The revolution gets personal
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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 Iran has experienced an Islamic revolution and three decades of theocratic rule. Dowlatabadi, now 71, has gone on to write numerous other books, including The Colonel, just published in US. But still, those in power 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," Dowlatabadi said.
The Colonel, a novel about the 1979 revolution, 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. 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.
"It's about time everyone even remotely interested in Iran read this novel," The Independent of London said in a review. The novel was written in the early 1980s, around the time of the events it describes, when people like Dowlatabadi were called in for questioning. "I hid it in a drawer when I finished," said Dowlatabadi fearing he would be blacklisted.
The Colonel, though available in English and German, does not yet exist in an authorized Persian-language version. Dowlatabadi said he finally submitted the manuscript three years ago to censors at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which must approve all books before publication in Iran, but received no response until Iranian readers began clamouring for access to it.
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