Brief Reviews


Praise for Brief Encounters with the Enemy...

“In his memoir, Sayrafiezadeh told the remarkable tale of a childhood steeped in doomed dogma. His stories…offer something more: a searing vision of his wayward homeland, delivered not in the clamoring rhetoric of a revolutionary, but in the droll monologues of young men who kill because they lack the moral imagination to do otherwise.”

         —The New York Times, Editors’ Choice

“Sayrafiezadeh’s eight interlinked stories are just as fulfilling as any novel you’re likely to read this summer.”

         —The Boston Globe

“With impressive guile and design, Mr. Sayrafiezadeh uses the arrival and escalation of [war] as the through-line connecting each personal drama… These calculated echoes work to unify Mr. Sayrafiezadeh's haunting book in a way that story collections rarely manage. Even more, they help evoke the low-simmering bewilderment and muzzled despair of a country that is at war but doesn't understand—or can't be bothered to learn—why.”

         —Wall Street Journal

“[A]n arresting fiction debut that chronicles modern, nameless cities crumbling in the shadows of war… With insightful humor and a keen eye for offbeat details, Sayrafiezadeh, entertaining and political without being heavy-handed, is a force to be reckoned with.”


“A fascinating fiction debut by a young author who has already established himself as a unique American voice… The cumulative energy of these koanlike stories holds together…in surprising and satisfying ways.”


“Sayrafiezadeh first burst onto the literary scene with his 2009 memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free. Accelerating through the curve with characters who are colossally misguided and still likable—reminiscent of Junot Díaz’s Yunior…this is an astounding first collection.”


“Sayrafiezadeh’s genius is not only in the way he almost painfully keeps our attention on the powers at play in these peoples’ lives, but in his sentences themselves. His deceptively simple prose has a grip that gently pulls but never slackens. The words and images pour in and the reader is pulled in, on and through these stories effortlessly, stories that seem to get better with each read.”

         —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is a masterful storyteller, working from deep in the American grain —and Brief Encounters With The Enemy is more than a collection of stories: it is a complete fictional world. Its unnamed city is populated by startlingly alive young men whom too much of our literature overlooks — twenty-somethings caught between work, weather, and war in a powerful vortex of loneliness and longing that has the quality of fate. Sayrafiezadeh is a delight to read, utterly in control even as he is emotionally raw, dark and deep even as he is wickedly funny. This is a splendid fiction debut.”

         —Philip Gourevitch, co-author of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib

“Set during an unnamed conflict and in unnamed cities, these stories revolve around the way war affects middle- and working-class Americans, whether they are leaving to fight or staying behind. Sayrafiezadeh portrays the repetitive monotony of depression and stagnation in his character’s lives with skill…the collection as a whole illuminates the wide range of motivations that drive people to go to war. Often beautiful…these stories reflect the listlessness of our times.”

         —Publishers Weekly

“Sayrafiezadeh is devilishly playful…The collection is readable, and real, and hopefully a harbinger of more fiction to come from Sayrafiezadeh.”

         —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Gritty, compelling stories about our embattled working class. This is a thrilling report from the trenches.”

         —Edmund White, author of Jack Holmes and His Friend

“As he proved so memorably in his sparkling memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is a literary original: a slyly subversive absurdist who sees the cynical hand of the political state everywhere he looks, but whose true subject is the deeply serious matter of our obligations to one another as human beings. Brief Encounters with the Enemy is filled with brave surprises, nuggets of odd humor, and glinting moments of compassion. You should read it.”

         —John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and Northwest Corner

“A vivid collection about the indignities and consolations of dead-end jobs; the joy of a stolen kiss; and the mysteries of friendship. It also happens to be one of the best works of fiction about our lost decade of war.”

         —Nathaniel Rich, author of Odds Against Tomorrow 

“Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s men are many things — young, restless, lost, confused, scared, honest, smart — but they are not masters of their own destiny. In this beautiful collection, we see the wages of war, brought very close to home. In our supermarkets, in our schools, on our streets, we see Sayrafiezadeh’s men. Now we get to climb inside their lives, through the capacious and wise voice of this gifted storyteller.”

         —Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“Fun, moving, and reads like the work of a master.”

         —Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

“Brief Encounters With the Enemy does something rare in that it contributes something new and “essentially different” to the literature of war — our stories, about what it’s like over here. It’s discomfiting, and surprising, and illuminating to say the least. I’ve not read anything like it before.”

         —The Millions

“Perfectly calibrated, laced with hard-earned moments of vulnerability, rendered in language that is at once plainspoken and lyrical. The modern war away from the war has rarely been depicted in fiction with such subtlety.”

         —Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

“Sayrafiezadeh is so effortless and companionable, in the style of an extremely charming conversationalist, that I found myself reading and laughing aloud for quite a while before the sorrow, and authorial-compassion, brought home how wise and necessary these stories are.”

          —Sean Wilsey, author of Oh, the Glory of It All

“Bizarre and compelling and painfully funny, and something else, too: important.”

         —John Wray, author of Lowboy

“Urbane, measured, old-world smart.” 

         —Padgett Powell, author of You and Me