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We mourn the death of Simin Daneshvar, who died in Iran on 8 March 2012. Her book A Persian Requiem was the most widely read Iranian book of its era.
"For the generation that came of age in the 1970s — and gave birth to the revolution that convulsed their country at the end of that decade — Ms. Daneshvar was the indispensible literary inspiration."
New York Times
Read her obituaries here:
New York Times
A Persian Requiem is a powerful and evocative novel. Set in the northern Persian town of Shiraz in the last ears of World War II, when the British army occupied the south of Persia, the novel chronicles the life of Zari, a traditional, anxious and superstitious woman whose husband, Yusef, is an idealistic feudal landlord. The occupying army upsets the balance of traditional life and throws the local people into conflict. Yusef is anxious to protect those who depend upon him and will stop at nothing to do so. His brother, on the other hand, thinks nothing of exploiting his kinsmen to further his own political ambitions. Thus a web of political intrigue and hostilities is created, which slowly destroys families. In the background, tribal leaders are in open rebellion against the government, and a picture of a society torn apart by unrest emerges.
In the midst of this turbulence, normal life carries on in the beautiful courtyard of Zari’s house, in the rituals she imposes upon herself and in her attempt to keep the family safe from external events. But the corruption engendered by occupation is pervasive – some try to profit as much as possible from it, others look towards communism for hope, whilst yet others resort to opium. Finally even Zari’s attempts to maintain normal family life are shattered as disaster strikes.
An immensely moving story, A Persian Requiem is also a powerful indictment of the corrupting effects of colonialization.
A Persian Requiem (first published in 1969 in Iran under the title Savushan), was the first novel written by an Iranian woman and, sixteen reprints and half a million copies later, it remains the most widely read Persian novel. In Iran it has helped shape the ideas and attitudes of a generation in its revelation of the factors that contributed to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Simin Daneshvar was born into a provincial, middle-class family in Shiraz in 1921, educated at a missionary school and later at Tehran University. The comparatively relaxed political environment of the forties in Iran let her to choose journalism as her first career, and she began writing fiction at the same time. She subsequently married Jalal Al-e Ahmad, the leading Iranian intellectual and writer, received her doctorate from Tehran University and won a Fulbright scholarship to Stanford University. Upon her return to Iran she became an associate professor of art history at Tehran University. She was an articulate and outspoken lecturer and her promotion was hindered by Savak, the secret police.
After her husband’s untimely death in 1969, Daneshvar assumed a leading role in the Writer’s Association which he had helped found and she provided moral support for intellectuals opposing the Shah’s regime. After the Revolution in 1979, she retired from her University post. Since then, she has kept a low profile whilst continuing to write fiction and remaining deeply committed to her life-long concern with women and their role in Iranian society.
‘A superb insight into the Iranian past and the reason why it turned into the Iranian present.’
John Simpson, BBC World Affairs
‘Simin Daneshvar’s A Persian Requiem …goes a long way towards deepening our understanding of Islam and the events leading up to the 1979 Revolution…The central characters adroitly reflect different Persian attitudes of the time, attitudes that were eventually to harden into support for either the Ayatollah and his Islamic fundamentalism or, alternatively, for the corrupting Westernisation of the Shah. The value of the book lies in its ability to present these emergent struggles in human terms, in the day-to-day realities of small-town life … Complex and delicately crafted, this subtle and ironic book, unites reader and writer in the knowledge that human weakness, fanaticism, love and terror are not confined to any one creed.’
‘A Persian Requiem is not just a great Iranian novel, but a world classic.’
The Independent on Sunday
‘…it would be no exaggeration to say that all of Iranian life is there.’
‘For an English reader, there is almost an embarrassment of new settings, themes and ideas… Under the guise of something resembling a family saga – although the period covered is only a few months – A Persian Requiem teaches many lessons about a society little understood in the West.'
Rachel Billington, The Tablet
‘This very human novel avoids ideological cant while revealing complex political insights, particularly in light of the 1979 Iranian revolution.’
‘A Persian Requiem, originally published [in Iran ] in 1969, was a first novel by Iran ’s first woman novelist. It has seen sixteen reprints, sold over half a million copies, and achieved the status of a classic, literally shaping the ideas of a generation. Yet when asked about the specific appeal of the novel, most readers are at a loss to pinpoint a single, or even prominent aspect to account for this phenomenal success. Is it the uniquely feminine perspective, allowing the reader to travel freely between the microcosm of the family and the larger framework of society? Is it the actual plot which mimics so presciently the events of the Islamic Revolution? Or does it lie in the deftly woven anecdotes and fragments which add up to a descriptive whole? It is each and all of these, and perhaps more.’
‘Daneshvar offers a fascinating, detailed view of what seems to Western eyes the complicated, rarified world of Iranian culture.’
‘In addition to being an important literary document of historical events, [A Persian Requiem] represents a pioneering attempt to probe the multi-faceted aspects of Iranian womanhood in a period of great social and political upheaval.’
San Francisco Review of Books
‘Daneshvar combines creative vision with an exceptional talent for conveying atmosphere to give a powerful portrait of the struggles and dilemmas of ordinary individuals caught in the maelstrom of war and occupation.’
Middle East International
‘This is a colourful and accurate portrayal of Persian character and spirit, a beautifully evoked picture of traditional life in times of upheaval. Its popularity in Iran is eloquent of Persian perceptions not only of themselves but also of the role of the British in their country. Roxane Zand is to be thanked for giving the English reader the chance to enjoy this sensitive and important novel.’
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
‘A powerful portrait of a bygone era of Iranian social history.’
The Jerusalem Post
‘The enthralling tale of a Persian family set against the background of World War II and the events that changed the whole region. Not to be missed.’
‘...a revelation of freshness and vivacity...’
‘Beautifully translated, and many-layered, A Persian Requiem challenges convention, of east and west.’
‘...a great work by a great Persian writer.’
Han Suyine pieces of this exciting puzzle, and they all fit together in a dramatic conclusion.'
School Library Journal