An Iranian Storyteller’s Personal Revolution
After being arrested in 1974 by the Savak, the shah’s secret police, the Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi asked his interrogators just what crime he had committed. “None,” he recalled them responding, “but everyone we arrest seems to have copies of your novels, so that makes you provocative to revolutionaries.”
Since then Iranhas, of course, experienced an Islamic revolution and three decades of theocratic rule, and Mr. Dowlatabadi, now 71, has gone on to write numerous other books, including “The Colonel,” which has just been published in the United States. But one thing remains unchanged: Those in power in Iran continue to regard him and his work as subversive.
“As a writer I embarked on a path of creating epic narratives of my country, which necessarily contain a lot of history which has not been written,” Mr. 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. “But in doing that I have been required to have lots of patience, perseverance and very few expectations from life.”
“The Colonel,” a novel about the 1979 revolution and its violent aftermath, is a case in point. The five children of the title character, an officer in the shah’s army, have all taken different political paths and paid a heavy price. 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.