[NOTE: Professor M. R. Ghanoonparvar teaches Persian Language and Literature at the University of Texas in Austin. This article is the first chapter from his forthcoming book, Reading Chubak, to be published by Mazda Publishers, Inc.]
An Introduction to “Reading Chubak”
By. M.R. Ghanoonparvar
In 1946, the Persian literary scholar P. N. Khanlari made a now often quoted statement declaring the modern era of Persian literature as “the age of prose.”1 Kanlari’s statement appeared at that time a rather daring declaration, since by implication it also meant that the centuries-old tradition of verse as the established and prominent vehicle for literary expression had now given way to prose, and more specifically to prose fiction. Today, although Persian poetry has not by any means given way completely to prose fiction, and modern Persian poetry has developed into a mature literary kind, the importance of prose fiction in the arena of modern Persian literature cannot be challenged. Thus, some twenty years after Khanlari’s declaration of “the age of prose,” one critic confidently remarked that “undoubtedly today’s literature in Iran moves towards fiction,”2 and in a recent survey in the latter decades of the 20th century, other critics view modern Persian fiction as a reflection and conscience of modern Iran, and representations of historical events do indeed mirror the strongly felt presence of Iran’s past history in that country’s contemporary society.
Sadeq Chubak’s work is a landmark in the development of modern Persian fiction. As such his short stories and novels obviously deserve attention for their literary merit. But they should also be considered in terms of their relation to the society and the literary context from which they derived, since any work of art cannot be fully understood without taking into account the soil in which and the climatic conditions under which it was cultivated. As M. A. Jazayery puts it:
Taken as a whole, a national literature is one of many institutions that reflect a social order and are reflected in it. As one of many components, it cannot be accurately understood in isolation because it does not exist in isolation. Any serious interpretation, any critical analysis of literature, must consider the features that make a piece of writing essentially literary, uniquely personal; but if such interpretations and analyses are to be reasonably reliable and valuable for others, they must also consider the literary product in terms of the complex network of multilateral social relationships of which it is a part.3
The development of modern Persian fiction has not occurred in literary isolation; rather, it has been directly linked with and influenced by social and political trends. As Hassan Kamshad observes:
Perhaps in no other country has the development of literature been so closely associated with social and political fluctuation as in Persia during the present [20th] century.4
Social and political factors have indeed been of vital importance to virtually all modern Persian writers and have had substantial effects both on their work and the reception of their art in Iran. It follows, then, that to appreciate Chubak’s work, considerations both literary and extra-literary must be taken into account. In this chapter, I will investigate three extra-literary areas. I will survey the development of modern Persian fiction in the context of political change in twentieth century Iran, I will provide a brief review of Sadeq Chubak’s life and literary career, and finally, I will discuss the socio-political and literary factors influencing the reception of Chubak’s work in Iran.
The Iranian socio-political events of concern to this discussion begin with the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911, a challenge to the autocratic reign of the Qajar dynasty that had ruled the country for more than a century. In 1921, Reza Khan, a general in the Iranian army, came to power with a coup d’état that overthrew the Qajars. The Pahlavi dynasty began with the election of Reza Khan as shah by the Iranian Parliament in 1925 and his subsequent coronation in 1926. With his accession to power, Reza Shah Pahlavi attempted to establish a strong central government by suppressing local and tribal rulers and decreasing the power of the clergy, previously strongly influential in the political arena. He also strove to “modernize” the country. Gradually, however, he established an authoritarian dictatorship that came to an end when he was forced by the Allied powers to abdicate in 1941 because of his sympathetic policies toward Nazi Germany. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, assumed the throne. With the resultant loosening of government controls mainly due to the Allied occupation of the country, many political parties came to the fore during the 1940s, some with communist and socialist ideologies. After a series of violent political events, in 1953, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was pressured by Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1880-1967) and his nationalistic government to leave the country. However, one week later he returned to Iran, after his military supporters, with the backing of the British intelligence forces and the American CIA, had overpowered Mosaddeq. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi then began to rule the country with increased consolidation of power, suppressing all opposition, until his eventual overthrow in 1979 by the supporters of the religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeyni.5
The above brief outline should clarify a number of references made in the following pages to socio-political events during the twentieth century in Iran as they relate to the present discussion of modern Persian fiction.
Fiction in the form of short stories and novels as exists in the West is a relatively new art form in Persian literature, although stories and the telling of tales are probably as old as Iran itself. In the millennium of imaginative literature in the neo-Persian language, narrative tales, fables, anecdotal stories, and romances have been produced in prose and verse, verse having been the predominant mode until the 20th century. The birth of modern prose fiction and the modern Persian short story in Iran is commonly regarded as corresponding with the publication of Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh’s (1895-1997) collection of stories, Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud [Once Upon a Time] in 1921.6 The predominance of poetry in Persian literature at this time is evident in Jamalzadeh’s emphasis on and defense of the writing of prose fiction in his preface to Once Upon a Time, which is considered a sort of manifesto for modern Persian literature. For Jamalzadeh, the function of prose fiction is two-fold: first, to educate the masses and second, to preserve the common expressions of the people. Influenced by his contact with Western culture and literature, he reacts to what may be called a sort of dictatorship in the literature of his time, and he calls for “literary democracy.” He claims:
The very substance of Iranian political despotism, which is well known throughout the world, can be detected in the matter of literature, that is, when a writer takes up his pen, his attention is solely directed to the small group of the learned and literati.7
Jamalzadeh’s call for “literary democracy” in 1921 was very much in tune with the political and social events of the time. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911 was part of the recent past, and the post-revolutionary spirit was still much in the air.8 The year of the publication of Jamalzadeh’s collection also coincided with the coup d’état of Reza Khan, later Reza Shah Pahlavi, which put an end to the weakened central government of the Qajar dynasty, challenged the open influence of foreign powers, and initiated a new era of self-conscious nationalism in Iran. Thus, from an Iranian literary-historical standpoint, Jamalzadeh’s Once Upon a Time with its “manifesto” for Persian prose fiction was neither an unexpected nor, for that matter, a wholly unprecedented event. Thematically, the stories of Once Upon a Time involve types of social criticism that were favorite subjects of both the newspapers and a few popular fictional works of the time. In 1902, for example, Siyahatnameh-ye Ebrahim Beyg [The Travel Diary of Ebrahim Beyg] was published anonymously in Cairo, telling the story of an Iranian born and brought up in Egypt who yearns for his “paradise” of a country only to find his dreams shattered when he actually visits his fatherland, where he records finding a country full of wretchedness, poverty, religious hypocrisy, and political oppression.9 Along with The Travel Diary of Ebrahim Beyg, the 1905 Persian translation of James Morier’s The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) caused much apprehension in the country.10 This work tells the story of the son of a barber from Isfahan who learns his father’s trade as well as many Persian tales and quotations which, along with his training in thievery and trickery, eventually prepare him for a career of diplomatic intrigue at the court of the shah. Through the adventures of this Persian picaro, Morier draws a grim picture of Iranian life, especially that of the corruption of its political and religious institutions.11 Not only thematically, but also to some extent stylistically, these two books paved the way for Jamalzadeh’s Once Upon a Time stories, each in its own way parodying the pompous prose of conventional writers and attempting to introduce a prose style close to spoken Persian, a practice uncommon in traditional Persian literature. In a discussion of precedents for Jamalzadeh’s Once Upon a Time, mention should also be made of a series of satirical articles called “Charand Parand” [Fiddle-Faddle] by Ali Akbar Dehkhoda (1879-1956), appearing in the newspaper Sur-e Esrafil in 1907.12 In addition to their importance as commentary on social and political issues, the “Fiddle-Faddle” articles contributed much to the development of fictional prose in their use of colloquial language and particularly of popular proverbs and expressions.13 In the rural character he created for these articles, Dehkhoda found a medium through which he could employ a lively, colloquial style in writing on various social issues. In a sense, then, in his articles he had exemplified one of the “advantages” of fictional prose which Jamalzadeh was later to set down in his celebrated preface, the idea that fictional prose can serve as a “phonograph” of the “words, expressions, proverbs, idioms, different structures of speech, and dialects…of various classes and groups of a nation.”14
An important issue during the revolutionary period of the first two decades of the twentieth century, a period instrumental in giving birth to the writings discussed above, was patriotism. With the rise to power of Reza Khan in 1921 and his subsequent coronation as Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1926, this patriotism of the revolutionary years was channeled by the government into secular nationalism. In fact, it served as a key element for Reza Shah Pahlavi in creating a strong central government in a country which was on the verge of disintegration as a result of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty in its final years and of the direct intervention of foreign powers in its internal affairs.15 Along with this spirit of secular nationalism, Reza Shah instigated a series of programs to “modernize” the country, and these two factors, nationalism and modernization, found their way into the literature of this period. Thus, pertinent social themes and interest in the historical heritage of Iran are reflected in the popular literature of the time: on the one hand, sentimental novels full of social commentary on such themes as conventional marriage customs or prostitution and its causes, including the novels Tehran-e Makhowf [The Horrible Tehran] (1922) by Moshfeq Kazemi, Ensan [Mankind] (1924) by Abbas Khalili, and Jenayat-e Bashar [The Crimes of Mankind] (1930) by Rabi’ Ansari; on the other hand, historical novels written to foster a sense of national pride and identity, such as Damgostaran ya Enteqamkhahan-e Mazdak [The Plotters or Avengers of Mazdak] (1921) by Abdolhoseyn San’atizadeh, Dastan-e Bastan [The Story of Yore] (1921) by Hasan Badi’i, and Shah-e Iran va Banu-ye Arman [The Shah of Iran and the Armenian Lady] (1927) by Zabih Behruz. This era of nationalism and social self-awareness also produced Iran’s most famous twentieth century author, Sadeq Hedayat (1903-1951), whose works do not conform to the popular trends mentioned above. However, his nonconformity, which appears to place him out of the mainstream, should not lead to the conclusion that he completely escaped the current trends of nationalism and sentimental social criticism found in contemporary fiction. These elements appear in Hedayat’s works, but in a different light. While the historical novelists expended their efforts in transforming historical figures from the Iranian past into romantic, glorious heroes, Hedayat’s interest was drawn to Iran’s cultural heritage. And while those novelists interested in portraying the social ills of their time preached their way through sentimental fiction, Hedayat displayed the ills of his society with more realistic presentations of characters as seen by a more sympathetic, less aloof eye than his contemporaries had possessed. Like Jamalzadeh, Hedayat was stimulated by his contact with Western culture and literature. Having gone to France on a government scholarship in the mid 1920s, and after several aborted efforts at studying various sciences, Hedayat became interested in pre-Islamic Iranian languages and the ancient culture of his country. As he was an avid reader of both Western and Eastern literatures, his interests then focused on creative writing, and he produced a number of fictional works that mark for Persian prose fiction a significant break from the anecdotal tales of Jamalzadeh. Hedayat’s literary output can be considered a second phase in the development of modern Persian fiction following Jamalzadeh’s contributions. Hedayat greatly influenced the following generation of writers and his work is said by some critics to have had a lasting effect on many new writers even today. As Ehsan Yarshater noted in 1971:
Although Hedayat died before the 1960s, he is still a very live figure on the Persian literary scene. He is widely published and read, and maintains to this day a formative influence on developing writers.16
Some of the most influential aspects of Hedayat’s fiction are his attempts to portray more true-to-life characters than had previously appeared in Persian fiction and his simplification of the language used, both in his realistic short stories and in his psychological works, such as his most famous work Buf-e Kur [The Blind Owl] (1937).17 But perhaps even more pervasive was Hedayat’s personal philosophical worldview, his subjective, fatalistic vision of humanity epitomized in his enigmatic novel The Blind Owl, which captures the imaginations of ensuing generations of writers, opening up new possibilities for experimentation in Iranian fiction.18 This novel, however, was first published in India in a limited edition, since during the latter part of Reza Shah’s dictatorship strict government control and censorship were enforced, allowing publication only of those works that were considered by the censors not to clash with the interests and policies of the state. But as mentioned above the tight control came to an end with the occupation of Iran by the Allied forces and the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941.
During the first four decades of the twentieth century, Persian literature had undergone the early phases of what some literary historians regard as a “renaissance,”19 with manifestations both in prose fiction, of which the foundation was laid in this period, and in poetry, revitalized into a creative rather than conventionally imitative medium as “new poetry.”20 However, this so-called literary renaissance or literary revolution was not brought about in a state of literary isolation. The political atmosphere of the revolutionary years, indeed that of the early decades of the century, the zeal for modernization of the country first appearing in the nineteenth century and accelerating during the reign of Reza Shah, and the assimilation of European and later American values that began about 1800 with Iran’s involvement in European power politics all contributed to this change.21 Even more direct factors influencing this new era in literature include the European educations of many of the writers of this period, among them Jamalzadeh, Hedayat, and Bozorg Alavi, and their familiarity with the literature of the West in the original languages, as well as the availability to the Persian reader of many Western books in translation. In the era of relative political freedom of the 1940s, those writers who had not been tolerated during the Reza Shah period found an opportunity to be heard. Jamalzadeh, for instance, who had kept silent for more than twenty years, emerged again with several new works in the span of a few years. And Hedayat’s The Blind Owl was published for the first time in Iran in 1941. Perhaps most directly affected by this newfound freedom were those politically active writers who had previously been suppressed by the government. They are represented by Bozorg Alavi (1904-1997), who had been incarcerated for four years during Reza Shah’s reign because of his Marxist views. Directly involved in politics, especially that of the communist Tudeh Party founded in late 1941, Alavi advocated a “committed” literature in the service of political ideology dedicated to the service of the masses. It follows that for him the duty of the writer is to lead the people, since he is in the best position to point out what the masses cannot clearly express themselves.22 Illustrative of Alavi’s “commitment” is his one novel, Cheshmhayash [Her Eyes] (1952), which tells the story of a young aristocratic woman involved with a famous painter, an organizer of a socialist anti-government movement during the reign of Reza Shah.23 The painter’s life is saved when the woman consents to marry the chief of police, a man she claims to despise.
With the opportunity for free expression in the 1940s, new voices began to be heard, some of which became major voices in Persian fiction in the following decades. Most prominent among them were Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Sadeq Chubak. Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969), who published his first work Did-o Bazdid [Exchange of Visits], a collection of short stories, in 1946, was like Alavi at one time affiliated with the Tudeh Party. Later, however, he disassociated himself from organized political groups (except for a short involvement in politics in 1953), yet remained an engagé writer to his death, consistently addressing political and social issues. Al-e Ahmad was a leading spokesman in the 1960s for the Iranian non-establishment intelligentsia. His best-known novel in Iran, Modir-e Madreseh [The School Principal] (1958), typical of his work, deals mainly with social ills and bureaucratic corruption as they affect students and teachers in an Iranian elementary school.24 His most well known non-fictional work, Gharbzadegi [Plagued by the West], published in 1962, a polemical essay addressing the negative aspects of Western cultural influences and Western exploitation of Iran and other so-called Third World countries, had an impact on many educated Iranians.25 The social critical content of Al-e Ahmad’s work has gained him a distinguished status among modern Iranian writers, even though from a literary viewpoint his short stories and novels suffer from technical shortcomings. These shortcomings in technique along with Al-e Ahmad’s didactic tone have often been a deterrent to an appreciation of his unique prose style, characterized by direct, biting, short sentences, a style considered by some as unmatched in modern Persian literature.26
Another new writer to appear during this period, Sadeq Chubak, made his literary debut with a collection of short stories, Kheymehshabbazi [Puppet Snow] (1945), which focuses mainly on various aspects of the lives of individuals from the lowest classes of society. With his choice of characters and his use of colloquial speech, he was recognized as an artist following in the traditions of Jamalzadeh and Hedayat. However, most critics did not fail to recognize in Chubak an original artist and a careful craftsman, specifically noting his carefully drawn sketches of Iranian life and his success at transliterating the colloquial language of his characters.27 In a broad sense, some of the traits mentioned above place Chubak in the mainstream of the fiction writing of the mid-1940s in Iran. One aspect, however, sets him clearly apart from his contemporaries, that is his comparatively impersonal and objective worldview, his ability to represent the emotional and mental aspects of each of his subjects in order to create a variety of vivid, believable characters. Unlike most of his contemporaries of this period who used literature as a vehicle for extra-literary purposes, such as Alavi’s use of literature for the propagation of his socialist ideologies and Al-e Ahmad’s social criticism, Chubak concerned himself primarily with the art of fiction writing itself. The limited perspective of these “committed” writers resulted in a limitation of time, space, and subject matter in their stories, and their characters often remain confined to their specific social and cultural circumstances. On the other hand, although Chubak’s characters are palpably Iranian, in an Iranian social milieu, his stories constitute a microcosmic reflection of the universe. In this respect, perhaps, he follows most faithfully Hedayat’s legacy. Of the important literary voices of the 1940s, Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Sadeq Chubak alone retained leading positions as writers of fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, while a number of new faces began appearing on the scene, notably Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922), Gholamhoseyn Sa’edi (1935-1985), and Hushang Golshiri (1937-2000).28 Golestan, perhaps best known in Iran as a cinematographer, with four collections of short stories and a novel, Asrar-e Ganj-e Darreh-ye Jenni [The Secrets of the Treasures of the Haunted Valley] (1974), is especially noteworthy for his experimental use of a rhythmic, even musical, prose style, attempting to create a harmony between thought, feeling, and mood and the aural aspects of language. By profession a psychiatrist, Gholamhoseyn Sa’edi, a prolific writer and perhaps the most important playwright in Iran, produced seven books of fiction as well as other works. His fiction can be characterized as basically psychological studies of lower classes, employing an abundant use of dialogue as opposed to straight narration. Hushang Golshiri, although the author of a number of short stories, gained recognition particularly for one work, Shazdeh Ehtejab [Prince Ehtejab] (1968/69), a story which deals with one of the descendents of an Iranian ruling family whose conscience is burdened with the guilt of his ancestors’ tyranny. A stream of consciousness narrative, the book is noteworthy for its often illusive shifts in the presentations of the consciousnesses of various characters, much in the vein of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
The most prominent fiction writers of the 1970s remain those appearing in the preceding two decades. Nevertheless, mention should also be made of Reza Baraheni, primarily a literary critic, whose monumental novel Ruzegar-e Duzakhi-ye Aqa-ye Ayaz [The Infernal Times of Aqa-ye Ayaz] (1972), a haunting tale of violence, bloodshed, and sex and a portrayal of Iran’s history as a nation in which the Iranian people are raped symbolically and actually by their rulers, is in its sexual explicitness and naturalistic, detailed descriptions reminiscent of Chubak’s work, especially The Patient Stone.
Of the generation of writers mentioned above who had become recognized literary figures in the first half of the twentieth century, Chubak alone remained a prominent figure of the 1970s, Hedayat and Al-e Ahmad having died, and Jamalzadeh and Alavi, though still alive at the time, neither having kept up direct contact with Iran (both lived outside the country for many years) nor remained influential fiction writers in ensuing decades. In effect, Chubak was able to link the previous generation of writers with the future generations and remained perhaps the most important short story writer and novelist of the 1970s.
To sum up, Persian fiction has undergone several phases since its beginning in the early 1920s with Jamalzadeh’s anecdotal stories spiced with colloquial Persian expressions. The most notably influential figure in twentieth century Persian prose fiction, Hedayat, in the 1930s, follows Jamalzadeh in his interest in various aspects of Persian culture and language. However, his impact on the development of Persian prose fiction arises basically from his artistic sensitivities as well as his hauntingly personal, subjective worldview. Still another phase, in the 1940s, is marked by the works of writers with primarily socio-political concerns, and with only secondary interest in the artistic aspects of fiction, among whom the most widely recognized were Alavi and Al-e Ahmad. From a literary, artistic viewpoint, however, the works of Chubak from the 1940s to the 1960s, with his particular attention to the formal aspects of fiction, his craftsmanship, and his objective, impersonal worldview, have greatly influenced the development of modern Persian fiction, as they have opened the way for experimentation. And the fiction of the last five decades reflects the impact of the earlier phases, both in its artistic development or form and in its social content, as exemplified in the works of such writers as Hushang Golshiri and an increasing number of talented new writers, including many women who have taken the lead, such as Moniru Ravanipur and Shahrnush Parsipur, with the publication of outstanding novels.29
Born the son of a bazaar merchant in the port town of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf in 1916, Sadeq Chubak spent his formative years first in the town of his birth and later in nearby Shiraz, where he moved with his family. The impressions of these years, of his early schooling, of his parents, of the atmosphere of the times, remained with Chubak, many of them appearing vividly in his autobiographical poem “Ah-e Ensan” [The Sigh of Mankind] in which he reflects:
And my life
Are asleep with me under my pillow
And whenever I wish
I suck on
Their poisonous gem.30
And these memories provide Chubak with much of the material that later appears in his stories. In a number of stories such as “Omar Koshun” [Omar Killing], for instance, Chubak seems to draw on his recollections of early childhood experiences in Bushehr. Bushehr also becomes the backdrop for his first novel, Tangsir (1963), in which he depicts incidents he witnessed as a child. And Shiraz becomes the locale of his last novel, The Patient Stone (1966), in which he fictionalizes an actual series of murders that took place there in the 1930s. In 1937, Chubak completed his formal education, graduating from the American College of Tehran. He taught in the public schools in Khorramshahr, another port town on the Persian Gulf, until he joined the Iranian army in 1939. By 1940, he had become a cadet officer and English translator for the General Staff in Tehran, a post he kept until shortly after the publication of his first book The Puppet Show in 1945, when he became employed as a translator for the British Embassy Information Department.31
With two books published, Chubak became established as a short story writer, and in 1955 he took part in an international summer seminar for writers at Harvard University as a representative from Iran. But the period between 1950 and 1962 was for Chubak a period of literary silence. As a result of the political turbulence of the early 1950s, with the rise to power and ultimate downfall of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and the years of military control over the government, a renewed impetus was given to writers. However, until the early 1960s, during which some sort of political “stability” was in its formative stages, Chubak published no new works. In 1963, however, Chubak’s first novel, Tangsir, was published, which by and large did not have a good reception.32 Two years later, a third collection, Ruz-e Avval-e Qabr [The First Day in the Grave] (1965), appeared, followed seven months later by Cheraq-e Akher [The Last Alms] (1966), another collection of short stories. In The First Day in the Grave, Chubak once again concerns himself with the seamier side of Iranian life. The stories focus for the most part on various aspects of the lives of unfortunate individuals and underprivileged classes. But two of the longer pieces of this collection, Chubak delve into the psyches of socially and financially rather successful characters who seem haunted by the voice of conscience. The majority of the stories in these two collections, however, deal with the sordid lives of the unfortunate and poor.33 Perhaps for this reason many critics believed that Chubak had returned to the style and subject matter of his work before Tangsir, a grimmer picture of the poor in shorter sketches.
In 1966, Chubak published his last work, The Patient Stone, a novel that marks a turning point in his career as a writer. The complex structure of the novel and some of its more esoteric elements precluded its appreciation by the general public, and in this respect the novel seems to have been addressed to a more elitist literary audience. But at the same time, The Patient Stone may be the epitome of all Chubak’s literary output in that it is a potpourri in which he brings together all those elements of his earlier works that marked him as a writer of distinction in Iran, particularly his choice of low-life characters, his use of colloquial language, his themes and worldview, and his attention to the formal aspects of fiction.
Although the characters in Chubak’s works are drawn from all walks of life, are infinitely varied as to age and social standing, and even include a handful of animals, most of them can be placed in one of two categories, oppressor and oppressed. His oppressors include, among others, a king who mobilizes his entire nation against all crows, since one of them had defiled his statue with excrement; a state official, in a psychological study, whose life of mistreatment of others is threatened in a series of anonymous letters; and a cruel, wealthy husband who casts off his wife and disowns his child, forcing the mother into a life of religiously sanctioned prostitution. By far the largest category of characters consists of the oppressed, the majority of whom belong to the lowest strata of society, chosen from among the poor, the wretched, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. They include sexually frustrated females, opium addicts, young girls driven to prostitution, abused and abandoned children, and dying, lonely, aged men and women. But although many of his characters share common problems, even common fates, each has an individual identity. The credit for the initiation into Persian literature of characters chosen from lower classes must, of course, be given mainly to Jamalzadeh and Hedayat who, partly as a result of their familiarity with Western literature and partly as a reaction to the political and literary dictatorship in Iran concurrent with the revolutionary atmosphere in the country at the time, strove to “democratize” Persian literature by breaking with the tradition that focused its attention almost exclusively on the nobility. This process of democratization also involved a concern on the part of these writers with the use of colloquial language in their fiction. Jamalzadeh’s main interest in the language of the people was reflected in his recording of colloquial expressions and popular proverbs, while Hedayat focused for the most part on collecting folklore and describing the mores of the people. Hedayat, however, contributed much to the simplification of the language of fictional prose. But neither Jamalzadeh nor Hedayat could completely accomplish the almost unprecedented task of bridging the gap between colloquial and written Persian, both because of the difficulties inherent in transliterating the spoken language and because of the differences in syntax and vocabulary between the spoken and written forms of Persian. 34 This task was left to Chubak. As one critic points out:
Both Jamalzadih and Hidayat had a rather narrow conception of spoken language. They picked up colloquial words and phrases and put them in sentence patterns which were those of “written” language. Chubak, on the other hand, not only paid attention to the “lexical items,” but tried to employ the pattern and rhythm of the spoken language in his work.35
Chubak’s particular attention to the technical aspects of language reveals merely one aspect of his craftsmanship. His ability to create harmony between the various elements of his stories, between characters and language, form and content, theme and mode of expression, has often been noted. Perhaps one critic’s observation concerning Chubak’s short stories may stand as an assessment of the author’s craftsmanship in general:
His feeling for this form is illustrated by his economy of incident, …with a minimum of descriptive apparatus. His treatment of detail suggests the intricacy, combined with boldness of conception, of the Persian miniature painting. Chubak keeps his picture balanced and spare; and yet a whole pattern of emotion and situation is revealed within it. The result is generally convincing and shows a moving insight into human nature.36
But this insight, which Vera Kubickova terms “somewhat rare in modern Persian literature,”37 reveals a grim picture, Chubak’s grim worldview as it is reflected in the themes of his stories, which include poverty, death, oppression, sexual deprivation, the victimization of women and children, fatalism, alienation, loneliness, and the degeneration of the individual and society in the grip of religious superstition. This vision is presented most intensely in the gloomy lines of his poem, “The Sigh of Mankind”:
The foul pinion of the vulture of hunger, sickness, and death
Has spread its shadow over city and village
Over hearth and home
Over mountain and sea
Breaths in throats have been nailed to the rack
Eyes have befriended darkness
Tongues have been paralyzed
And the warmth of the sun has waned
And the root of the mandrake has dried
And water has died and the cloud is despondent
And the squalid, scurvy hearse
Waits at house doors
And the gaunt, worn horses
Stomp the ground.38
In the post-Mosaddeq era, during which Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned 1941-1979) was able for the first time since his father’s abdication in 1941 to tighten monarchical control and impose gradually increased censorship, and during which most of Chubak’s work was published, writers, literary critics, and educated readers demanded that the writer be explicitly non-establishment and even antiestablishment. However, this was not a new demand. As early as 1946, in the First Congress of Iranian Writers, Alavi had stated, “We must know the purpose of art and the duty of the artist”; he advocated a revolutionary position for the writer, who must “move in front of the people and guide them” in their struggle.39 This attitude, shared by most writers and their audiences even as far back as the Constitutional era (1906-1911), never having completely faded away, once again became a special focus of attention during the 1960s. Social commitment in literature and other extra-literary concerns then became major factors in the evaluation of literary works and the popularity of the writer, allowing Al-e Ahmad, for example, to become more popular in spite of (or perhaps because of) a number of his works having been banned. Similar criteria were decisive in the popularity of the new writers of these years as well, such as Samad Behrangi (1939-1968), whose stories lack sophistication and fail as literary pieces but were popular after his sudden death, allegedly due to political activities, and who became a popular, almost cult figure among the antiestablishment and dissident forces. In such an atmosphere, Chubak’s only two novels, Tangsir and The Patient Stone, were published, and subsequently received harsh attacks from a number of critics in Iran.40 With no taste for filling his work with direct political slogans and no inclination toward any personal participation in antiestablishment sociopolitical issues, Chubak was judged negatively by the Iranian intelligentsia, consisting mainly of dissident university students, poets, and writers (some of them critics trying to gain the approval of their literary audiences). These individuals had unwritten rules dictating the condemnation of those writers who did not openly and publicly conform to the norm of the writer as a “leader of society.”41 In addition, with the increased government control of the 1970s, almost every writer of some distinction underwent a period (however short) of incarceration, a very visible criterion in his evaluation as “committed.”42 Chubak did not. Since the “committed” subject matter of Chubak’s two novels as well as his short story collections, with their rather harsh criticism of Iranian society and its institutions, including its political institutions, cannot be overlooked by the objective reader, it would seem then that the “committed” nature of a work alone was not a satisfactory criterion for the favorable reception and critical praise of that work during the latter two decades of the Pahlavi rule. Rather, the personal involvement of a writer in antiestablishment political activities seems to have been a decisive factor in the overall acceptance of his works. But it would seem simplistic to assume that Chubak’s politics alone was a source of displeasure for the Iranian literary public. During this same period, in the wake of the continuous bombardment of the country with Western ideas and influences, a new reactionary, xenophobic nationalism began to arise, one that condemned these influences as having “demolished” Iranian values. These Western influences, which began prior to the Constitutional Revolution, continued through the first half of the 20th century, gradually increasing in the second half, clashed with national and historical traditions. In the losing struggle of tradition against the forces of modernity, as one historian observes, “Iranian society began to perceive certain at least potentially true benefits, certain advantages, certain pleasures.” He also believes that:
A tremendous sense of guilt haunts Iranian society for having profited in the abandonment of its traditions, and … this is the reason for the present misadjustment of the Iranian people to their new Westernized ideals and aims.43
Perhaps this guilt best justifies the nationalism that gave rise to an essay such as Al-e Ahmad’s Plagued by the West, mentioned above, with its cry for a reassessment of Western values that have been so blindly accepted. In the wake of the nationalism epitomized in Al-e Ahmad’s Plagued by the West, a novel such as The Patient Stone, for instance, that ridicules many of Iranian society’s institutions and traditions, including its religion and even its cherished literary heritage, was not surprisingly an object of reactionary scorn. Thus, one critic, for example, was compelled to condemn Chubak on the basis of his portrayal of Belqeys, a principle female character in The Patient Stone, for to him she could not possibly represent “the Iranian woman.” To illustrate the “validity” of his view, he compares Belqeys with another female character in a popular Persian novel, Showhar-e Ahu Khanom [Ahu Khanom’s Husband] (1961). The critic hails this latter heroine, a wretchedly humiliated wife of a baker infatuated with a local wanton whom he brings home, as a true representative of the Iranian woman, citing her reaction to her plight:
I do not resent my husband in the least, nor do I have any grievance against him. If there were one man in the world for me, it would be none but him. Man is the wife’s little god, and whatever he does cannot be objected to. Abraham the prophet also took another wife while married to Hagar. And all the wives of the Prophet [Mohammad] had co-wives.44
And for contrast, he continues his argument with a quote from Belqeys, the sexually frustrated wife of an impotent opium addict, illustrating, in his opinion, “the picture that Chubak gives of the Iranian woman”:
If I go be a wife to a dung farmer, at least he might be a man. He’d grab me, hug me tight at night, and squish the shit out of me …. If I don’t find no husband, I can go to Mordessun District and be a whore, so I get ten fellas riding me every night.45
Women’s sexuality, as depicted in The Patient Stone through the character of Belqeys and other stories by Chubak, seemingly threatened the traditional Islamo-Iranian family institution in which a woman, such as Ahu Khanom, remains a self-sacrificing wife and mother under all circumstances. Although female sexuality was not a new subject in modern Persian literature, it had generally been restricted to that of young upper class women, who could easily be blamed as having been “corrupted” by Western influence.46 But the sexuality of a lower class woman could not be so easily rationalized and accepted, since it was highly unlikely that she had been “corrupted” by Western ideas. And this aspect of Chubak’s work seemed a direct affront to the pride of the chauvinistic Iranian male.
But Chubak’s treatment of female sexuality is not the only source of the criticism he received. His use of sexual explicitness in general doubled with his use of “obscene” language provided critics with additional grounds for the condemnation of his last novel in particular. Even though in his earlier stories Chubak had occasionally employed “obscene” words, he did not receive the harsh criticism he later did for The Patient Stone. Concerning Chubak’s first two collections of short stories, one critic, for instance, had observed in 1957, “He might be blamed for having a freedom of expression which does not always suit readers of all ages.”47 On the other hand, with the publication of The Patient Stone, Chubak was actually accused of loving
“obscenity for the sake of obscenity.”48
Another factor contributing to the unfavorable reaction of the reading public to much of Chubak’s work may be his critical view of the institution of Islamic religion in Iran. Modern Persian literature has from its beginning served as an arena for the criticism of Islam. In fact, in a survey of the established writers and poets of the 20th century, one would be hard pressed to find one writer who has not indulged in the criticism of religion, many having been condemned for this aspect of their work. But the political upheaval of 1978 and beyond, with a religious leader as its central figure, events whose momentum was building during the late 1960s and early 1970s, strongly suggests that religious fervor was gaining ground in the 1960s when most of Chubak’s stories were published. Therefore, even though the criticism of religion has been a common practice in modern Persian literature, this aspect of Chubak’s work could not have been overlooked by a significant portion of its reading public. What seems to have been overlooked in Chubak’s work is that he provides his readers with a new window through which they can view their society, culture, beliefs, and their lives and see the truth, a new truth, as it were. As William James observes:
New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions. It marries old opinion to new fact so as ever to show a minimum of jolt, a maximum of continuity…. We say this theory solves it on the whole more satisfactorily than that theory; but that means more satisfactorily to ourselves, and individuals will emphasize their points of satisfaction differently.49
As “new truth,” a go-between in the development of modern Persian fiction, the works of Chubak bridge the gap between old and new, as the works of Hedayat and Jamalzadeh before had done. In the words of one Persian critic:
The road that [Chubak] has taken here is a road which no one has trodden before him in our literature: the grafting of ideas with the portrayal of life, the grafting of the recognition of realities with a look into the future. This is a road unknown and unsmooth. Chubak has taken the first step and with this step he has opened a new way for our fictional literature.50
Although unconventional in terms of its new treatment of old issues, Chubak’s literary output is, nevertheless, the “legitimate” offspring of its social and literary heritage. As works of art, however, his novels and short stories must be considered in literary critical terms, which will be the subject of the following chapters.
1 Nakhostin Kongereh-ye Nevisandegan-e Iran [First Congress of Iranian Writers] (Tehran: Anjoman-e Ravabet-e Farhangi-ye Iran va Etehad-e Jamahir-e Showravi-ye Sosiyalisti, 1947), p. 131. All translations from Persian in this and the following chapters are my own, unless otherwise indicated. A summary of parts of this chapter was published as an introduction to the translation of The Patient Stone by M. R. Ghanoonparvar (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1989).
2 Reza Baraheni, Qessehnevisi (Tehran: Ashrafi, 1969), p. 77.
3 Mohammad Ali Jazayery, “Recent Persian Literature: Observations on Themes and Tendencies,” Review of National Literatures 2, No. 1 (Spring 1971):11.
4 Hassan Kamshad, Modern Persian Prose Literature (Cambridge: The University Press, 1966), p. 31.
5 For detailed discussions on the Iranian political events of the twentieth century, see: Fred Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development (New York: Penguin, 1979); Amin Banani, The Modernization of Iran (1921-1941) (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1961); and Donald N. Wilbur, Iran: Past and Present, 8th ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976).
6 Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud, 4th ed. (Tehran: Ebn-e Sina, 1954).
7 Jamalzadeh, “Dibacheh,” Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud, pp. 5-21. For an English translation of this preface, see: Haideh Dargahi, “The Shaping of the Modern Persian Short Story: Jamalzadih’s ‘Preface’ to Yiki Bud, Yiki Nabud,” The Literary Review 18 (1974):18-24. Copies of Jamalzadeh’s book were actually burned when they reached Iran. See Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, “Dibache-ye Mo’allef,” Amu Hoseyn Ali: Shahkar 2nd ed. (Tehran: Ma’refat, 1957); and Vera Kubicková, “Persian Literature of the 20th Century,” in History of Iranian Literature by Jan Rypka, ed. Karl Jahn (Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel, 1968), p. 389.
8 For a brief discussion of this revolutionary era and its effect on and reflection in Persian literature, see: Kubicková in Rypka’s History of Iranian Literature, particularly pp. 355-358; and Kamshad, pp. 31-40.
9 Zeynolabedin Maragheh’i, Siyahatnameh-ye Ebrahim Beyg, 3rd ed. (Tehran: Andisheh, 1975). This work consists of three volumes, the first of which is generally regarded as important in the development of modern Persian fiction.
10 The translation of this book by Mirza Habib Esfahani, entitled Sargozasht-e Haji Baba-ye Esfahani, is available in a reprint in the United States (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1996).
11 Kamshad regards the Persian translation of this work a “very loose rendering of the original” (p. 24) that exaggerates to an even greater degree Morier’s critical view of the country.
12 These articles were published later in a collection: Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, Charand Parand (Tehran: Sazman-e Ketabha-ye Jibi, 1962).
13 See Munibar Rahman, “Social Satire in Modern Persian Literature,” Bulletin of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Nos. 2 and 3 (1958 and 1959):68-69; and Kamshad, pp. 37-40.
14 Jamalzadeh, Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud, p. 11.
15 These interventions included the rivalry between British and Russian powers before the Russian Revolution of 1917 and, later, Britain’s attempt to make Iran “a mandated territory under British tutelage” (Kamshad, p. 34).
16 Ehsan Yarshater, “The Modern Literary Idiom,” Iran Faces the Seventies, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (New York: Praeger, 1971), p. 304.
17 The first English version was translated by D. P. Costello (London: Calder, 1957; New York: Grove Press, 1957), a new edition of which has been reprinted frequently (New York: Evergreen, 1969). Another translation is found in ‘The Blind Owl’ and Other Hedayat Stories, compiled by Carol L. Sayers (Minneapolis: Sorayya Publishers, 1984). However, Costello’s translation remains the most widely circulated version in English.
18 Numerous articles exist in English on The Blind Owl. A relatively recent in-depth book-length study of this work is Michael Beard, Hedayat’s “Blind Owl” as a Western Novel (Princeton: Princeton University, 1990). See also: Iraj Bashiri, The Fiction of Sadeq Hedayat (Lexington, KY: Mazda Publishers, 1984).
19 Kubicková and Kamshad both use the term “renaissance” to describe the literary events of this period. I have termed this change as a “literary revolution” in M. R. Ghanoonparvar, Prophets of Doom: Literature as a Socio-Political Phenomenon in Modern Iran (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1984).
20 In poetry, Nima Yushij (1895-1960), now known as the father of “new poetry” in Iran, initiated the break with traditional verse in 1921. For a discussion of “new poetry,” see Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Recasting Persian Poetry: Scenarios of Poetic Modernity in Iran (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995), and Majid Naficy, Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature: A Return to Nature in the Poetry of Nima Yushij (Lanham, New York, and Oxford: University Press of America, 1997). For sample translations of Persian “new poetry” in English and an introductory background, see Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, An Anthology of Modern Persian Poetry (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1978).
21 Jazayery, p. 12.
22 Nakhostin Kongereh-ye Nevisandegan-e Iran, p. 184.
23 This book has been translated into English by John O’Kane as Her Eyes (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1989) as a part of the Modern Persian Literature Series sponsored by Bibliotheca Persica.
24 This novel has been translated into English by John K. Newton: Jalal Al-e Ahmad, The School Principal (Minneapolis and Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1974).
25 Translations of this work include: Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Plagued by the West, trans. Paul Sprachman (New York: Caravan Books, 1982), and Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Weststruckness, trans. John Green and Ahmad Alizadeh (Lexington, Kentucky: Mazda Publishers, 1982).
26 Baraheni, p. 465.
27 See the review of Sadeq Chubak’s Kheymehshabbazi in Sokhan 11-12 (December 1945-January 1946):913; and Nakhostin Kongereh-ye Nevisandegan-e Iran, p. 165; also, Henry D. G. Law, “Introductory Essay: Persian Writers,” Life and Letters and the London Mercury 63, No. 148 (December 1949):199.
28 For an overview of the works of these writers, see: Ghanoonparvar, Prophets of Doom and In a Persian Mirror: Images of the West and Westerners in Iranian Fiction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993); and Kamran Talattof, The Politics of Writing in Iran: A History of Modern Persian Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000).
29 For a discussion of the present generation of writers, see: Talattof, The Politics of Writing in Iran, and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami, Modern Reflections of Classical Traditions in Persian Fiction (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003). For samples of English translations of contemporary Iranian writers, see: Trans. and ed., Shouleh Vatanabadi and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami, Another Sea, Another Shore: Persian Short Stories of Migration (Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books, 2004).
30 Sadeq Chubak, “Ah-e Ensan,” Kheymehshabbazi, 4th ed. (Tehran: Javidan, 1972). “The Sigh of Mankind,” though apparently written much earlier, replaced a short story in the 3rd ed. of The Puppet Show published in 1967.
31 The biographical information is taken from: Mahnaz Abdolahi, “Salshomar-e Zendegi-ye Sadeq Chubak,” and Sadeq Chubak, “Zendegi-ye Man,” published in Ali Dehbashi, ed., Yad-e Sadeq Chubak (Tehran: Nashr-e Sales, 2001), and also from my personal conversations with Sadeq Chubak as well as a short biography in a personal letter to me, which appears in the Appendix.
32 For a discussion of this novel, see “Chapter Three: The Fate of the Victims.”
33 These two short story collections are discussed in “Chapter Three.”
34 Concerning the particular interests of Jamalzadeh and Hedayat, mention should be made of Jamalzadeh’s Farhang-e Loghat-e Amiyaneh [A Dictionary of Colloquial Words] (1962/63) and Hedayat’s various works on Persian folklore, including Osaneh [Legend] (1931) and Neyrangestan [Land of Trickery] (1933).
35 Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, “The Persian Short Story Since the Second World War: An Overview,” The Muslim World 58 (1968):311.
36 Kamshad, p. 127.
37 Kubicková, p. 415.
38 Chubak, Kheymehshabbazi, p. 234. This translation is my own.
39 Nakhostin Kongereh-ye Nevisandegan-e Iran, pp. 183-184.
40 See, for example: Abdolali Dastgheyb, Naqd-e Asar-e Sadeq Chubak (Tehran: Pazand, 1974), which is an elaboration of a series of articles he published in Ferdowsi magazine from 1969-1970; also, Hushang Golshiri, “Si Sal Romannevisi,” Jong-e Esfahan 5 (Summer 1967):187-229; and Mahmud Kiyanush, Barrasi-ye She’r va Nasr-e Farsi-ye Mo’aser (Tehran: Mani, 1974/75), pp. 186-197.
41 See Alavi’s remarks quoted earlier in this chapter.
42 For a discussion on the incarceration of writers during this period, see: Leo Hamalian and John D. Yohannan, eds. “Persian Literature,” New Writings From the Middle East (New York: Mentor, 1978), pp. 274-275.
43 Hafez F. Farmayan, “Observations on Sources for the Study of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Iranian History,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 5 (January 1974):3.
44 Dastgheyb, p. 93.
45 Sadeq Chubak, The Patient Stone, trans. M. R. Ghanoonparvar (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1989), p. 11.
46 Notable examples of these female characters are found in Ali Dashti’s Fetneh (1949), Jadu (1952), and Hendu (1955); and also in Mohammad Hejazi’s Parichehr (1927) and Ziba (1931), among others.
47 Sa’id Nafisi, “A General Survey of the Existing Situation in Persian Literature,” Bulletin of the Institute of Iranian Studies, No. 1 (1957):21.
48 Kiyanush, p. 195.
49 William James, Pragmatism (New York: Longman, Greens and Co., 1907), pp. 60-61.
50 Hasan Nekuruh, “Dastanha-ye Sadeq Chubak: Ra az Shenakht Besu-ye Andisheh,” Negin 11, No. 126 (October 1975):34.
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