But one thing remains unchanged: Those in power in Iran continue to regard him and his work as subversive. Dowlatabadi said, weighing his words carefully in an interview during a visit to New York this spring for the PEN World Voices Festival of international literature. The story unfolds on one rainy night as the colonel is trying to retrieve and bury the body of his youngest daughter, who has been tortured to death for handing out leaflets criticizing the new regime. Dowlatabadi was called in for questioning.

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Shelves: fiction , literature , mideast , politics , true-crime , historical-novel This summer the Iranian government issued a postage stamp on the novelist Dowlatabadis 74th birthday commemorating his lifetime of work. Despite the regimes professed respect for the art of the novelist, Dowlatabadis The Colonel is still not published in his own country. It relates the story of a man, a military man of discipline and principles, who appears torn asunder by the change sweeping his country and his family in light of the revolution against the Shah which was the end of a 2,year history of monarchies.

His wife is dead by his own hand for her adultery, and three of his children have been killed, two for their anti-Islamic tendencies, and one as a martyr for the cause of the new Islamic state under Khomeini. Two children remain, but the eldest son is sunk in an unresponsive nihilism as a result of the failure of the Communist faction he supported, and his daughter Farzaneh is married to an opportunist who shifts his allegiances with the changing political leadership.

We cannot enjoy the original Persian, but we can see the straightforward way in which he draws his characters, exposing their weaknesses and failures while at the same time acknowledging that one could not have done differently.

But now he could not help but wonder whether the dreadful fate that had overtaken every one of his children was in fact due to his laissez-faire approach. But no, this did not really provide the old man with an easy answer, either. He firmly believed that he had bequeathed to his children only the most natural of rights, namely the right to determine what they wanted to do with their lives He felt that he had been short-changed by never having had the freedom to live his own life.

This made him feel like some sort of cripple At least one of you should look out for himself. He describes the total confusion and uncertainty among family members and the general populace for years after the revolution when the political winds shifted to and fro.

He describes the agony of a parent who is despised by his children and who has to bury his tortured year-old daughter on a rainy night without help from his family. He describes the guilt and desperation of educated and serious patriots who no longer believed in god or goodness as a result of what they have seen and how their understanding of their most basic rights as humans felt violated.

Even though I have not had much opportunity to read Persian literature, there can be little doubt about how such an open and painful account of despair would be received by a sitting government. And yet, for his other work which is widely hailed in Iran as unique and masterful, Dowlatabadi is respected and honored by the postage stamp in his honor.

They follow orders to the letter and call what they do acts of heroism. Can we blame them? What about us, the people who send these unformed lumps of soft putty out onto the street, where they fall into the arms of the first merchants of villainy they come across?

And we just sit back and wait for them to be turned into rods to beat our own backs

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