What: “Martyr!” by Kaveh Akbar

Why: Cyrus Shams is a typical American 20-something with delusions of artistic grandeur, tumultuous relationships and a substance abuse disorder. Haunted by the ghosts of his Iranian heritage, Cyrus becomes obsessed with martyrdom.

He hears about Orkideh, an Iranian artist who’s completing her final work — a performance piece — while dying of cancer. She holds court in an empty museum, conversing with anyone who wishes to engage. Cyrus and Orkideh develop an immediate rapport. But she swiftly disabuses him of the notion that her death is more noble or meaningful than any other – or, indeed, that death has any meaning at all.

Cyrus’ journey ends in a paradoxical revelation: rather than ending in death, everything, in fact, ends in life. The big twist on which the plot turns requires a suspension of disbelief – but why not? To reject the tale out of “plausibility” concerns seems to miss the point. While sometimes too ambitious, it’s an enjoyable debut novel, with elements of philosophy, poetry and pop culture. I’m interested in what he writes next.

Where: This is available as a print book, e-book and e-audiobook from the Monroe County Public Library system.

How: You can request books online by logging in to your account and get e-books and e-audiobooks 24/7 at If you don’t have a card, you can visit your local branch or register online to get one. Questions? 

Recommended by: Laura Bernazzoli, library associate, Key West library

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