The Riddle of the Sphinx (Persepolis) follows Eric from his childhood in Iran, to his time at Princeton, to his life as a lawyer — throughout Eric must grapple with loss and his sexuality.
The author: Alexandre Montagu ’87 is a lawyer living in New York. He is an adjunct professor in Princeton’s comparative literature department.Opening lines: In the conference room on the forty-ninth floor no one was paying the slightest attention to the spectacular views of Central Park and the iconic spires of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Instead, the occupants of the room were riveted by a wholly different image—that of a man, the hero of the hour. Up until now, he had been celebrated as an artful and perspicacious lawyer, zealous and intrepid in his advocacy, industrious and resolute in approach, discerning and sagacious in judgment, the type of person junior lawyers aspired to be, a paradigm of the partner the firm strove to display and clients liked to see. However, this occasion was different; he now had played an instrumental role in the largest M&A transaction in the history of the firm. The team of lawyers and paralegals who had negotiated the merger agreement had gathered at the request of the firm’s chairman, who in an unprecedented gesture, had left his imperial perch to address employees whose names he did not know, unaccustomed as he was to interacting with anyone the firm, other than his fellow equity partners.
“I wanted to thank you all,” he intoned, as the room fell silent, “for all the hard work you’ve put into what is without question, the most important deal that our firm has completed this year, perhaps ever. Our client’s CEO called me this morning to thank us and mentioned that without Eric’s guiding hand, the deal wouldn’t have closed. Well done, all of you, and in particular Eric.”
With that, he left the room with regal aplomb. A king among men. All the eyes in the room now spun to Eric, like sand in an hourglass. He was relatively short, no more than five foot eight, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes deeply set against skin the color of ivory. He cut a handsome figure, and though he was forty-four, he looked as if he were in his mid-thirties and, in fact, was often mistaken for a senior associate by the junior lawyers and nonlegal staff who didn’t know him. He was a full equity partner who had joined the law firm directly from law school. Initially, he had been repelled by the firm’s culture and atmosphere; the partners, aloof and callous, oversaw and tacitly encouraged savage competition amongst the associates. The firm’s ambiance, together with the lengthy working hours, had inflicted tremendous psychological and emotional distress on him. He had considered leaving but had sense enough to know that a job at another law firm would be no different, only less prestigious and less lucrative. Moreover, the firm had agreed after eighteen months to sponsor his application for a green card, which had also compelled him to stay as he had no desire to return to Paris, where his parents lived and where he had grown up. His U.S. law degree would be virtually ineffective in France, and besides, he didn’t want to live near them. His Iranian stepfather was an unpleasantly sententious and narcissistic man. His mother, whom he did love, was so enthralled by her husband and his very large family that she had become part of them.
Reviews: "A fascinating account of a young man's discovery of himself through the troubled history of his homeland and the hothouse of an Ivy League education, The Riddle of the Sphinx raises delicate issues of identity and culture among elite but no less fragile lives." -David Bellos, Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French and Comparative Literature Director, Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University