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May 28, 2014

Book Notes - Porochista Khakpour "The Last Illusion"

The Last Illusion

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Porochista Khakpour's second novel The Last Illusion is a a storytelling masterpiece, strikingly original and ambitious in its modern retelling of an ancient myth.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Khakpour's prose is fluid and visceral, while the narrative plays smoke and mirrors with reality and perspective . . . . This novel is a literary gem full of sadness, guts, and wonder. For any adult who enjoys good fiction."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Porochista Khakpour's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Last Illusion:


It's important to note that I don't listen to music when I draft—I do it a bit when I edit but even that feels mischievous. Language is very important to me, and perhaps since English is my second language I hear it a bit differently than some people do. I have to very consciously listen to the English language's sounds as I create story. Every sentence gets said out loud over and over, and in my body I have to really feel its rhythms. Having said that pretentious thing, let me also say that I am a former music journalist and music has actually saved my life in many ways, but somehow its power threatens to overpower my work in composition.

And having also said that, in this novel more than most, I turned to music. Because surprisingly while The Last Illusion is based on ancient Persian myth, it's also deeply obsessed with popular culture of the past couple decades. The ambiance of the Y2K to 9/11 era New York City was critical to establish, so what better than way than through my soundtracks of that era.


Velvet Underground, "Sunday Morning"—"Watch out/the world is behind you" was an epigraph of mine. The book is split into nine sections and in addition to novel's epigraphs, each "part" has an epigraph too. I was always terrified and thrilled by this line in "Sunday Morning" and the anxiety and ambition in it seemed perfect for those qualities deep in New York City culture as well as for exploring how my novel's bird boy protagonist went about coming of age—or specifically coming of "man." I also just paid 200 pounds for this for the UK edition—they can't print even small portions of lyrics without licensing permissions—but it was that worth it to me.

Prince, "1999"—In my original draft this was quoted heavily in one of the early sections (but it got chopped—it was too expensive to run more lyrics!) where we deal with Y2K and New Year's 2000. I remember being thrilled that the future was finally upon us in 1999, and that was most marked by the sudden appropriateness of Prince's song, that for ages seemed an ode to a distant future. Again, I use it a bit of a subversive way to highlight the anticipation in that celebration. Was the world going to end? Well, Prince, never thought up Y2K but the concept of partying like it's the last night of your life definitely exists in that hit song, and I remember feeling it very much in the air that strange night, as I wandered through the deserted boarded-up streets of San Francisco where I found myself ending up on a whim.

REM, "Fall on Me""Buy the sky and sell the sky / and lift your arms onto the sky / and ask the sky and ask the sky /don't fall on me . . ." was going to be an epigraph but again I couldn't afford it. REM was never my favorite band but a couple of their songs are among my very favorites. I tend to love a lot of the song-writing. This song, from the early Lifes Rich Pageant (1986), always seems so modern to me. The subject matter applied hugely, especially since in my first draft this book was called "Sky Falling" (changed mainly because of that cruddy Bond movie of the almost-same title!)

Aaliyah, "We Need a Resolution"—Towards the end of the novel, the magician's assistants, who are working on his "last illusion" stunt, bring up Aaliyah. Again, this was there to create the summer of 2001 climate. Aaliyah died just weeks before 9/11 and I was hugely devastated by her death. She was my favorite of the R&B chanteuses and I thought the darker, moodier, weirder work she was doing with her summer 2001 album was her best. It also seemed to somehow in ambience foreshadow her horrible ending—or maybe again, the magical thinking of the period is making me think that. I still can't return to Aaliyah of that era without feeling scared.

Burzum (all ballads)—I don't know how this fits in with rest but after writing sessions, I was listening to a lot of black metal when I wrote this book, especially Burzum. I'm late to black metal—really began listening in 2007—and I have a fondness for Norwegian black metal ballads especially. The dark glitter, the defiant fabulism, the insistent bizarreness of the music somehow just fits my world here.

Chopin, "Nocturnes"—see above. I just listened to this on loop during breaks, but I know a lot of writers strangely who have connected with the Nocturnes while writing. It seems to fuel narrative mood but also feed the writer spirit somehow. I believe in the otherworldly power of Chopin's piano pieces.


Porochista Khakpour and The Last Illusion links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Bustle review
Kirkus review
Literary Kicks review
Los Angeles Times review
The National review

Baltimore Sun interview with the author
The Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
Interview Magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Sons and Other Flammable Objects
Monkeybicycle interview with the author
PopMatters interview with the author
Scene Magazine interview with the author
Tottenville Review interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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