowed to make a sound while he sleeps, slowly peeling off his crinkled button-up shirt and gray dress pants.

Maman stays seated at the dining table, eating her breakfast, the same one she has every morning. Noon barbari with paneer and walnuts and honey, always a plate of fresh sabzi on the side. A clip at the back of her head holds her long black curly hair. No makeup on and still Maman looks so pretty.

Are you hungry? she asks me, holding out a bite of bread covered with crumbly cheese.

A pot of tea sits on the samovar on the stove. She waits for it to finish steeping as I pick up a few of the twenty-dollar bills. When Baba isn’t looking I hand one to Maman. She tucks it into her purse and brings a finger to her lips. We agree without words that we won’t give the money back even if Baba asks.

Baba is now lying stretched out on the sofa with the back of his wrist over his forehead. I lean down to hug him, the smell of cigarette smoke heavy all around. He brings me close to his stubbly face and kisses me once on the cheek. His eyes are heavy and red with puffy bags. It looks like he’s never going to wake once he falls asleep. I make sure to be quiet as I go to tell my brothers about all the money.

Instead of pausing the video game while I was gone, Shawn kept on playing.

You snooze you lose, he says.

He wasn’t snoozing, you idiot, Justin says, still in bed. He was with Baba. What did he want? he asks me.

Baba hit the freaking jackpot, I say.

Yeah? Shawn says. How much you wanna bet by tomorrow morning the money’s gone?

I tell Shawn he’s wrong and so does Justin, pulling a crumpled bill from his Nowruz stash, which he keeps tucked underneath his mattress. He dangles it down at us. Five bucks says Baba keeps winning, he bets Shawn, who stands up from his bed. Deal. But don’t go crying to him when I take your dough. Shawn spits into his palm and my brothers shake on it. I climb up into my bed to hide the money I kept for myself from Baba’s jackpot. Johnny will be so impressed when I show him.

Baba marches into our room, clapping his hands. His shoulders are loose and his cheeks shiny from a fresh shave, the tiny bit of hair left on the top of his head combed to the side. He’s wearing his gray slacks and a clean dress shirt, tucked deep into his waist. Tavalod, tavalod, tavalod-et mobarak, Baba chants, shutting off our game and swaying his body, dancing how he does at mehmoonis after the shirini has been served, the music turned up high. A Persian Happy Birthday just for me.

It’s a week after my actual birthday, but Baba announces we’re going to celebrate today just as he promised. Together, he says, like families are meant to.

I race down from my bunk, careful to skip the missing third step of the ladder. After seeing the f*** you Justin had carved into its wood, Baba hammered off the step. He didn’t bother asking which one of us it was, then had the three of us line up together, facing our bunk, a shoe in his hand, and Justin didn’t say a single word, just stood there taking it. I was crying the hardest even though Shawn got it the worst. As the oldest, Baba said, he’s supposed to know better. Even though he’s the oldest, Shawn is the shortest, shorter than Justin, even shorter than me.

Now standing beside him, I ask Baba to do his special Persian snap for me. Injoori, he shows me, bringing his thick and worn hands together. I watch and try to learn how he does it, the tip of his middle finger sliding against his index, where snaps like tiny firecrackers echo through our bedroom as he whistles. And now with Baba making music I lift my arms in the air, gently twisting and twirling my wrists, swaying my hips the way I’ve seen him do when he’s taken his place in the middle of the dance floor, Baba always the first to bring life to the party.

How old? he asks, like he doesn’t already know. I hold up a five and a four, showing him that I’m getting closer to Justin’s ten and to Shawn’s twelve. Any day now, Baba says, you’ll become a man.

Mashallah, he chants, smiling even bigger, the top of his gums shiny and pink. His eyes are small as he dances, my body following his.

Maryam-jan, he yells, calling for Maman. Hurry and look, he says, come see your son.

Right here in our own building, Baba tells us, a grill and two benches, just for us. Doesn’t—

Get any better than this, Shawn interrupts, finishing off Baba’s favorite line. He walks out of our room, and Baba, Justin and me follow behind.

Maman joins us outside in our building’s small picnic area. She has everything prepared. Sliced onions and tomatoes. Raw chicken shining bright gold with turmeric and oil. She wears her long black blouse and a scarf tied loosely around her hair. She fans the charcoal with a piece of cardboard, trying to get the coals to come to life. She asks Shawn to pick up the trash our neighbors left on the ground around us, which he does. Paper plates with spots of ketchup and used napkins, from whoever was here before.

For you, Baba says, handing me my birthday present as my brothers look on. A golden paper crown from Burger King. Baba knows it’s my favorite.

He tells me to stand in front of the grill, says he wants a picture for Iran, for them to see just how handsome his youngest boy is.

Shawn sits on the old splintery bench to watch, telling me how stupid I look as Baba tells me where to place my arms.

Justin’s already wandered off collecting dandelions that grow along the concrete path winding through our building. He likes bringing the ones that haven’t yet died into our room, placing them by the window in the vase Maman let him have. Something nice to look at, he says. Our version of a hotel room.

About the Author

Khashayar J. Khabushani
Khashayar J. Khabushani was born in Van Nuys, California, in 1992. During his childhood he spent time in Iran before returning to Los Angeles. He studied philosophy at California State University, Northridge, and prior to completing his MFA at Columbia University he worked as a middle school teacher. This is his first novel. More by Khashayar J. Khabushani
Decorative Carat
Random House Publishing Group