Island of Bewilderment: A Novel of Modern Iran, Simin Daneshvar, Patricia J Higgins (trans), Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi (trans) (Syracuse University Press, October 2022)
Island of Bewilderment: A Novel of Modern Iran, Simin Daneshvar, Patricia J Higgins (trans), Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi (trans) (Syracuse University Press, October 2022)

Twenty-six-year-old college graduate, artist, and employee of the Ministry of Art and Culture, Hasti Nourian aspires to be a “new woman”—independent-minded, strong-willed, and in control of her own destiny. A destiny that includes Morad, an idealistic young architect and artist with whom Hasti is deeply in love. Morad is a sharp critic of Iran’s Westernized bourgeois class, the one that Hasti’s mother relishes. After Hasti’s father died, her mother had married a wealthy businessman and moved to an exclusive neighborhood of northern Tehran.

Hafez in Love is an English translation of the 2004 novel Hafez-e-nashenideh pand (literally “Hafez, Heedless of Advice”) by the late author Iraj Pezeshkzad who was one of Iran’s best-known contemporary authors. He is best remembered for his satirical 1973 novel, My Uncle Napoleon which was later made into a successful television series. In Hafez in Love, Pezeshkzad—through a creative engagement with the poetry of Hafez and his contemporaries, as well as an imaginative use of historical fiction—brings the literary scene of 14th-century Iran to life.

The Kushnameh is unique, literally. Only one copy of the “Epic of Kush” exists, sitting in the British Library. Hardly anything is known about its author, Iranshah. It features a quite villainous protagonist, the tusked warrior Kush, who carves a swathe of destruction across the region. And it spans nearly half the world, with episodes in Spain, the Maghreb, India, China and even Korea.

The Medieval Iranians, no less than we today, sought answers to questions about far-away countries and events of old. We consult Google or Wikipedia. They looked into epic poetry and romances. Since literature in those days had both to entertain and instruct, the stories they read about Korea, China, Khazaria and Spain also spoke of monsters, wizards and moon-faced beauties. The biggest difference between their curiosity and ours is that they emphasized wisdom over knowledge. Even a legend can be rich in initiatic truths.