Simin Daneshvar

Simin Daneshvar was born in 1921 in Shiraz, where she grew up and received her early education. In 1942 she moved to Tehran where she studied Persian literature at Tehran University. Her dissertation, "Beauty as Treated in Persian Literature," was approved in 1949. In 1950, Daneshvar married the well-known Iranian short story writer and novelist Jalal Al-i Ahmad and, in 1952, she traveled to the United States as a Fullbright Fellow working on creative writing at Stanford University. When she returned to Iran, she joined the faculty of Tehran University. As author and translator, Daneshvar writes sensitively about the Iranian woman and her life. Daneshvar's most successful work Suvushun (The Mourners), a novel about settled and tribal life in and around her hometown of Shiraz, was published in 1969. A best-seller of all Persian novels, it has undergone at least thirteen reprints. She has also contributed to Sukhan and Alifba as well as translated some of the works of Shaw, Chekhov, Moravia, Hawthorn, Saroyan, and Albe Schnitzler. A Land Like Paradise (Shahri chun Bihisht) is the lead story of a collection she published in 1962.

NINE SHORT WRITE-UPS ON  DANESHVAR'S SAVUSHUN

Times Literary Supplement
(March 1, 1991)

Published in Persian in 1969. Savushun was the first novel written by a woman to appear in Iran. Its protagonist, Zari, desires chiefly to care for her husband, raise her children, supervise the kitchen and tend the garden. "If she weren't so attached to her children and husband, things might be different. The first pick of the fruit, caresses, conversations. affectionate gazes . . . such a person could not take risks.'' Simin Daneshvar creates a paradise out of the evocations of the smells and sights of flowers, herbs, Iotions and nuts. Zari's garden is an enchanted place and she rarely ventures beyond its confines save to do charitable work in nearby hospitals.

Rumors of politics and battles are brought to her by gossiping visitors and she gathers more by eavesdropping on her husband, Yusof, and his guests as she brings them their food and their opium laden hookahs. At first, most of this talk seems distant and uninteresting. but Savushun is a historical novel. though one about recent history, and in time the peace of the garden will be breached and the lives of Zari and everyone she knows will be affected by violent events. Indeed, they will be actors in these events. The setting is Shiraz, in southwestern Iran, in the 1940s. In 1941, Britain and the Soviet Union, concerned by Reza Shah's pro-Nazi sympathies and worried too about the supply lines to Russia, occupied southern and northern Iran respectively. The demands of the occupying troops for food and other commodities forced up prices and encouraged hoarding. Famine was widespread in 1942 and 1943. Outbreaks of typhus in southern Iran were blamed on the British Indian garrisons. Banditry became widespread in the countryside. All this features in the novel. Above all, the arrogance of the occupiers was resented, and Zari sees that the "civilization" their schools teach is hostile to traditional Persian values. She and her husband listen to Radio Berlin, and there are others in Shiraz who believe that Hitler may be the expected one, "the Imam of the Age".
Daneshvar grew up in Shiraz and doubtless there are elements of autobiography in the story she tells. In 1950 she married Jalal Ali Ahmad, one of Iran's leading novelists and intellectuals, best known for his polemical essay, Gharbzadagi ("Occidentosis" or "Weststruckness"), a hymn of hatred and a bitter account of the way Iran was being ruined by the import of Western commodities and ideas. Ali Ahmad died (or was he murdered by Savak?) in the year of Savushun's publication and the novel gives fictional form to some of the concerns of Gharbzadagi. Ali Ahmad had urged his fellow intellectuals to turn away from Europe and find in Iran's own culture sources of self respect. He was inclined, though only half inclined, to look for future salvation in the religious establishment and traditional Iranian Shi'ism . Daneshvar too seems to be advocating a return to traditional roots, though not to a rigorous religious fundamentalism. Savushun affectionately evokes the old folkways. Zari and her friends keep themselves busy, interpreting dreams, practicing bibliomancy with the poems of Hafiz of Shiraz, averting the evil eye with wild rue and concocting folk medicines. The title of the novel itself refers to an ancient ritual of mourning in which the participants lament the betrayal and death of Siyavush, a sort of Adonis figure from Iran's legendary prelslamic past. Just as the hero Siyavush passed through an ordeal of fire, so Yusof, Zari and their country must pass through such an ordeal. Just as Siyavush was betrayed and killed by foreigners, so Iran has fallen among foreign thieves.
Yusof is a reincarnation of Siyavush, but he is also, in some respects at least Ali Ahmad. Yusof argues and negotiates with tribal leaders, communists, quietists and collaborators. It is clear that he has found his own way, but what that way is (apart from resistance to foreign humiliation) is not so clear. His rather vague ideas on social and economic problems have a fortuitous similarity to those of the Young England group who gathered round Disraeli in the 1840s. Yusof. the romantic traditionalist, is a benevolent landlord to his peasants. He extends a similar protective paternalism to his wife. Zari never ceases to love and revere her husband, but she will in the end break free from the garden in which he kept her captive.
Savushun is not the sociopolitical treatise that some of the above may suggest. It is a meandering novel about fallible human beings, who are confused about what is happening and confused, too. about their role in a country which in 1940 (and in the 1960s) had lost its sense of direction. At first, incident follows incident as in an unedited diary. Threads of plot are picked up and dropped, but slowly those threads are drawn together in a phantasmagoric modern dress version of the betrayal and martyrdom of Siyavush.


Publishers Weekly
(October 26, 1990)

The original edition of Daneshvar's archetypal Persian novel about the devastating effects of British occupation on southern Iran during WW II has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was first published in 1969. External events-so critical to the narrative's development - are related largely second hand; told from the perspective of Zari, the wife of an upperclass landowner, the novel examines her highly proscribed role. Zari is a complex figure, unafraid to question her society's mores. When her husband, Yusof, refuses to sell his harvest to the British against the advice of his brother, a collaborator, he sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the novel's explosive and tragic end. Yusof, intrigued by the communist philosophy of the Soviets then occupying northern Iran, agrees to help rebel tribal chieftains and supplies them with food and advice. Against a backdrop of intrigue and infighting, Daneshvar describes Yusof's essential decency and Zari's quiet heroism; Persian folklore and myth are expertly woven into modern setting in this powerfully resonant work.


San Francisco Review Of Books

Given the official enmity between the U.S. and Iran over the past decade, it is encouraging to see Iranian literature being translated into English and made available to American audiences. Iran has a rich literary tradition reaching back over a thousand years, one that continues to resonate within its modern literature. Savushun, the first modern novel authored by an Iranian woman, has received sufficient attention to merit translation into English twice in the last two years.
In 1990, Simin Daneshvar's bestseller Savushun was translated and published by Mage Publishers, the Washington D C based publisher that specializes in topics and titles relating to the Middle East and to Iran in particular. The second translation, to be published this March by George Braziller, has been given an English title: A Persian Requiem. Of the two translations, Mr. Ghanoonparvar's provides a more accurate and artistic rendering of the Persian text. Ms. Zand's translation, while competent, omits important details and fails to capture some significant nuances that illuminate Iranian society for outsiders. The Mage version also includes a useful glossary and a thoughtful introduction by Brian Spooner.
To some extent, the novel is influenced by Daneshvar's own relationship with her writer husband, Jalal Ale Ahmad, a notable critic of Western domination in Iran and the Pahlavi dynasty's subservience to it. This novel's exploration of a key period provides insights into the emerging nationalism that would later result in the Iranian revolution, and serves to enlighten readers about the roots of Iranian resentment towards the West. Daneshvar, who still lives in Iran, is the precursor of all the Iranian female writers who have vastly enriched the texture and tone of the nation's literature, both before and after the revolution. The novel takes place in Shiraz, the southern capital of the historically important province of Fars, which was occupied by British troops from 1941 to l945.

The central characters belong to the local landowning class, and despite their relative comfort, they are also directly affected by the occupation. Beyond suffering the famine and disease that plague all of Iran because of the prolonged occupation of two major armies, the family of Khan and Yusof Kaka finds itself divided politically. Yusof, the younger of the two brothers, opposes the presence of the foreign armies and those Iranians who were collaborators. His older brother Khan, a politically ambitious man, cooperates with the foreign army officials in order to secure a position in the local government, which during the war was almost completely controlled by the British. Although the book never directly implicates the Shah's government, it certainly poses questions about the Western penetration of Iran in this period. The story is told from the perspective of Zari, Yusof's wife; although it concerns the war and the influence of capitalist and communist ideologies in an Islamic country, the main field of action is Zari's development as she encounters the injustices of her society and dares to question them. Initially aroused by her rebellious but essentially decent husband, who challenges the government and is martyred for his efforts, Zari comes into her own as a woman of conscience despite her traditionally prescribed roles of wife, mother, and provider of charity. When Yusof refuses to sell his harvest to the British against the advice of his brother Khan, he sets in motion a chain of events that lead to the story's tragic end.

Daneshvar's novel represents a work of great importance on several levels. First published in Iran in 1969, it has been reprinted sixteen times. With over 500,000 copies sold, it remains one of the most widely read novels in that country. Few works of Iranian fiction deal with the World War II occupation of Iran by British and Russian forces, a period of immense historical significance for Iran. In addition to being an important literary document to historical events, Savushun represents a pioneering attempt to probe the multifaceted aspects of Iranian womanhood in a period of great social and political upheaval.


Kirkus Reviews
(October 1, 1990)

A best-selling novel in Iran since its publication in 1969j this translation marks the US debut of Iran's leading woman writer. Set in WW II Iran (the country, then called Persia was occupied by the Soviets and British to thwart any German takeover of the oil fields), Savushun (meaning "hope") is as much about one woman's growth as it is about how to live honorably in uncertain times. Zari, a young wife and mother of three, has always wanted to live her life in the traditionally feminine way by maintaining a loving and peaceful home and avoiding confrontations. Her husband, Yusof, a man of honor and principle who refuses to become involved in the various factions who are beholden to the British or the Russians believes it his duty to feed his peasants rather than sell his estate's produce at great profit to one side or another. Yusof is the paradigmatic man of honor, of virtue and moderation, the kind who is too often an anomaly when situations are polarized. As family members, old friends and political adversaries plot, and typhus and famine become endemic, Zari increasingly realizes that she can no longer be passive and fearful of action. When Yusof dies in a politically motivated assassination, the grieving Zari finally renounces her fears and doubts and resolves to live like Yusof (to "be brave while alive and for the living").

Daneshvar lovingly details the old Persian customs and way of life. And the conflict between an understandable yearning for peace and tranquillity in the face of change and tragedy is movingly evoked. It is a sympathetic but never sentimental account of one woman's rite of passage. A timely and welcome debut.


USA Today
(January 3, 1991)

Among the year's other foreign fiction there appeared some interesting exotica. Savushun is an engrossing chronicle of life in Persia-just-turned-Iran by Simin Daneshvar, famed as the first Iranian woman to publish a novel. Her compassionate vision of traditional folk ways surviving amid the threats of modernity (including Allied occupation) give her work a resonant universality. Recent events only strengthen her position as a writer deserving a wider audience.


Washington Post Book World

Since its publication 20 years ago, Savushun has enjoyed a wide circulation in Iran. For Western readers the novel not only offers an example of contemporary Iranian fiction; it also provides a rare glimpse of the inner workings of an Iranian family. Such a prospect is even more intriguing because the novel is written from a woman's point of view, by an Iranian woman writer whose life covers one of the most turbulent periods in Iran's history.

Simin Daneshvar, who was born in 1921, has been writing fiction as well as essays on aesthetics and on classical Persian literature since the early 1950s. It was Savushun, however, that established hers as a distinct literary voice. The novel is dedicated to her late husband, Jalal Al Ahmad, also a renowned fiction writer. His passionate attacks on the corrupting influence of Western culture on Iranian society proved, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran a few years later, to have been prophetic. It is not surprising, therefore, that Daneshvar addresses this topic in her novel but she does so from a completely different perspective.

Foreign interference is only one of the many oppressions that her main character, Zari, has to endure. In fact at times a greater oppression is exerted by Zari's own family, although she doesn't complain about it or even appear to notice it. She does love her family and her culture deeply and is drawn to the radical ideas of her husband, a landowner who hates the foreign interference in the government and the exploitation of the poor peasants.

It is late spring, 1943, and Iran is under Allied occupation-Russian in the north, American in the center and British in the south. The men around Zari-her husband and teenaged son and two tribal leaders-are conspiring against the government and its foreign functionaries. Zari is in sympathy with them, but their daring frightens her. Unlike them, she doesn't glorify death and destruction. Only one individual, an old woman, shares Zari's worries. Khanom Fatemeh's sharp eyes don't miss much, and she never hesitates to speak her mind. Zari, in contrast, avoids confronting anyone with her objections.

During the wedding ceremony that opens the novel, Zari is tricked into "lending" her emerald earrings to the bride, the governor's youngest daughter. Later, she is forced to "sell" her son's favorite mare to the same bride. She gives in to protect her husband's safety, but she is afraid to tell him about it. "I wanted to tell you about the earrings, but you were already so angry, and I didn't want to snake it worse. It's always like that . . . to keep peace in the family."

The pattern is for Zari to be left alone to handle dirty deals of this kind, after which she is blamed for her lack of gumption. Nevertheless, she adores her husband, because he combines for her the images of a dashing landowner and a confident, British educated intellectual. Only during her regular charity visits to the mental hospital does she seem to free herself from the confines of his abstract social theories. Human suffering has a special appeal for her. It helps her to feel a tangible link with the tragic heroes of the past. The murder of the preIslamic hero Siavosh (from whom the novel takes its title) or the martyrdom of the Shiite saint Hossein seems reenacted around her every day.

At the end, when she suffers her own loss, she is triumphant; she is Zaynab, Hossein sister, at the scene of the massacre. She has lost everything except her defiance and her eloquence. Her conclusion is a sobering one: "If only the world were in the hands of women, Zari thought. Women give birth. That is, they are creators, and they know the value of their creation, the value of endurance, patience, monotony, and being unable to do anything for oneself. Perhaps because men have never been creators, they'll take any risk to create something."

Despite her love for life and her eloquence in grief, we feel a bit disappointed that Zari is not more outspoken. After all, Zaynab herself voiced her protests even in captivity. Aside from this, Savushun is a very engaging saga. Daneshvar manages to avoid the awkward, affected mannerisms that still obscure much Iranian writing. Hers is the colorful voice of a housewife in an old family from Shiraz. Those southern ladies are famous for their spicy conversation - a brew of folkloric expression and historical, religious and mythic references. One might find fault here and there with an out of-context narrative, such as a report from a distant battlefield or the inclusion of an Irish correspondent's short story in it's entirety, but the novel's overall originality and interesting characters make up for these.

What is harder to overcome is the stilted English translation. I hope the reader won't become discouraged by passages like this: "But when one faces nothing but dejection and despair, one feels that one has become like refuse, a corpse, or a carcass discarded . . . " The sentence "My father, Mirza Ali Akbar Khan, was an unbeliever" is translated as "My father was Mirza Ali Akbar Khan the Infidel"-a significant difference in nuance. Mage Publishers, a Washington-based firm specializing in translations of Persian literature, should be congratulated for introducing us to this work. On the other hand, I wish this book bore evidence of editing by someone whose mother tongue is English.


Middle East Journal
(Vol. 45, #4, Autumn 1991)

Fictional works that have been enormously successful with their original audience appear to be natural objects for translation. If a story has fascinated multitudes of readers in one contemporary culture, it is felt that the work must contain some elements that would appeal to a larger audience. Although removed from the work's language based cultural specificity, the latter is assumed to share something of the basic humanity of the characters, the situations in which they are placed, and their responses to those situations. The novel also must in some way encapsulate something essential to its original culture and be, to an extent, reflective of life in it. Therefore an appeal to audiences beyond the linguistic and cultural boundaries of the original work would seem to be assured.

The book under review here is an example. First published in 1969, Savushun has sold over half a million copies, many times a record for a work of modern Persian literature. It tells the story of an upright, idealistic young man who fights corruption, injustice, and the foreign occupation of his country like a hero and dies a true martyr. As the first and the most remarkable novel written by an Iranian woman in monarchical Iran, it features in its central character, Zari, the most significant female fictional character in the entire body of literature of this period. Caught between family concerns and the just struggle of her virtuous husband, Zari embodies the fate of so many Iranian women of the past century who have lost their fathers, husbands, or sons to a ruthless power structure determined to ensure its survival at any cost. In short, Savushun has all the makings of a well-told story, which may guide the reader to glimpses of life in contemporary Iran often inaccessible through sociocultural research projects.

This important cultural document has now been made available to English-speaking readers through the efforts of an expert translator, a reputable Western scholar of contemporary Iran, and a publisher that is emerging as a leading force in producing works of Persian literature in English translation. M.R. Ghanoonparvar's rendering of the story into English is unadventurous, correct, almost clinical; a result of experience and expertise gained through many years spent primarily in translating works of modern Persian literature into English. Brian Spooner's brief, sevenpage introduction succinctly highlights the story's significance and prepares the reader for the reading ahead. To this Mage Publishers have added their talent for presenting books that make contributions to crosscultural communication visually attractive. Put together, these qualities seem to do all that can be done to make a literary translation a successful work in its own right.

And yet, Savushun will probably not make it to the bestseller list for reasons that are not far to seek. In a culture where it takes a devastating war to bring an area of the world to public attention, only to watch it recede into oblivion after a few days of relative calm and quiet, there is not much hope for a single book to make an impression, whatever the effort to enable it to communicate its message to American readers. The present-day American literary culture has been turned into a relatively closed system in relation to works from what is conveniently termed the Middle East. Complacent in its feeling of superiority, the American system of publication and distribution will doubtless bury Savushun under a huge heap of hate propaganda, in paperback editions available at corner book stores, to satisfy the passing curiosity of American readers about the Middle East. Such works will be accepted by millions of Americans as reflective of life there, while Savushun will probably be read by those least in need of correcting their impressions of the Middle East.

Under such conditions, the best one can expect is for that most important of the marginalized institutions, the university, to carry the burden. Savushun does indeed have all the characteristics of a good reading for any undergraduate course in contemporary Middle Eastern cultures, provided it is placed in the context of the structure of power in modern Iran.


Choice Magazine
(June 1991)

Joining the numerous Iranian novels that are now available in English translation and that deserve places on shelves in public and university libraries is this 1969 novel by Simin Daneshvar (b. 1921), Iran's most famous woman writer of fiction, a sampling of whose short stories and views on literature makes up Daneshvar's Playhouse. Savushun is important for many reasons. It is the best-selling Persian novel ever in Iran. It was the first published Iranian novel by a woman writer. It is one of only a dozen or fewer serious, interpretive Iranian fictions to date that feature a female protagonist delineated from a feminine perspective. Its protagonist embodies traits, self-questioning, and quandaries found in many educated Iranian women, meaning that Savushun can serve as an important window into a room in Iranian culture not often visited or accurately described.


Review Office of the Netherlands Public Libraries (1991)

Savushun is a Persian symbol for hope, against hope really. Around the figure of an initially happy young wife and mother, a picture is given of how people lived in the "fairy tale town" of Shiraz during the British Indian occupation of Iran in the Second War. In a society corrupt at all levels, depicted with great penetration, decent and well intentioned people like Zari and her Yusof are predestined for victimization. Striking descriptions of family relationships among Persians with leanings to the West during the forties, that since its publication in 1969 found half a million readers. Not really difficult to read provided one uses the introduction, the list of characters and the glossary at the back of the book. The reader soon gets used to the stylistic and narrative peculiarities. The tragic events are predictable to some degree but after all this is not meant to be a story of suspense. Handsomely produced evocative jacket with a collage of Persian title motifs. The author, now about 70, has studied in America but is still living in Iran.

The picture of button in persian

 

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