22 Jan

Top Ten Translations from Persian in 2016

PART ONE:  ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS

The year just past brought no drastic change in the slow pace of translation from Persian literature, resulting in no more than a handful of slender volumes. The titles chosen, however, compensate for quantity. These recent translations cover an exciting range of genres and subjects that together form a polyphonic list of Persian literary practices available for enthusiastic readers.

 

I. Kalat Claimed (Drama)

  • Writer: Bahram Bayzai
  • Translator: Manouchehr Anvar
  • Publisher: Roshangaran
  • ISBN: 978-964-194-117-0

In the history of modern Iranian literature, Bahram Bayzai (b. 1938) is a towering figure who has single-handedly untertaken a wide range of activities from playwriting to directing, screenwriting, and research, to name only a few. His Kalat Claimed (فتح‌نامه‌ی کلات) was originally composed in 1982 as a play in Bayzai’s uniquely archaistic style of dramatization. An account of two generals’ dispute over the claim of a region named Kalat in time of Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia, the play enjoys Bayzai’s emblematic idealization of feminine spirit. It was first published by Damavand Books in 1984, and then reprinted by Roshangaran. In November 2016, Manouchehr Anvar’s endeavor to translate the text finally fructified after two decades, and the English version was released in 227 pages by Roshangaran, the exclusive publisher of Bayzai’s oeuvres. Although the play was never staged in Iran, fingers are now crossed for an English premiere of the piece in the U.S. where he has been living for years.

II. Rituals of Restlessness (Novel)

  • Writer: Yaghoub Yadali
  • Translator: Sara Khalili
  • Publisher: Phoneme Media
  • ISBN-13: 978-1939419828

An alluring release by Phoneme Media this year is a novel by the Iranian writer and filmmaker Yaghoub Yadali. Rituals of Restlessness won two national Iranian awards in 2004. The novel, however, put the writer in trouble in 2007 when Yadali was sentenced to one year in prison for depicting certain scenes challenging social and sexual taboos. However, with the change of the political season during the cultural ministry of Ali Jannati, the book reappeared on bookshelves. The opening of the novel promises a fun read: Engineer Kamran Khosravi is planning death in a car accident and his wife no longer stands him. Kamran’s twisted life awaits an unprecedented dark ending.

III. The Rapture: Or the Book of Sleep (Dissident Fiction)

  • Writer: I’timad-al-Saltanah
  • Translator: James D. Clark
  • Publisher: Mazda Publishers
  • ISBN: 978-1568593401

The history of English literature is replete with lettered courtiers who have gained historic fame with the might of their pens. Persian courtiers of the “Naseri Era” of Qajar Dynasty were also accomplished in pen-craft, although their works have been neglected by the literary canon for a long time. Courtiers like Mohammad Tahir Mirza Qajar and Naser-ol-Mulk Qaragozlu were among the first translators of early modern masterpieces of western civilization: Tahir Mirza translated Dumas’s Three Musketeers and Naser-ul-Mulk made a Persian version of The Merchant of Venice. Another important courtier and writer during much of Naser-al-Din Shah’s reign was I’timad-al-Saltanah, author of an outstanding dissident fiction titled The Rapture. The book opens with the narrator’s fall into sleep in a mosque at the ancient town of Saveh only to find himself among heavenly beings who are awaiting trial: the imaginary trial of the prime ministers of Qajar dynasty. The Rapture is now available in English, thanks to James D. Clark’s translation, and is published in 278 pages by Mazda Publishers. If you are interested in political parables from the Middle East, the book is meant for you.

IV. After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems

  • Poet: Hasan Sijzi
  • Translator: Rebecca Gould
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810132306

“Lacking the ruby of your lips, my eyes filled with secret pearls./ Pupil of the eye, cast your glance again/”

Some classic Persian poetry was on the shelf last year: the ‘classic’ poetry of Hasan Sijzi, also known as Amir Hasan Sijzi Dehlavi, who is considered the originator of the Indo-Persian ghazal. Perhaps a Persian equivalent of the Metaphysical sonnet with its overemphasis on far-fetched conceits, the form of ghazal has influenced a large body of poets from Hafez and Jalaleddin Rumi to contemporary Anglophone poets like John Hollander, Maxine Kumin, Agha Shahid Ali, and W.S. Merwin. The qhazals are translated by Rebecca Gould and published in 144 pages by Northwestern University Press.

V. I Hid My Voice (Bestselling Novel)

  • Writer: Parinoush Saniei
  • Translator: Sanam Kalantari
  • Publisher: House of Anansi
  • ISBN: 978-1487000837

Literature about children is a blooming genre in contemporary Iran, and Parinoush Saniei, a sociologist and psychologist, is one of the highly recommended writers in this field. Her first novel, The Book of Fate, won the Boccaccio Prize in Italy, Euskadi de Plata Prize in the Basque Country, and was selected as one of World Literature Today’s 75 Notable Translations of 2013.

In August 2016, House of Anansi Press released the English translation of her second novel, I Hid My Voice, which soon drew attentions and received positive reviews in media like Guardian and Minneapolis Star Tribune. The novel is about four-year-old Shahaab who has not started talking. Although it is regarded as normal by physicians, the ridicule the little son received is beyond his patience. To cope with the humiliating conditions, he develops an idea that all normal kids are their fathers’ sons whereas the “dumb” are their mothers’. The book has been lauded for its digging into social texture of Iran as well as its insightful portrait of the world of innocence.

VI. Eagles of Hill 60 (Novel for Young Adults)

ISBN-13: 978-1568593098

Since its establishment in 1980, Mazda Publishers has published a number of works from Persian literature under the supervision of M. R. Ghanoonparvar. Eagles of Hill 60 is the second novel by contemporary writer Mohammad-Reza Bayrami that Mazda releases after The Tales of Sabalan. Eagles of Hill 60 is both a bildungsroman and a war novel, taking as its setting the frontline in the longest and one of the most devastating wars of the twentieth century during the Iran-Iraq War. The protagonist of the story, Ahmad, is concerned with his natural environment, particularly the eagles dwelling in the nearby hill, in contrast to the reality of war that is going on around them.

The next to last but not the least positions on this year’s list are taken by a young publisher based in London, which concentrates solely on ‘Persian literature in translation.’ There are particularly three titles in Candle and Fog’s 2016 catalog that seem to respond to plurality of taste and choice. The struggle, however, as with many other small presses, is to reach global readers as quickly and easily as possible; in spite of their charm, the books are not yet in stock anywhere on Amazon or similar global book distributors.

 

VII. Haunted in Milak (Sort Stories)

  • Writer: Yousef Alikhani
  • Publisher: Candle & Fog

Originally published in Persian as “Ghadam-be-kheir Was My Grandmother” (قدم به خیر مادربزرگ من بود), the short story collection goes against the grain to tell the superstitious tales of the villagers of Milak located in Alamut region of Qazvin Province. At a time when bookshelves are jam-packed with monotonously similar urban narratives, writer and ethnic researcher Yousef Alikhani’s endeavor to document Alamouti dialect and traditions has resulted in a number of novels and short story collections whose phantasmagoric world of Persian fairies and genies is not going to stop surprising the reader.

VIII. Your’re No Stranger Here (Novel)

  • Writer: Houshang Moradi Kermani
  • Translator: Caroline Croskery
  • Publisher: Candle & Fog

Houshang Moradi Kermani’s body of work is a nostalgic resonance in the collective memory of Iranian readers for his popular Tales of Majid series. Moradi Kermani regards the book You’re No Stranger Here (شما که غریبه نیستید) as his autobiography: the lonely life of a single child in Kerman whose father is fired for lunacy and the family has to migrate to a small village behind Kerman Mountains. Its frank and lucid portrait of life-as-is with a touch of humor and tantalizing prose are probably the main reasons behind its wide reception. Caroline Croskery has recently translated this autobiographic novel by Moradi Kermani, and published it with Candle & Fog.

IX. Year of the Tree (Novel)

  • Writer: Zoha Kazemi
  • Translator: Caroline Croskery
  • Publisher: Candle & Fog

A novel by young writer Zoha Kazemi, Year of the Tree is an account of the decline of a traditional Iranian family as the female protagonist struggles to migrate to Canada. To do so, she has to abandon her brother with Down Syndrome in a sanitarium. Another translation by Caroline Croskery, the novel offers a fresh perspective of modern life in Iran.

 

X. Standing on Earth (poetry)

  • Poet: Mohsen Emadi
  • Translator: Lyn Coffin
  • Publisher: Phoneme Media
  • ISBN: 978-1944700003

Persian poetry is sugar, so says Hafez. Why not put some Persian sugar on the 2016 list? Of course not the classic rock candy that Hafez took pride in sending it off to Bengal, rather some industrial (modernist) sugar cubes dispatched to Latin America: Standing on Earth is a 120-page collection of poems by Mohsen Emadi, an Iranian poet, translator and editor based in Mexico City. The poems in this collection are themed on an autobiographic sketch of exile, memory and displacement presented through the poet’s defamiliarized perspective. The collection was translated by the American poet Lyn Coffin and published by Phoneme Media in November 2016.

 

17 Aug

Peyman Esmaeili’s Favorite Books

Peyman Esmaeili was born in 1977 in Tehran. He studied electronics engineering at Iran University of Science & Technology, meanwhile he was a member of the university’s poetry club and manager of the founding board of Nationwide Students Literary Society. He is a published writer with two short story collections Snow and Cloud Symphony (winner of Mehregan, Golshiri and Press Critics & Awards) and Reach Your Raincoat Pockets (praiseworthy finalist of Isfahan Literary Award), and a novel titled The Guard (2014, 2nd). Siamak, The Guard‘s protagonist, commits murder and is consequently drawn to an incandescent white limbo in the South of Iran where he has to shoulder the weight of guilt and remorse. The magic setting of the novel – ripe with a sense of horror and fear, amalgamated with a narrative in-cold-blood – recently won him the first  “40 Literary Award” (an award annually granted to the under-forty Iranian writers with a future). Here he shares his favorite reads with the Parsagoners:


PARSAGON: What are the top seven works of world literature that have influenced your life and literary career? 

ESMAEILI: I have been influenced by plenty of writers, have delighted their books and sometimes turned back to some pages in their stories for revelation. Among them I can mention the following books and writers:

  1. Heinrich Böll’s The Clown
  2. J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and short stories
  3. Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road 
  4. Stanisław Lem’a Solaris 
  5. Houshang Golshiri’s short story collection Dark Hand, Bright Hand as well as the novel Prince Ehtejab
  6. Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night and Shoughterhouse-Five
  7. James Graham Ballard’s Crash and Empire of the Sun as well as short story collections

 

PARSAGON: Which seven successful Persian literary works would you recommend for translation into other languages?

ESMAEILI: Among Iranian stories I would like to mention the following, each of which has been inscribed in my mind as a pretty pattern in the art of story writing, and whose translation into other languages could help share their beauty with other people and cultures. I am trying to mostly focus on the new generation of Iranian story writers as their books provide an introduction to contemporary Iranian fiction:

  1. Scorpion on Andimeshk Railway Stairs and The Concert of Forbidden Tars by Hossein Mortezaeian Abkenar
  2. Fifty Degrees Above Zero and Roving Under Haloxylon Tress by Ali Changizi
  3. Laughter in the House of Solitude by Bahram Moradi
  4. Partridge Hunting by Reza Zangi-Abadi
  5. The Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali
  6. Hush and Fault Time by Mohammadreza Kateb
  7. Like A Scent in Breeze by Razieh Ansari

    photo: Hamid Janipour | Graph Studio

 

 

 

 

 

11 Apr

Elli Dehnavi Recommends

Dehnavi-elliBorn in 1980 in Mashhad, Elli Dehnavi is a writer, editor, and literary translator who also does academic research on Middle Eastern cinema and literature. She studied English Literature, and started writing stories and translating works of fiction and critical theory in her early twenties. She is the author of Burnt Papers (Kaqazhaye Sookhteh), a collection of short stories that was published in 2011 in Tehran. She was the editor of Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature for two issues, one on Literature and Identity, and the other on the Literature, Culture, and Cinema of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. At the moment, she is preparing a second collection of short stories. Parsagon asked her about her favourite works of literature and cinema by women.

 

Parsagon: What are the top seven works in World Literature and Cinema by women that you have read in the past couple of years?

Dehnavi: Well, I can definitely tell you about the works I admire, the ones that have stayed with me. I would like to focus on contemporary works of fiction and non-fiction if it’s fine with you.

  1. Alice Munro’s “Walker Brother’s Cowboy”
  2. Joyce Carol Oates’ “Deceit”
  3. Hanan Al Shaykh’s The story of Zahra
  4. Sally Potter’s Orlando
  5. Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
  6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus
  7. Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness

Parsagon: What are the top seven works by Iranian women writers or filmmakers that you admire?

Dehnavi: My favourite list is much longer but here is a small selection.

  1. Simin Daneshvar’s Sovashun
  2. Shirin Neshat’s Women without Men
  3. Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries
  4. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s The May Lady
  5. Farkhondeh Aqai’s Az Sheitan Amookht va Soozand (Learnt From Satan, and Burnt)
  6. Fariba Vafi’s The Dream of Tibet
  7. Susan Taslimi’s A Hell Let Loose
25 Mar

Natasha Moharramzadeh’s Top Reads

10171040_10202402654614676_4233446792027693927_nNatasha Moharramzadeh was born in 1979 in the northern city of Lahijan. She holds an MA degree in Art Research from the Art University of Tehran, but is mostly known as an aspiring writer and dramatist. Natasha started her literary career in 2000 by writing plays and stories which soon brought her fame as well as a number of awards and positions such as:

Winner of the 6th Youth Poetry & Fiction Congress in Bandar Abbas (2004), nominee of Golshiri and Mehregan Awards for “It’s Past Death Time” (2005), twice winner of nationwide Qesas Festival for “Fancy of the Nile” (2007) and “Sign” (2009), finalist of Alborz Provincial Festival, winner of the 16th Iran International Festival of University Theater for the play “The Wall” (2011) and praiseworthy winner of the first Festival of Iran Foundation of Dramatic Literature (2013). Natasha’s debut short story collection, “They Die for Your Dress” was published by Hila Publications in 2014, while three of her plays collected in a book titled “Venus and the Plastic Pitcher” is awaiting publication by Ilia. Also, she has translated a collection of Sherwood Anderson’s short stories together with Reza Sotoudeh, which has just been released by Negah Publications (2014).

We asked Natasha about her best reads of world literature and her recommendations of the often neglected productions of contemporary Persian drama.


PARSAGON: What are the top seven works of world literature that have influenced your life and literary career?How?

MOHARRAMZADEH: 

  1. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  2. One Thousand and One Nights
  3. Caligula by Albert Camus
  4. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  5. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  6. Three Tales from the Life of Knulp by Herman Hesse
  7. The Unbearable Lightness of Things by Milan Kundera

You had asked me to write about my choices. The fact is that if all the books of the world are to burn and I’m allowed to take one book out of all the books, I would definitely pick Caligula – the quintessence of human beings’ perpetual sorrows, rebellions and desiring selves. What can I say about Waiting for Godot proportionate to its grandeur? Almost nothing. Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler was life per se, and just like some moments in real life, it made me lose my breath. Dox Quixote is the greatest and most precious tragic work I have ever seen. Tears I have shed for the cavalier and I have smiled with his loyal Sancho Panza, always wondering why Shakespeare is so definitely taken as the only tragedian who managed to accompany smiles with catastrophe.

I have admired One Thousand and One Nights for the existential anxiety in the spirit of the work. And Herman Hesse’s Knulp keeps me believing in humanity, honor and friendship even in the midst of despair. Therefore, I cannot cross out Herman Hesse from my favorite list in spite of many other desirable choices like Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Simon de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, etc.

 

PARSAGON: Would you introduce seven successful Persian literary works including drama, fiction or poetry that are worth attention or translatino to other languages?

MOHARRAMZADEH: I believe that we have so many young talents in playwriting, yet these plays never get published because of the publishers’’ lack of interest. I often face such works in regional festivals, and sometimes many wonderful texts cannot reach shortlists to Fajr Festival because of poor directing or acting qualities, and so are forgotten soon. It’s painful to see that they don’t even get a chance to get published in their native language. Among contemporary renowned dramatists I only mention Alireza Naderi, Nader Borani-Marand, Mohammad Yaghubi, Jamsid Khanian, Hamidreza Azarang, Hamidreza Naimi and Homayun Ghanizadeh only to give more room to less known young writers like Ali Saghafi and Reza Shahbodaghi from Tehranm Keyvan Khosrow-Moradi, Yousef Fakhrayi, Vahid Darvishi and me from Guilan; Fatemeh Makari from Mazandaran; Sahra Ramezanian from Khorasan; Peyman Daneshmand from Kurdistan; Naser Habibian, Arash Abbasi, Hossein Safi and Sajdad Tahmasebi from Hamadan; Abdolreza Faridzadeh from Lorestan, Arman Tiran from Fars, Mohammadreza Zandi from Kermanshah, Ali Heidari from Khuzestan, Reza Garshasb from Buyerahmad, Milad Akbarnejad from Fars, Mohammadreza Kouhestani from Qom,…

I have no expertise in poetry. As for fiction, the works of my choice might have already been translated. In my choice, besides the strength of the stories, I have also paid attention to the works that are less language-based and hence, are more translatable:

  1. The Native Boy (پسرک بومی), by Ahmad Mahmoud
  2. Azar, the Last Season of Autumn (آذر ماه آخر پاییز) by Ebrahim Golestan
  3. The Fortunate Frenzied (آشفته حالان بیداربخت) by Gholamhossein Sa’edi
  4. The Trench and the Empty Canteens (سنگر و قمقمه‌های خالی) by Bahram Sadeqi
  5. Stories by Houshang Golshiri, like ‘The Great Explosion’ and ‘The Layl Tree’
  6. Through Glass, Through Fog by Ali Khodaei
  7. Azadeh Khanom and Her Writer by Reza Baraheni and Game: Engineering a Novel by Qasem Kashkoli, as representatives of Iranian Postmodern Fiction

There are definitely many more writers of quality. For instance, Reza Ghassemi is my favorite writer and would be my eighth choice. I admire Bahram Heidari and Hormoz Shahdadi’s Night of Fright or Baraheni’s Mysteries of My Homeland offers valuable historical and fictional information to overseas readers. But we should not take it for granted that translating our fictional literature is a historic service, and we should let the translator give his/her own literary taste a high priority for such a great endeavor. For sure a work of art that is done wholeheartedly would finally attract hearts.

30 Dec

Top 2014 Literary Translations From Persian

The year just passed was not that fruitful in the number of Persian literary works translated into English; the list hardly exceeds ten. In terms of choice and quality, however, the books have a lot to say:

1. Nima Youshij: Modern Persian Poetry

Nima-YoushijTranslated by Somaye Talebi & Leila Rasouli | Candle & Fog Publications | Paperback: 152 Pages | 2014 |  ISBN: 9789642667710

Nima Youshij (born as Ali Esfandyari in 1897) is perhaps the most important pillar of what is known today as modern poetry. His new style of poetry, which was named after him as Nimaic, breaks from the chains of classic Arouz (Arabic prosody) and by fabricating a kind of blank verse with loyalty to internal rhythm paved the way for the glorification of modern Persian free verse.

In this peerless book, two young translators have collected and translated a number of critical notes on Nima’s poetry and vision by thirty-tree eminent Iranian literati such as  Akhavan Saless, Y. Ariyanpour, Darush Ashouri, Reza Baraheni, Simin Behbahani, Forough Farrokhzad, Natel Khanlari, Nosrat Rahmani, Ahmad Shamlou… and Shafi’ei Kadkani. The second chapter then offers tenacious translations of the best known pieces of Nima’s poetry.

2.  Mirror of Dew: The Poetry of Alam-Taj Zhale Qa’em-Maqami

Translated by Asghar Seyed-Gohrab | Paperback – July 7, 2014 | Ilex Foundation | 978-0674428249

Mirror of Dew introduces one of Iran’s outstanding female poets, whose work has not previously been available in English. Zhāle Qā’em-Maqāmi (1883-1946) was a witness to pivotal social and political developments in Iran during its transition to modernity. Her poetry is deeply personal but includes social critique and offers a rare window into the impact of a modern awareness on private lives. She might be called the Emily Dickinson of Persian poetry, although Zhāle was married, against her will.

 

3. Thirst: a novel of Iran-Iraq war by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Translated by Martin E. Weir | Pages128 | ISBN9781612193007 | June, 2014 | Melville House Books

Thirst (or in Persian طریق بسمل شدن) is an account of an Iraqi journalist’s tour of a military prison. The Major in charge of the camp informs the writer of what is expected: he is to write a fabricated report about a murder that has occurred in the camp, with the aim of demoralizing Iranian soldiers. Reluctant to write the report, the writer spends a long night talking and drinking with the Major and detailing a work of fiction he is composing about a group of soldiers trapped on a hill, dying of thirst as they battle for a water tank with a group of enemy soldiers perched on the opposite hill. The tank remains undamaged, but neither group has a hope of reaching it without being killed…

4. The Israeli Republic: a travelogue by Jalal Al-e Ahmad

 Translated by Samuel Thrope | Restless Books | January 2014 | 71 Pages | Ebook Format

A travelogue written byone of the leading intellectuals of Iran a decade before the 1979 Revolution. Documenting Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s two-week-long trip to Israel in February of 1963, “Journey to the Land of Israel” caused a firestorm when it was published in Iran, upsetting the very revolutionary clerics whose anti-Western sentiments Al-e Ahmad himself had fueled. His enthusiasm having cooled down, Al-e Ahmad seems to have changed his views later on. Still, this is an interesting piece of historical value to read and know about.

5. The Shipwrecked: Contemporary Stories by Women from Iran

Translated by Sarah Khalili, Faridoun Farrokh | Edited by  Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone | Paperback: December 2014 | The Feminist Press at CUNY

A hot from the oven book by Feminist Press which has collected a number of stories by contemporary Iranian women in the aftermath of revolution. The publisher has, unfortunately, offered no list of writers or stories included in the collection. An interesting book by title and theme, for whose assessment we have a whole year before us.

6. Democracy or Demo-Crazy

By Seyed Mehdi Shojai | Translated by Caroline Croskery | May 2014 | Candle & fog Publications | 184 pages | 978-9642667802

The title of this book is tantalizing as the story has apprently nothing to do with democracy, with the demo-somethings being in fact five sons of an imaginary king who is fond of naming his male offsprings as demo-things. The last of them, born blind and deformed, was popularized as ‘Demo-Crazy’. Sometimes compared by public readers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Democracy or Demo-Crazy as a novel has encouraged allegorical readings that is as universal as the former and would not disappoint its readers.

7. Tehran Noir: short story collection

Edited by Salar Abdoh | 2014 Akashic Books | 280 Pages | 978-1617753008

Akashic Books continues its series of original noir anthologies, now with a book set in Tehran. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

As the title suggests, Tehran Noir is another volume of the series which attempts in the noir fashion to pinpoint darker sides of life in other countries. The result is a couple of collections that I bet are unfavorable by Post-colonialist critics.

In this collection you will read stories by contemporary writers like Danial Haghighi, Vali Khalili, Lily Farhadpour, Mahsa Mohebali, Aida Moradi Ahani, Farhad Heidari Gooran, Yourik Karim-Masihi, Azardokht Bahrami…and Hossein Abkenar.