Cover Image: The Riddle of the Sphinx

The Riddle of the Sphinx

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Member Reviews

I began with great enthusiasm. The book wore me down. It became too didactic and complex. I lost the threads of the story and lost my way in it. I put it down and have yet to return to it.........
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How do I begin a review of a novel that kept me captive from page one and didn’t release me until the very end? I didn’t want to break for work, family, friends, or anything. How can I do this book justice? Dear readers, I will try.

Eric (Keyvan) fled Iran as a child during the Islamic revolution and grew up in Paris. He later studied Comparative Literature at Princeton. That is one scenario. What would have happened if he was forced to stay in Iran? So much of one’s life (or death) is determined by a single decision or act made by either the individual or at the hands of someone else.

As a young boy he questioned his sexuality, but at Princeton he knew what he wanted…Mark. He was so obsessed with him that he couldn’t see any of the warning signs or even the bigger picture.


Whether it was an analysis of Proust’s La Recherche, or Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Eric could discern the flaws of the characters and the reasons for their ultimate downfall, but he was unable to see this in his own life.

Now as a high-priced New York attorney in a loveless marriage, at age forty-four he is reevaluating his life and the decisions he has made. That is another scenario.

The Riddle of the Sphinx provides several possible outcomes and we keep asking ourselves, “What if…?” Though author  Alexandre Montagu does get philosophical, he doesn’t belabor the points. That is, you can enjoy the story simply on its own.

Montagu provides an intelligent story-line without compromising the human or emotion. At all times he is completely aware of the unawareness of his characters. Each one is deftly portrayed, and the images are vivid.

We learn of the history of twentieth-century Iran and how it contributed to Eric’s identity.  Events are described in detail, but they’re never mundane, whether from a personal or historical perspective.

There are so many layers to The Riddle of the Sphinx that it would be a perfect book club read. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best book I have read in a long time.
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The book seemed  to be 3 different stories.  It begins with a young lad and his socially elite  family finding themselves desperate to get out of Iran after the downfall of the Shah in the 70’s.   At the end of this section the lad finds himself in love with one of his male classmates.    Section two involves Eric in Princeton who is fanatical about his homosexual romance.  This emotional episode found me skipping paragraphs  and wondering why it was so important to the story..  The final section  tells of a highly successful lawyer, married with kids.   I cannot say it was one of my favourite stories although I did recognize the author’s excellent writing style,.
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I didn't get beyond the first couple of pages. From the reviews I've seen there maybe is a good story, but I felt I was reading something written for an English exam. It was too laboured for me to continue. I normally plough on regardless, but unfortunately I just couldn't get past the writing style. Sorry!
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I absolutely loved this book. From the outset it drew me in. I enjoyed how it jumped between different worlds using the same or similar characters. In places it perfectly captures young love and infatuation. An enjoyable and engaging read that also was informative about Iran pre and post Shah rule as well as the Ivy League in America. I would love to read more by this author.
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Great read. The author wrote a story that was interesting and moved at a pace that kept me engaged. The characters were easy to invest in.
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This book was not at all what I thought it would be and not my usual go to novel. I thought the premise of the book was very good. The description was interesting.  The book, however, really failed to capture my interest. I felt that the descriptive adjectives were over used, forced and felt as if they came from a thesaurus. There were multiple run-on sentences and although it could be polished with editing, I’m not sure it would make the paragraphs easier to read.  I am not endorsing a simplistic writing style but feel that in order to capture a broader span of readers, the book needed a more straight forward writing style.
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I learned a great deal from reading this book.  The author lays out the historical events that affect the present-day plot and characters, helping the reader make sense of the characters' motivations and actions.
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Author Alexander Montagu has created a very unusual story but it is difficult to write a review about. 

I often found it too detailed and it meandered too much - careful editing may overcome this aspect. While the main character Eric was interesting, he lacked depth and substance. The ending endeavoured to give Eric depth but to me the reflecting and philosophising added more confusion than clarity to the character and to the story.

Did I enjoy reading this story? Well I enjoyed parts of it but I must admit I struggled to read some parts finding the story over complicated. Long sections that seemed to go on too much detracted from the often interesting dialogue that was developed. While revelation came to Eric in the end, as a reader, it didn’t come to me as I was lost in a sea of mixed thoughts and philosophies, without being sure as to where the story had reached. 

Despite the long winded story telling, the author has a readable style which just needs a little reigning in.


Thanks to Netgalley and publisher Persepolis Publishing for an ebook copy to read and review
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Very interesting subject matter, told in an intricate manner that could have been confusing or disorienting, but ends up making perfect sense. The characters and their choices/problems feel real, and the locations are superb (in different time frames) - Iran, Paris, USA.
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Because I did not know that this book was ordered on the premises of alternate realities, I initially found the Riddle of the Sphinx a bit confusing. The characters were very finely developed, the background of mixed cultures of Iran felt authentic and were described in language that was richly prosaic. I was fascinated by the lives of the characters in Iran, Paris, and Princeton but was distracted trying to figure out the relationships between the characters in the segments. When it finally dawned on me that the construct of the book was around shifting or alternate realities, it was as if a light turned on and everything made sense. This novel has tremendous depth and a keen understanding of how societal mores dictate one’s life path, or in this case lives paths. Riddle of the Sphinx was beautifully written and certainly psychologically revelatory of times and cultures very different from my life experiences. It was the most intellectually challenging novel I’ve read in quite some time. I consider it worthy of the categorization of literary fiction rather than simple fiction.
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This should have been a much better book. There was so much promising material (a family fleeing revolution and adapting to expatriate life); there were intriguing literary devices (at least three alternate versions of the main character's life are spelled out); there was inherent conflict, both cultural and personal (Eric, the protagonist, seems at odds with his sexual orientation). There was, in short, so much potential. 

My disappointment wasn't a matter of content, but of execution. Too often the story's flow screeched to a halt, braked by LONG expository passages, most notably in the opening chapters, dealing with the 1979 Iranian revolution, and in the final chapters, where we had a summary of the philosophical points the author might have made subtly without exposition, or might have trusted his readers to "get it." I was reminded of the 60-page philosophical sermon delivered by John Galt in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Alexandre Montagu is clearly an erudite person. But great modern literature relies on imagery, not vocabulary, to lift it above common fiction. And it didn't seem as if Montagu was trying for genre fiction either: although there were suspenseful moments, this was no thriller. And then there were those all-too-common academic phrases: "male polygamy was virtually abrogated" and "concomitant collapse of laws that maintained male hegemony" turned up in the same paragraph.

Sorry to nitpick, but I spent several hours of my life on something that didn't deliver what it promised. (Thanks to NetGalley for an advance readers copy.)
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I chose to read The Riddle of the Sphinx because my family lived in Tehran during the timeframe of Keyvan/Eric’s childhood there and because I am currently—somewhat inadvertently—reading a bunch of “own voices” books and this book fit right in.

Montague uses the “sliding door” technique of showing alternate realities and divides the book, like the answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, into childhood, teen years, and full adulthood. Keyvan/Eric lives a privileged life in Tehran and attends an international school His family no longer practices Islam, and he’s never been in a mosque. While in school he has several same-sex experiences which are outlawed by Islam. When the Shah is deposed and Khomeini takes over the reins of government, Keyvan’s life changes. After his family’s escape from Tehran and their move to Paris, he then goes on to college at Princeton. 

The Riddle of the Sphinx has pages and pages of historical information on Persian culture and the impact of Islam on it, including descriptions of the 2500 year rule of the Shah’s family. In addition, in the Princeton segments, there was a lot of description of Proust and his writings. Overall, these segments tended to tell rather than show and I frequently found myself skimming them.

On the other hand, the description of Keyvan/Eric with his various lovers was delightful to read, and Montagu gave very good description of Keyvan/Eric’s sexual awakening in the first two sections of the book. Later, when Eric has emerged fully as Eric and is a mature man with a wife and children and a top-notch career as lawyer, he is dissatisfied with where he ends in life. He grapples with his inner homoerotic desires and his current lifestyle. The final third of the book deals with how he handles this dissatisfaction with his life.

The book is quite character-driven as the reader sees Eric grow and mature as he struggles with his identity. The class of self versus culture and the reaction to life-altering adversity should have driven the novel forward. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pedantic narration that reads textbook-dry.
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What a fabulous tale of a boy escaping to manhood, while at the same time escaping from one world to another, in more ways than one.  Every page was full of beautiful picturesque prose that kept me enthralled to the very end.
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I was unable to continue reading this book to the end.  Therefore, I will not review it.  I could not get into it.  Perhaps this book is just not for me.  I hate to give a bad review but I could not stand the writing style.
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I didn’t really know anything about Iran, so I found the first part of the book quite interesting, as Keyvan and his mother tried and finally left the country.  Then the book kind of became more ordinary to me and didn’t hold my interest as much as that first part.
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I received an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Persepolis Publishing, and the author Alexandre Montagu. 
This book had an interesting premise, and a lot of potential. Unfortunately I found the way that it was written incredibly tiresome. 
The author seemed more preoccupied with showing off his own knowledge and experience, rather than trying to tell the story. 
It seems as though every natural adjective had been replaced by ones the author had found in a thesaurus, using words like alembic, concomitant, abrogated, fulgurant, soporiferous and velleities, instead of simpler versions which would have worked just as well. These words added no clear additional benefit, and seemed like an exercise to sound more learned. This was also mirrored in the author’s use of similes and metaphors, using constant references to Kafka and Proust.  
There were also long extracts that felt like Wikipedia entries, telling background history that could have been summarised much more quickly and concisely. 
The issues above combined with story inconsistencies and continuity issues meant that the whole experience was pretty frustrating. A real shame!
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I found this book in NetGalley when I was browsing for a book that I could read and review. It’s the words in the title “Riddle” and “Sphinx” that drew me to the book. I’m a huge fan of Egyptian Mythology and assumed this book had something to do with ancient Egyptian tales. Although I was slightly disappointed to learn when I read the blurb that it had nothing to do with ancient Egypt or Mythology, I was hooked to the book from chapter 1 and the story that the author was beginning to say! 

The book is divided into three sections with the first section about the Main Character’s (MC) privileged childhood among the royals and elites of 1970s Iran. The second section talks about the character’s transition into a young man who goes to Princeton and how he finds his sexuality and how it impacts him and his relationships. And the final section talks of the MC’s successful career as a corporate lawyer in NYC and how he comes to a realization of his life’s realities. He finds Buddhism that ultimately helps him want to live his life in full. 

I was initially a little confused about the transition from the first section to the second where the MC goes from being Kevyan from Iran to Eric from France. It bothered me for a while until I read further into the section and understood the reasoning for the transition. I found Section I of the book very engaging as the author describes the lifestyle of the elites in the royal circle and how drastically their lives changed during the revolution. The parts they were trying to escape from Iran and the trials and tribulations that came with it was agony inducing. 

I truly enjoyed and was intrigued by the book up until the very end. I, personally, was not too happy with how the author chose to end the book. The author claims that it was Buddhism that helped the MC choose the path he took in the climax, however, Buddhism also teaches a person to be true to himself. That makes me wonder if the climax was maybe contradictory? Just my thought, others may differ. 

One aspect of the book that I must point out is the writing. The author has excellent writing skills and definitely had potential to do even better going forward! The usage of Iranian and French Prose/Poetry and Quotes was interesting as well. 

In closing, even though this is not a genre that I particularly enjoy, I found Alexandre Montagu’s book to be an interesting and engaging read. I would definitely recommend adding it to your reading collection, especially if you enjoy psychological dramas.
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Eric, who was Keyvan ( a child in Iran) and also Eric ( a student at Princeton), is a lawyer and investment banker. He has a good life with money, power, and family. Over the course of this novel the stories of his other lives are told and lead, kinda, to Eric experiencing a moment of enlightenment. 

The Riddle of the Sphinx has some really fantastic moments. Moments where the protagonist, in one or another of his incarnations, experiences am event or an emotion that really rings true. But it also suffers from moments where ideas are explained rather than shown.

The stories of Keyvan and college-age Eric are interesting and have some interesting emotional notes. Modern Eric is less interesting and his story lacks the detail that made the other two stories come to life.

I read this book pretty quickly, and I did like it, but I stopped short of loving it. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read it.
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I found the discussion of Iran and it’s history interesting, and it’s honesty why I picked up this book, but I couldnt quite relate to the characters, the book never really captured me. Maybe it was the writing style which was very direct but not necessarily enjoyable to read.
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