Place: Iran

Translation Tuesday: “Made in Denmark” by Mohammad Tolouei

We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket.

On the subject of the travel ban, much of the rhetoric coming out of Trump’s administration has focused on the dangers posed by immigrants. This devastating but ultimately heartwarming story by Iranian writer Mohammed Tolouei, told from the point of view of a four-year-old, conveys to us what it is like from the other side, that may not be so readily apparent to those who’ve never been forced to flee their countries. To be reckoned with, above all, in any decision to migrate, is the pain of uprooting from one’s homeland.

This short story marks the first of many in an extensive showcase we hope to bring you, spotlighting new writing—and new translations—from the seven countries Trump intends to ban. If you’d like to see more of this showcase, there’s still a week left to pitch in to our fundraiser here. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at editors@asymptotejournal.com.

We lived in a house of closed doors. The door to the veranda was closed. The third room’s door was closed. The bifolding doors to the hall were closed–we had placed an American sofa in front of them. The door of the big bathroom was closed. The basement’s door was closed. The door of the toilet in the yard was closed. The door opening to the ridge roof was closed. And so was the door of the large hall all over the springs and falls and winters because we never had enough oil to heat up the whole place. Only in summers the doors opened and I could play ping pong with my mother with the ping pong table in there. She put a bedstead below my feet so that I could reach up the table and then she tried not to strike hard returns. My mother was Iranian Girls’ Schools Champion and fond of penhold grip of the racket, while I favored shakehand. We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket, and from the very beginning I sided with the Western party.

Our styles were totally different. My mother used to hit short, tight topspins while my hits were rather long and loose. I was more at ease with sidespins while my mother made better topspins. Yet in spite of all the trophy cups Mother had received, I won because of my playing style—the victorious western style. Mother still followed Eastern methods, yet Father wanted to take us to Denmark, a place in the West that ironically paid living subsidies, unemployment compensation and allowance for the children like most socialist countries. And in order to convince my mother to leave, each day he locked up more and more doors of our house.

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Postmarked from Iran: An Open Letter to the American People

It was only after President Ahmadinejad that we became grateful for what we had, like, for example, ice water.

Dear Americans,

Hi guys. How are you? Accept my condolences on the ending of President Obama’s presidency. I’m sorry that I must also send my condolences that it’s the beginning of President Trump’s era. It’s as if spring has immediately been replaced by winter. Or as if you’re in the passenger seat of a Ferrari, the driver suddenly falls asleep, the car goes crashing in a valley; then you are brought out of the Ferrari, escorted to a horse-drawn carriage whose coachman is one who has just gotten his license. But don’t worry. I totally feel for you. My country’s president during the Eight Years Reform era was a Ferrari driver and we had so much fun. Then, well, for the eight years after him, we rode in a carriage and I really need to thank the president who rode in that carriage, because at the end of his term, he turned the rules of physics upside down and set new Guinness World Records.

You ask how? This is how: he rode the carriage forward but we kept going backward. If Einstein were alive, he would probably die of a stroke trying to solve that problem.

Anyway, don’t be too worried. This President Trump of yours will make you want to emigrate. This will be very good for you, because until now you have always seen immigrants but never been immigrants yourselves. We Iranians have widely emigrated to the U.S. ourselves. So you are more than welcome here; if you have it too hard, move here. Whatever the conditions are here, they are better than being known with Trump after Obama. Think about it: so far, we Iranians have imagined American life to be like the film The Matrix; it is truly a pity to see it as American Pie now, or something even stupider than that.

Can you believe it? Under President Ahmadinejad, we sympathized with Japan when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Since the inauguration of President Trump, perhaps you have been sympathizing with the universe during the Big Bang.

But be glad, because Mr. Trump is going to make you all grateful later. It was only after President Ahmadinejad that we became grateful for what we had, like, for example, ice water. No pill is going to cure your headache when you are furious about your president’s speeches; you’d do better to take an ice-cold shower and try to forget.

Believe me, there is no reason to panic. These days the medical field has improved a lot, and it can cure any cancerous tumor, even President Trump.

That said, one needs to be fair. President Trump might have a thousand and one vices, but he will have one great virtue. Rest assured that no matter how bad President Trump’s time in office is for everyone, it is going to be amazing for your satirists. They will have so much material they’ll be able to export half of it outside the U.S.

But President Trump has another virtue, as well: You will become so anxious that you will stop gaining weight. The Iranian people were each sixty-three kilos overweight, on average, before President Ahmadinejad. You won’t believe it, but by the day he left office, not only had we lost the extra weight, we almost disappeared. And if you get really lucky, your country will lose its extra weight, too. Our country was, for example, several thousand billions of rials and dollars thinner, and a few oil towers and gold bullion and foreign currency trailers lighter. The nation even lost millions of tons of its weight as a result of the decimation of buildings, forests, and lakes.

By the way, President Trump’s slogans are similar to President Ahmadinejad’s in that he keeps making promises to workers. I suggest that, no matter what your job, always hide a thousand dollars under your pillow, because these politicians, whenever they say they want to do a good job and benefit us, the first thing they do is take our jobs from us.

Truth is, if I were you, I would exchange all my dollars to rials. Why? Because if President Trump does to your economy what President Ahmadinejad did to ours, you will suddenly find yourselves able to buy only one can of Pepsi with one thousand dollars.

Also, why are you so troubled by President Trump’s anti-women talk? You should not forget President Clinton, who cheated on his wife and, of course, on you, while in the White House. Psychologists believe that people who appear to be nice are more likely to do bad things in their own homes and in the White House. Let’s hope that President Trump is all talk and no action. If President Clinton, who did not talk of such things at all, carried such acts, imagine what President Trump, who already talks of them, could do; if he is to act, you need to worry about the White House’s female cats and birds.

Anyway, as Americans would say, God bless you.

And, as Iranians would say, God bestow upon you real patience.

Yours truly,
Pouria Alami

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi. This piece was originally published in Persian in two installments in Shargh newspaper on January 22nd and 23rd, 2017

Pouria Alami is a thirty-five-year-old satirist, journalist, and writer, based in Tehran, Iran. He has a daily sociopolitical satire column in Shargh newspaper, the largest independent newspaper in the country. He is the author of eleven books and teaches journalism, satire, and creative writing, as extracurricular classes in various universities. His work has also appeared in English in World Literature Today.

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Our Fundraiser Is Now Live!

Help us bring you literature from the seven countries Trump intends to ban!

Johnny Depp was reported to have spent three million dollars firing Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a canon; our endeavour is modest by comparison: we are aiming to raise at least $30,000 for an urgent showcase of marginalised voices to happen both in our Spring 2017 edition and at The Guardian (here’s an example of what you can look forward to). 20% of all proceeds will be donated directly to ACLU or Refugees Welcome. The more we raise the more we can do: e.g. a printed anthology of the work, a large-scale free event featuring these authors.

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But wait, there’s more: support our campaign and you’ll receive specially autographed books by Junot Díaz, Yann Martel and George Szirtes, among others! Apart from the wide selection of books below, we’ll also give away, among our wide range of Asymptote memorabilia, a newly designed AsympTOTE—featuring artwork by the guest artist of our current issue, Dianna Xu. If you’re a loyal Asymptote supporter, you’ll certainly want to add this AsympTOTE to your collection. Don’t wait—donate to our fundraiser today!

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Highlights from Our Winter 2017 Issue

The blog editors share their favorite pieces from our latest issue!

Here at the blog, we’ve been mesmerized by the new Winter 2017 Issue since its launch on Monday. We hope you’ve had time to dive in, too, but if not, here are a few great places to start!

“Daland” by Lika Tcheishvili, translated from the Georgian by Ekaterine Chialashvili and Alex Scrivener, is a curious little story, told in the first person by an unnamed dock worker in Bandar Abbas, Iran. Anyone who has seen or read about Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton will find themselves in familiar territory when the narrator becomes the unlikely participant in a duel. Any sense of familiarity stops there, however. The man who challenges him is a mysterious smoker with a perpetually fresh lily—flowers foreign to Bandar Abbas—in his lapel and an appointment with a schooner no one has heard of…

I also cannot get the words of Christiane Singer out of my head. In her essay, “The Feminine, Land of Welcome,” translated from the French by Hélène Cardona, she writes to women, “stand bewitched and ready to leap: the queen, the sister, the lover, the friend, the mother—all those who have the genius for relationship, for welcoming. The genius for inventing life.” She highlights the danger of defining women only by their commonalities, as well as the horrors that could have come to pass—and could still—in a world without women. Their absence would be powerfully felt, even in comparison to situations in which they are already roundly ignored or discredited.

—Madeline Jones, Blog Editor

In “Always Already Translated: Questions of Language in Singaporean Literature”, Boston-born Philip Holden, who has lived in Singapore for more than 20 years, writes lyrically about this multilingual city-state. Having worked with languages Holden mentions—Malay, Malayalam, Javanese, and many others—I loved his description of situations where “I speak in Mandarin to Chinese patients, and they reply not to me but to my Chinese co-worker, who looks back at me in incomprehension. She speaks in Malay to older Chinese and Malay patients, and they reply in Malay not to her but to the third of us, the Indian woman who wears a tudung that marks her out as Muslim and, by a process of mistaken association, Malay.” Multilingual societies are sadly often depicted as wrought with conflict. While language in Singapore is, like everywhere in the world, a political issue, too, Holden focuses on the opportunities it provides for performing and literary arts. We don’t have to search for a common language, he argues—it’s more interesting to find “holes between languages that everyday translation continually fills up”.

I have never read Albanian literature before, however. If you are like me, I can warmly recommend the three poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku, one of the country’s most important writers, as an introduction. Taken from the collection Negative Space and translated by Ani Gjika, the poems describe a simple life: apple trees, a butcher carving meat, “gardens hidden behind houses like sensual neck bites”. But behind each poem is a rotten apple, or cold floors, and getting one’s way without any real gain—poetic realism. Do also have a listen to the translator reading the original text in Albanian!

—Hanna Heiskanen, Blog Editor

Check out the gorgeous video preview of the new issue here:

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary updates from the Czech Republic, Iran, and England

This Friday, we present three very distinct reports from the world of literature. Slovakian Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood looks back at what was a great year of Czech literature in translation and gives us a sneak peek at what to look forward to this year. Her Iranian colleague Poupeh Missaghi reports on language-related issues in a human rights Twitter campaign. And finally, the UK Editor-at-Large M. René Bradshaw tells us where to head for great readings in London this month and next.

Julia Sherwood, our Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, has good news from the publishing world:

Last year proved to be a big year for Czech literature in English translation, with no fewer than eighteen publications from eight different presses at the latest count. They include, to mention just a few, Worm-Eaten Time, poet Pavel Šrut’s elegy for his homeland after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, translated by Deborah Garfinkle, and symbolist poet Jaroslav Durych‘s (1886-1962) 1956 novella God’s Rainbow on the expulsion of the German-speaking population from Bohemia after World War II. First published in censored form in 1969, it is now available in full in David Short’s translation as part of Karolínum Press’s Modern Classics series, which also features Eva M. Kandler’s translation of the World War II literary horror The Cremator by Ladislav Fuks, a study of the totalitarian mindset that still resonates today (extract in BODY Literature), and served as the basis for one of the key films of the Czech new wave, directed by Juraj Herz.

Stoppard_and_Bajaja,_photo_by_Pavel_Stojar

On 30 November, a packed audience at the launch of Antonín Bajaja’s Burying the Season (also translated by David Short) at Waterstones Piccadilly in the heart of London included the playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s father came from the town of Zlín, the setting for this novel depicting the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia. Czech literature scholar Rajendra Chitnis introduces the book as part of an Istros Conversations podcast on Audioboom, while Michael Tate of Jantar Publishing discusses on Czech radio the challenges of bringing Central European literature to English readers.

World Literature Today picked Czech writer Magdaléna Platzová’s The Attempt as one of its Notable translations of 2016, characterizing it as “historical fiction at its best”. In an interview with the Czech cultural bi-weekly A2, the novel’s translator Alex Zucker points out that while more books by Czech authors are now being published than ever before, they don’t necessarily reach many more readers since—like translated literature in general—quite a few are brought out by small independent presses and are therefore not visible in major bookshops and rarely reviewed.

In 2017, we can look forward to Zucker’s translations of two the most acclaimed contemporary Czech writers: Jáchym Topol’s Angel Station is due from Dalkey Archive in May, and Petra Hůlová’s taboo-breaking Plastic Three Rooms will be brought out by Jantar Publishing. Budding UK translators keen to be part of this unprecedented boom in Czech literature in English can participate in the fourth annual international competition for young translators, who this year are asked to tackle an excerpt from Bianca Bellová’s The Lake by 31 March (see their call for submissions). Budding Czech-to-English translators can also dip into the treasure trove of tricky issues, complete with solutions generously shared by Melvyn Clarke, in his blog post Translating Hrdý Budžes.

Acclaimed writer Zuzana Brabcová, who sadly passed away in 2015, was posthumously awarded the Josef Škvorecký prize for her haunting last novel Voliéry [Aviaries]. And as the year drew to a close, scores of students and literature lovers mourned the loss of the legendary Fišer bookstore in Kaprova Street near Prague’s Old Town Square, which closed its doors after selling books since the 1930s.

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In Conversation: Abnousse Shalmani on the Politics of the Female Body

To cover the female body with a veil, a burqa, a hijab, a burkini, is to accept that said body is a site of desire and only that.

The first time I heard Abnousse Shalmani speak was her TEDxParis talk, which opened with: Oh, putain de bordel de merde [oh, motherfucking shit]. The auditorium echoed with scattered titters of discomfort and appreciation. “It’s ugly, all these curse words in a woman’s mouth, at least that is what parents tell their daughters,” Shalmani continued, “but I think the opposite: that all these swear words—words of the mouths of men—in the mouths of women, are indispensable.” In the remainder of the talk Shalmani exhibited through personal anecdotes and precise historical and literary analysis how sexism and misogyny, through the constraints on women’s bodies, permeate the Republic celebrated for equality and liberty.

To Shalmani, freedom begins with the liberation of the body and the assurance of one’s ability to fulfill corporal desire without limits or restriction. In her first book, Khomeini, Sade, et Moi [Khomeini, Sade, and Me, tr. Charlotte Coombe, World Editions]—which toes the line between memoir, manifesto, and novel—Shalmani expands and elaborates upon these foundations. In September 2016, I had the opportunity to interview the author about her book, feminism, and the conundrums facing contemporary France

Nina Sparling (NS): In Khomeini, Sade and Me, you make the case for a renewed humanist project, a way past all forms of extremist thought. But you get there via an unusual intellectual trajectory: through the libertine literature of authors like the Marquis de Sade or Pierre de Louÿs, both of whom are often associated with the search for extreme—even cruel—sensations and thoughts. Is it possible to reconcile humanism and libertine literature?

Abnousse Shalmani (AS): Above all, I plead for the liberation of the female body. And that liberation is impossible without the erasure of prejudice. The intellectual paths I’ve taken might seem unusual, but under closer scrutiny, their trajectory fits perfectly within the tradition of Enlightenment thought.

I first ‘encountered’ Pierre Louÿs, the prolific erotic writer. What struck me most about this lover of Beauty (“Beauty is made from Greek perfection crowned with Oriental grace,” he wrote) in his erotic poems and pornographic novels was his playful vision of flesh, of sex. Born in Teheran under the Islamic Revolution, all I knew of the body was the drama it provoked, the gravity with which my world covered up the female body, the danger it represented. To read a poet—at fourteen—who laughed about the body, about sex, who took pleasure in both, this took the drama out of the body. I began to see my body as something besides a forbidden place. It began as a literary step; the politics followed.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Spain, England, and Iran

Holidays are nearly upon us, but there is no rest in the world of literature. This Friday, Asymptote staff brings you dispatches from Spain, The United Kingdom, and Iran. Spain mourns the death of poet Adolfo Cueto, says Editor-at-Large Layla Benitez-James, while her colleague M. René Bradshaw has plenty of awards news from the UK. To wrap up, Editor-at-Large for Iran Poupeh Missaghi writes about the recent scandal involving the late poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad. 

Layla Benitez-James, our Podcast Editor, gives us the rundown on literary awards and new publications:  

Many in Spain’s creative community are mourning the death of Spanish poet Adolfo Cueto who passed away unexpectedly in Madrid on Sunday, December 4 at the young age of 47. His collection of poetry, Dragados y Construcciones, won him the Premio Alarcos de Poesía in 2010, followed by the Ciudad de Burgos de Poesía in 2013 for Diverso.es, and the Manuel Alcántara Prize in 2016.

As Spanish writers come to terms with losing one of their literary greats, they are also celebrating the accomplishments of Eduardo Mendoza, who has just won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize. The award celebrates an author’s entire career, and for Mendoza, the honor comes on the heels of the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Premio al “Libro del Año,” Premio de Novela Fundación José Manuel Lara Premio de la Cultura de Catalunya, and the Premio Franz Kafka, among many others. Mendoza was born in Barcelona in 1943, and his win has been especially heartwarming to the city. A group of young writers born after the invention of the prize in 1976 were inspired to get together and talk about the modern state of writing in Spain and Barcelona’s role as a key literary city.

The work of twelve important writers is about to debut in a new collection, Mujer, lenguaje y poesía, which will be forthcoming early in the New Year. Poets Alicia García Núñez, Lola Nieto, Laia López Manrique, Miriam Reyes, Chus Pato, Flavia Company, and Elena Medel, among others, will appear in this new anthology which hopes to expand the contemporary conversation of poetry in the country.

Further discussion and promotion of modern verse took place at the event “Displaced Verses: Nomadic Poetry Recital,” part of the recent Encuentro euroMediterráneo, a meeting of creative people showing solidarity with refugees. Participants hailed from eighteen Euro-Mediterranean countries: Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The conference continued the trend of poets and writers in Spain taking an active role in advocating for human rights, highlighting the overlap of the poetic and the political.

In a similar spirit, María Isabel Quiñones, also known as Martirio, dedicated her recent Premio Nacional de Músicas Actuales 2016 to “young people who are ready to fight.”

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In Review: Yaghoub Yadali’s Rituals of Restlessness

Simple. Engineer Kamran Khosravi would die in a car accident. Easy, done.

Navid Hamzavi and Asymptote’s long-standing Contributing Editor Aamer Hussein review Yaghoub Yadali’s Rituals of Restlessness, translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili (Phoneme Media, 2016).

Nihilism in the Nietzschean sense is “one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!”

Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali seems to have a nihilistic outlook on life. Kamran Khosravi, the protagonist, wants to get rid of his real life in a fake accident in order to construct a new life in unknown territory. He chooses an Afghan migrant to replace him in a car crash down in the canyon. Spiking his tea, he makes his victim unconscious, puts his own clothes on him, sets his car on fire and pushes it down the canyon to make others believe that Kamran Khosravi is dead. We never know whether he is just imagining doing all this or, as the narrative suggests, actually goes through with it and later regrets it; whether he makes an unsuccessful suicide attempt, or whether he’s just on his way back to his wife who has left him. Much of the book is taken up with these three lines of interwoven plot, without shaping either a solid character, or identifying a cultural or philosophical issue.

Whether Rituals of Restlessness even comes close to addressing that crisis in Nietzsche’s quote, whether it recovers from its dull narrative to explore this question in greater depth, whether it comes anywhere near reflecting on philosophical or ontological aspects of life is open to debate.  The shallow characters, the superficial reading of folk culture in contrast to urban culture, and the lack of depth of social understanding, render the novel tedious and shut down a critical approach to it. The novel even fails to portray the roots of that restlessness so as to convey a better understanding of the antagonist’s logic for his (attempted) suicide, which in itself could have opened it up for broader interpretation. READ MORE…

Translating Iranian Poetry: A Conversation with Siavash Saadlou

As human beings, we need to truly acknowledge that we all are different hues of the same spectrum—that is the human spectrum.

Siavash Saadlou was born in Tehran, Iran. He started learning English at the age of 17, and has since worked as a sports journalist, translator, simultaneous interpreter, editor, and college professor. His English translations of the minimalist Iranian poet, Rasool Yoonan, have appeared in Washington Square Review, Blue Lyra Review, Visions International, The Writing Disorder, Indian Review, and in Asymptote’s Fall 2016 issue. He was also a finalist for Slice Magazine’s 2015 Bridging the Gap writing contest for his creative non-fiction piece I Didn’t Mean It. Saadlou is currently a second-year MFA creative writing student and a teaching fellow at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Shortly before and after the US election, Asymptote’s Ryan Mihaly spoke with Saadlou about translating Persian, meeting Yoonan, and the importance of literature in breaking down barriers and transporting culturenow more than ever. 

Ryan Mihaly (RM): Yoonan’s humor seems to translate well into English. You’ve captured the dark humor of reassuring a friend that his corpse will be buried, and the silliness of a ‘Don Quixote’ who ‘wears a saucepan on his head’. Were these literal translations? How did you capture them in English?

Siavash Saadlou (SS): When it comes to translating Yoonan, I try to maintain a balance between literal and figurative language, although in the cases you mentioned, I have translated the text verbatim. I should mention that in the first example, the word ‘friend’ has been used sarcastically. There’s a lot of witty sarcasm in the Persian language and literature, and in this poem Yoonan is using a wry tone to describe tyranny by using the word ‘friend’. I have also tried to maintain Yoonan’s diction. For that purpose, I first read all of his poems over and over again and took note of his word choice. For example, the word mozhek could be translated as ‘absurd’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘inane’, or ‘preposterous’, but since I happened to have a holistic cognizance of Yoonan’s plain and unadorned tone, I chose the word ‘absurd’.

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Translation Tuesday: “Love in the Footnotes” by Mahsa Mohebali

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. Depression, like ivy, ties us together.

Published in 2004 in Tehran, Iran, Love in the Footnotes is Mahsa Mohebali’s second short story collection. Within a year of its publication, the book was in its third print and reaping national prizes before it was banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The titular short story, presented here, is concerned with love and its ensuing ennui. The theme of this story is by no means novel. What sets Love in the Footnotes apart from all other “love” stories is its unique development, with most of the story being told in the elaborate intertextual footnotes which weave together an intricate web of films, songs, paintings, and novels from different cultures, at the crossroads of which the protagonist locates herself. 

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam, translator

In this story, Love happens. Like ivy, love wraps around my lover and me in the lines of this story. My lover and I and several films and stories get so tightly tangled that we become indistinguishable from one another.

I have short auburn hair that falls across my forehead and temples. I weigh 99 lbs. and with heels on, I’m 5’ 5”. I got a BA in literature from The Islamic Azad University. I had been a homebody for a few years before I met my lover at a relative’s Sizde Bedar garden party. My lover has drunk eyes and is a clerk at the Central Bank. He’s tall and very amiable. He has no other remarkable features except that he tends to constantly stroke his mustache. In a corner of the garden, my lover looks at me with his languishing, entreating, and piercing eyes. I avert my eyes from him, look down coyly, and move away. My lover follows me and extends a glass to me. Our eyes meet for a moment. My lover draws me close very gently and fills my glass with a wine-like drink.1

1 See the miniature painting by Mohammad Tajvidi in Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, Hafiz Diwan, Ed. Ghasem Ghani and Allameh Ghazvini, twenty-third edition, Tehran: Asatir Publication, 1995, p. 23, where the man in the miniature painting, with his beseeching eyes, clings to the girl’s robe, offers her a glass of wine while she turns the upper part of her body away from him and avoids his gaze as much as possible. In spite of her apparent apathy, she burns with a latent desire, evident as she watches the man stealthily out of the corner of her eyes. It seems as though the girl in the miniature painting has been looking forward to this moment for years and now that she finally has the opportunity to seduce, despite all the blood running to her cheeks, she tries to appear composed and indifferent. However, the man in the miniature painting doesn’t seem to be concerned at all. As in Hafez’s poem, “Curls disheveled, sweating, laughing, and drunk / shirt torn, singing ghazals, flask in hand,” he just gawks at the girl. He only thinks of getting together with his beloved and isn’t afraid of going down in history as a fool.

My lover and I are sitting in front of the TV, watching Medicopter 117, in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot rental apartment on Hafez Street. At the most critical moment of the episode, I get up, go to my bedroom, put on my red nightgown and stand in front of the TV set, brushing my hair. In response to my lover’s protests, I look at him seductively. He smiles but still follows what’s happening on TV. I unplug it.2

2 See Graham Greene, Quiet American, Trans. Ezatollah Fooladvand, first edition, Tehran: Kharazmi Publications, 1984, p. 143, where Paul asks Fowler, the professional British journalist, what his most profound sexual encounter had been.

Fowler answers the quiet, young American, “Lying in bed early one morning and watching a woman in a red dressing-gown brush her hair.”

The middle-aged Briton had impregnated the scene with all the eroticism he could muster; a scene which he had most likely never experienced with any of his mistresses. But then, this was the only image that came to his exhausted and agitated mind while spending the night in the fortress, with the Vietnamese soldiers and the quiet American, anticipating the Viet Cong skirmishes. Probably, Fowler was not thinking about any of his mistresses in particular, not about Phuong, his Vietnamese phoenix, and not about his English mistress. That image was the culmination of his whole love life.

My lover and I are sitting in a beach café, sipping our cappuccinos. My lover’s wearing a white t-shirt, stuck to his damp body. I’m in a light-green manteau and have put a big white magnolia in one of its buttonholes. The fragrance of the magnolia and that of the cappuccino wafting out from my cup blend with the sea breeze and make me dizzy. I put my fingers on my temples and take a deep breath. My lover looks at me with worried eyes. I ask my lover to tell me the story of the drowning of the young couple again. He says that he has told me the story five times since yesterday and doesn’t feel like telling it any more.3

3 See Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile, Trans. Reza Seyed-Hosseini, first edition, Tehran: Zaman Publications, 1973, p. 89, where Anne Desbaresdes is wearing a décolleté dress and has pinned a big magnolia to her chest. She gets up from the dinner party table quickly and is anxious to go to the beach bar and drink another glass of wine with Chauvin and ask him, for the last time, to tell the story of the young couple. It’s then that, for the first time, she discovers the magical power of magnolia and wine and the incredible and undeniable similarity of wine, magnolia, love, and exasperation. Anne Desbaresdes realizes that, just like when you drink a little wine, the fragrance of magnolia seems to be very innocent at the beginning, but, after some time, it overwhelms your mind and leaves no room for any other feelings or thoughts. This is how she feels at that moment: Intoxicated with wine and the strong scent of magnolia, she can think of nothing but love. Just like the scent of magnolia, love has inundated her mind, which is soon to be overcome by exasperation.

My lover and I are in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot apartment. My lover is lying on the couch, a glass of ice on his chest and a cigarette to his lips. He’s staring at the ceiling and gives curt, nonsensical answers to all my questions. I’m sitting on the sofa and hanging my legs from its arm and thumbing through Art and Decoration magazine irately. I tell my lover not to ash his cigarette on the floor. He ignores me. He looks at the ceiling and flicks his cigarette ash on the floor again. I go stand at the head of the couch, my arms crossed, and look at him resentfully. He smirks while still looking at the ceiling. I yell at him and say that I’m sick and tired of him and the glass he’s always carrying in his hand. My lover puts on his pants, while cursing me under his breath, and buckles his belt. I’m standing in front of the door to block him, telling him that enough is enough; that he’d better stop pretending to be the hero of an American movie who is fed up with his mistress. He shoves me aside abruptly and slams the door.4

4 Don’t refer to happy-ending American movies. Because, unlike Jane Fonda or Julia Roberts, I’m not going to chase down my lover, find him in a park or a bar and bring him back home. As soon as he leaves, I put the opera Salome by Richard Strauss in my player and lie down on the couch and page through Oscar Wilde’s Salome and when Herodias asks Salome to dance for the propitious night, I join her with The Dance of Seven Veils. In the end, when Salome embraces John’s severed head, kissing the lips she couldn’t touch in his life, I take my lover’s photo off the TV set and kiss him on the lips. My sadism and vengefulness at that moment are no less than Salome’s toward John.

My lover and I are lying in the bathtub and are basking in the mild warmth of the water, slowly smoking our cigarettes. My lover rambles constantly and I respond with a dull smile and a duller voice. My eyes are closed and I’m still reminiscing about the previous hours, thinking to myself how my lover would feel if he knew what I was remembering. It gives me chills to even think about it. My lover says I’d better leave the bathtub because I might catch a cold.5

5 See Unfaithful, directed by Adrian Lyne—the scene in which the girl is lying in the tub and suddenly sees the words her naughty lover has written on her belly while she was sleeping. This is definitely the most critical moment in determining her relationship with her husband. Up to that point, it had all been just mischief or even a joke. However, when she gets the sponge and wipes off the heart and dagger sign and her own name, she realizes the magical power of concealment. She has now entered a new phase in her game. Before that, she could confess everything to her husband in a trance or frenzy. But then, she sees the joy and excitement of cheating. That her husband could’ve seen the sign but didn’t awakens the snake of risk-taking that had been lurking dormant in her heart and makes her repeat the dangerous game over and over again.

My lover and I are coming back from the party arm in arm. I’m wearing a dress with an open neckline and my lover is wearing jeans and a t-shirt as usual. We are both singing “Tonight Is the Moonlit Night” a little too loudly. We sometimes stagger and, to keep our balance, cling to each other’s arms, sometimes bursting out laughing. Whenever my lover gets to the word “my lover” in the song, he draws his eyebrows together and points his finger at me with a serious expression. I accompany him in a lower octave.6

6 See the first scene of the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In this scene, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton both try to conceal their innermost feelings towards each other. They engage in vigorous banter that might lead to insult and injury if they’re not careful. But oblivion comes to their aid. It helps them change their past memories and sometimes heal their emotional or mental wounds, arising from the death of a child, abortion, or an infidelity that was neither confirmed nor denied.

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. I lie on the couch more wearily and smoke and he lies next to the fireplace more morosely and smokes. Depression, like ivy, ties us together. I say it would be best if one of us left the other because usually in these situations one of the lovers leaves. My lover turns on his side towards me and says he doesn’t feel like wandering the streets and that if I’m tired of the situation, I can leave. I remind my lover that usually men are the ones to leave. Despite my persistence, my lover doesn’t give in and just looks at me with his drunken eyes. I tell my lover that I can no longer smoke, sadly; that I can’t stand his smoking either. My lover takes another puff of his cigarette and says that nothing like smoking exhibits depression so neatly. I go to my bedroom, my upper lip twitching in anger, and play Chopin’s sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, and lie on the bed, thinking about a couple of trivial matters.7

7 Had Wim Wenders begun his Paris, Texas some scenes earlier, where the couple experiences exasperation, you could’ve seen that film. However, right now you’d better refer to Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Frédéric Chopin, where the notes of the harp remind us of the monotonous rain and Chopin’s ennui on Majorca. When he was at his piano in his sixteenth century villa on the cliff, writing the destructive and exasperating notes of this sonnet, he had one thing on his mind: exasperation, exasperation with love; the inevitable exasperation that follows a long period of lovemaking, cheating, indifference, forgetfulness, argument, intoxication, and languor. It left Chopin with no other choice but to—while listening to the repetitive sound of rain and the waves crashing against the rocks, without taking heed of George Sand’s grumpiness—write the dreary notes that carry a devastating tempest within them. Probably, in the next room, George Sand was writing a story about a lover killing the object of their desire out of exasperation. However, I think if George Sand and Chopin had instead gone to Arles, where Van Gogh painted his beautiful sunflowers, before reaching that intolerable boredom that destroyed their relationship, they would’ve gone so mad that one of them would’ve either killed the other or, as Van Gogh did, cut off a piece of their body.

Translated from the Persian by Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam

Explore the rest of Asymptote’s Summer 2016 issue here.

Mahsa Mohebali (b. 1972) is an accomplished Iranian fiction writer and literary critic. Although she is best known for her critically acclaimed novel Don’t Worry (2008), which won both the Golshiri Foundation’s and the Press Critics’ Best Novel award, she has also penned the novel The Grey Spell (2002) and two short story collections, The Voices (1998) and Love in the Footnotes (2004), the latter of which is now banned in Iran despite being the winner of the Golshiri Foundation’s award for best short story collection. Her works are translated into Swedish, Italian, Turkish, and English and are widely circulated in Iran as well as being adapted for the stage.

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received her MA in English Literature in 2012 from the University of Tehran where her research focused on black feminist dialogism in the works of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. She is particularly interested in women, gender, and sexuality studies and the intersection of religion and feminism. She is currently writing her dissertation on the representations of prostitution in Persian and Arab literature. She also aspires to introduce Iranian women writers to Western audiences through translation and criticism of their works.

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