Afsaneh: Short Stories by Iranian Women

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by Susan Abraham

Short stories by Iranian women edited by *Kaveh Basmenji

This book of 20 unusual short stories by Iranian women edited and translated by the 48-year old journalist, Kaveh Basmenji and spanning several decades, is deeply melancholic with its spartan prose.

A profound sadness with no respect for the etiquette of pretense, hovers like a funeral wake in calling out for each story’s theme, no matter the character’s nested joys or sorrows. A poetic atmosphere, designed to haunt and trigger lugubrious reflections and this; leading to a startling introspection, is what lends the reader, its lavish beauty.

No doubt, the English-Language collection has been translated as closely as possible from the Persian and so there is no boastful writerly approach or superficial sophisticated style one way or the other.

Drawn from a rigid faithfulness, expect plainly-written lines like “I went there seldom” or “He smiled at me also.” Yet, these are extraordinary and memorable. In Simin Daneshvar’s To Whom Shall I Say Hello, one may be feted to unusual phrases like “3 ripe daughters” and a “giant of a wife”. Or perhaps, “Someone is clawing at my entrails again.”

Stories thoughtfully sketched by reowned writers like Shahrnoosh Parsipour, Zohreh Hatami and Fereshtei Sari among others only serve to search a woman’s heart with a resignation of never-ending sincerity and pain.

In the collected tales, the Iranian woman is not as worried over physical circumstances or as what the excruciating demands of religion may prove itself to be. Rather, she is concerned with family ties, a parent’s approval or a man’s touch and this in a sadly idealistic way where no happy ending may be celebrated on the horizon.

The challenge is to wisely capture the valuable meaning of existence. As such, she may not question her chador but rather her carers in those frightening twilight years. Would her husband leave? Would the snow bury a village home? Would a nasty son in law ever let her see a daughter? Would she still find herself a bed to sleep in at 80 or would she be left to die somewhere unkind? And so forth.

The reader is able to seek out philosophical truths and a pained realism stemming from a simple woman’s heart. The message of the authors, having lived through different eras are all the same.

The gentle Iranian woman from days gone would have desired to love and live with equal eagerness and bountiful joy for the sole purpose of a full engagement with life; only to have found her struggles latched in remoteness, from the way destiny would ruthlessly weave its thick web around her.

*Kaveh Basmenji lives in Prague and is the author of the 272-page Tehran Blues: Youth Culture in Iran, published by Saqi Books (2005).

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