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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Afsaneh: Short stories by Iranian Women edited by Kaveh Basmenji

by Suzan Abrams

This book of 20 unusual short stories by Iranian women edited and translated by the 47-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 pretence, hovers like a funeral wake in calling out for each story's theme, no matter the fictitous woman's joys or sorrows.

A poetic atmosphere, designed to haunt and trigger brooding reflections to its sharp introspection is what lends the reader, its lavish beauty.

No doubt, the collection has been translated as closely as possible to the original and so there is no boastful writerly approach or superficial sophisticated style one way or the other. Drawn from such faithfulness, expect the crude ie "I went there seldom" or "He smiled at me also."

Lines 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 women writers like Shahrnoosh Parsipour, Zohreh Hatami and Fereshtei Sari amongst others only serve to search a woman's heart with a resignation of never-ending sincerity and pain. 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 often where no happy ending may be celebrated on the horizon. The challenge is to capture the valuable meaning of existence. She may question not the conservative garb that she has been asked to don 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 painful everyday realities from a woman's simple heart. The message of the authors, having lived through different eras are all the same. The Iranian woman wants to love and live with equal eagerness and bountiful joy for the sole purpose of a full engagement with life; only many a time, she cannot, simply from the way destiny may have harshly and carelessly, woven its thick web around her.

*Kaveh Basmenji lives in Prague and is working on his first novel.

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