Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: Preeminent Novelist's latest book Der Colonel Published in German...and censored in Persian ...

Mahmud Doulatabadi is one of the most preeminent novelists of Iran. I discovered Dowlatabadi * when I was 17. I knew Kelidar (کلیدر) was an important book to read. My younger sister who was always richer than I, spent all of her summer savings to buy this 5-volume novel: the love story of Maral and Gol-Mohammad; in the turbulent history of their tribes of Iran's north east province, Khorasan. I remember living with the book, reading it nonstop for 10 days, hardly eating or sleeping. I was perhaps too young for it then; but I couldn't put it down. Maral reminded me of my own grandmother; and the story taught me about the intricacies of individuality, honor, loyalty, love, passion and the cost of breaking from conformity. I read his other books later, but to date, and to author's admission, Kelidar remains his most "perfect" book!

Dolatabadi * is 69, he was born in the village of Dolatabad in Khorasan. Before he became a writer, he earned life from labouring in farming, shoe making, barbering, bicycle repair, herding sheep, slaughter house, print shops, cinema projections--all range of works that are not customary for the "educated" or those with "to-be-educated-to-write" aspirations. His rural experiences set his books apart from the white-glove urban, or aristocratic settings of many of his contemporary literary figures of Iran. He paved his path to literature through theater, starting at the age of 22.

His most recent book, Der Colonel, written simultaneously in Persian and German--a story awaiting 25 years to be told--has made it to German publication, and is suffering Persian censorship, thanks to Mr Ahmadinejad's Coup D'etat ... (Dolatabadi has been a vocal critic of Ahmadinejad) To German speakers, I recommend to listen to his interview Dolatabadi with Ilija Trojanow on Arte.TV about Der Colonel. He talks about his urge to write this novel, and also explains somethings about Iran's literary traditions--especially referring to legendary Ferdowsi (10th century AD), to whom he wishes to have been a devout follower; and Sa'di (12th century AD) and Naser khosrow (11th century Ad) who were globe-trotters to whom he attributes the humanitarian nature of Persian literature. Despite the fact that Dolatabadi's novels root deeply in folk, telling the most obscure of rural stories, his talent is in portraying man in the complex dynamics of his interaction with the world, thus Doulatabadi * considers literature to be a universal entity, one belonging to humanity and not to geography.

He ends his interview with a message of hope:
"The art of we Iranians, is to transit through death and destruction towards light; this is our entire history, and we are still a living nation ..."

* I have spelled Dowlatabadi in all possible phonetic forms. Inconsistencies are intentional.


Anonymous said...

gunni says:

thanks for the advice - i enjoyed the interview - translated by mr. nirumand - and I realy hope that this book will find the way to tehran -

Greetings to naj

grannie4peace said...

i wanted to tell you thank you for turning us on to the artists & writers from iran. i'm excited to learn more about iran from the" real"people of iran, at least the kind of people i like to know about :). you will always have a fond place in my heart. i am impressed with the things you post & your beautiful brain :)thanks again -g4p :)all kindness befall you!!!!

Naj said...


My absolute pleasure! I wish I could do a thorough job.

The shear volume of magnificence coming out of Iran is humbling. As I have iterated this before, I am not saying this out of a specific nationalist affinity; my affinity is to art and culture and humanity, wherever it can come from. My tool is my Persian language.

This Dolatabadi for example deserves a nobel prize in literature; deserves far many more interviews than Ahmadinejad or Trita Parsi get on America's mainstream media ;). Dolatabadi is not shy to express the view that he considers himself a more deserving writer than many of those who take advanatge of international fame and forune.

Language is what makes us obscure; and as more and more of us are forced to migrate with our country at heart; I am positive that his will change.

Luckily, Europeans are more advanced in discovering the Iranian talent; and I hope this is a step in the right direction. We have great stories to tell. And if you are interested, we will, gradually!

All the very best to you.

Anonymous said...

We, Haus Publishing, have just published The Colonel in English!
Read more here:

Naj said...

Amela of Haus publishing; thank you for offering to send me the book in english. I look forward to reading and writing a review on it.

Lisa Hill said...

With little background knowledge about Iran, I found The Colonel (the English translation) difficult to read, but found it very worthwhile all the same. You might be interested to read my review at