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 story is set in Shiraz—a city of wine, roses, nightingales, and poets, and home to Shams al-Din Mohammed Hafez, Iran’s best-loved and most renowned poet. Hafez appears in the novel as the young man Shams al-Din; the story is narrated by Mohammed Golandam, Shams al-Din’s best friend and brother-in-law.
Amir Mobarez al-Din Mozaffer has recently conquered the city of Shiraz and attempts to establish a particularly austere and religious way of life amongst its inhabitants. While other poets pivot to the new court seeking the patronage of the new ruler, Shams al-Din refuses to accept the advice of some of his well-meaning acquaintances to do likewise. As court poet to the previous ruler, Shams al-Din shuns the new court and instead composes satirical poetry that mocks the new leader as well as the hypocrisy of the new elite:
More than the atrocities and blood shedding of the new sultan, what was intolerable to Shams al- Din was his hypocrisy, which, in his eyes, is the lowest act of moral character and the height of baseless and vileness. Amir Mobarez stresses the mandate to close taverns and presents this as the most important of his steps to cleanse and purify society. Yet, by witness of some of those close to him, he still has secret wine-drinking parties, despite his outward repentance. To reveal this hypocrisy, Shams al-Din has complained in one of his lyric poems about the closing of taverns in particular:
They closed the doors of the taverns. O God!
Let them not open the doors of the house of deceit and hypocrisy.
Court poets already jealous of Shams al-Din’s existing talent and fame conspire against him, at every opportunity bringing his life into danger. Shams al-Din is oblivious to these dangers and preoccupied in his love for the city of Shiraz; instead, his attraction to the female poet Jahan Khatun is such that it inspires evocative poetic verse:
O you, whose every shape and every bit is fair,
My heart is joyous from the coquetry of your sweet ruby lips.
Your soul is as soft as a fresh rose petal.
You are slender and tall like the cypress of paradise.
Your demeanor and coyness are sweet and your countenance fine.
Your eyes and brows are divine, your height and figure sublime.
Despite urging from his well-wishing friends to leave his beloved city of Shiraz, Shams al-Din finds it difficult to leave the city and the woman he loves behind.
Most of the characters in Hafez in Love are historical personages who were alive at the time and may well have been personally acquainted with one another. While a work of fiction, the details of the settings and the characters are consistent with the larger body of literature on this era. ‘Obayd Zakani, a poet and essayist best known for his satire, stories and poems, features as a character in the novel as does his poetry. Jahan Malek Khatun was also a poet, and is the love interest of Shams al-Din.
Interwoven throughout the novel are selected verses of Hafez’s poetry which convey to the reader his attitudes about love, life and exposing hypocrisy. Other poets are quoted as well, especially Sheikh Sa’adi, the famous 13th-century poet of Shiraz as well as Hafez’s contemporaries Obayd Zakani and Jahan Malek Khatun.
Pezeshkzad’s Hafez in Love is an engaging insight into the lives of poets of 14th-century Persia, a novel in which he demonstrates his mastery of the art of historical storytelling. and reminds the reader that poetry is not just a vehicle for expression but also the perfect anecdote in turbulent times. The commendable English translation facilitates for English-speaking readers the appreciation of contemporary Iranian fiction as well as classical Persian poetry and prose.