Persian Gulf in Persian Literature

Knowledge of the sea in the geographical landscape where Iranian culture developed was limited to a vague, pre-Aryan, pre-Iranian notion of an external ocean that encircled the earth1. Fed by a mythical river, that great sea was the gathering place of the waters from which two rivers flowed.2 The shift from this mythical knowledge of the sea to an actual one began with the expansion of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE, when Darius (521-485 BCE) sent a fleet down the Indus, circled the Arabian Peninsula, and sailed from India to Egypt. This first-hand experience of the sea thus provided the occasion for direct familiarity and could conceivably have contributed to the transformation of the old mythic notions, which came to contain allusions to three great gulfs (vari) of the external ocean: possibly the Caspian, the Black Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Of these three, while the Caspian remained practically unknown and knowledge of the Black Sea was very limited, the Persian Gulf took on an increasingly important position in the emergence of Persian maritime culture and literature. Among the various factors contributing to the Persian Gulf’s predominant position, we may consider the long history of Persian activity in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and the flourishing trade with the countries of the region, which continued through the Sassanid and Islamic periods,3 well into the sixteenth century.

While the emerging maritime culture in Persia only granted a firsthand experience of the sea to a limited few, the appeal of the unseen, unvisited sea, nevertheless thoroughly captivated the Persian literary imagination.

The lore of the sea as an unknown and perhaps unknowable vastness—formless, unpredictable, untamed, and untamable—has provided Persian poets and storytellers with a wealth of archetypes to draw from: initiation myths get couched in terms of a voyage through the unexplored vastness of the sea; the dynamics between the coast and the horizon, or the ship and the sea become allegories for the conflict between the individual and his inner self; the ship as microcosm provides the context for the uneasy division between order and chaos, known and unknown, and a cosmology of constant flux. Against the backdrop of such archetypes, Persian poets and storytellers—with or without any direct contact with the sea or any actual experience with seafaring—have spoken for centuries of the sea as a realm of psychological rebirth, using the sea journey as an allegorical voyage into the unconscious from which the traveler, previously alienated from his inner realms, returns whole, restored, and at peace.

While Persian literature in general and Persian mystic literature in particular are abound in sea-related allegories and metaphors4, a thorough analysis of the varied representations of the sea in this vast literary tradition would stretch any single study far beyond its limits. The study at hand attempts to provide a broad overview of the salient themes and characteristics in this vast field, and to trace several sea-related themes from ancient and medieval Persian sources to the modern period. In order to define better the parameters of the present analysis, I will therefore begin by dividing the body of the Persian Gulf sea literature into the two subcategories: imagined and actual. I shall consider imaginational all works—whether poetry or prose—in which the author or the protagonist does not convey a direct experiential encounter with the sea, and in which the sea and all maritime elements serve a more symbolic, allegorical, or metaphorical function. In this category, the sea is generally represented as an unattainable locale of spiritual, emotional, or ideological ideal towards which the persona and the reader must strive perpetually.

By extension, I shall consider actual all works in which the author/compiler/narrator recounts a direct encounter with the sea, and in which he aims to convey a firsthand experience of his explorations. This category can itself be divided into two subsections of fictional and non-fictional, referring to narratives compiled or written by geographers who are generally assumed to have provided more “factual” accounts of the seas, harbors, and coasts they visited in their journeys. Although replete with “fictional” qualities and descriptions, these narratives are nevertheless distinguished from stories written specifically for literary purposes. Mas‘udi’s (d. 956) Moruj al-Dhahab is a good example. Having sailed to both India and East Africa, he writes extensively on the experience of sailing along the coasts.5 And while the narrative has various literary and “fictional” characteristics, its actual contents are regarded as factual and used by historians as a primary source of information.

The concept of “fictionality” in the sense of narrative, although derived but not based on reality, is thus employed here to distinguish between stories that could be regarded as specimens of classical fictional accounts and stories in which conformity to reality was an essential precondition of the genre. No need to say that the distinction cannot always be made with certainty and, inevitably, there remain several borderline cases that are difficult to judge under these parameters. Many of these are appreciated by later generations of critics as important landmarks in the development of Persian regional fiction in general and Persian Gulf sea literature in particular. One such example is Safina-ye Soleymani (The Ship of Soleyman), a Persian travel account of an embassy sent to Siam by the Safavid ruler Shah Soleyman (r. 1666-1694) in the year 1685. Written by the embassy’s secretary, Muḥammad Rabīʾ Ibn Muḥammad Ibrāhīm , the book consists of four main parts, referred to as tohfa or “gift”, and is about a journey aboard “a newly wed ship just come out from behind the veils”from the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas via Muscat in Oman, to Madras in India, and from India to the then Siamese port of Tanasuri. In Marcinkowski’s words, the book represents “an outstanding document for the historical and cultural presence of Persia in the eastern Indian Ocean and the only extant Persian source for the extensive Safavid contacts with the region during the 17th century.”6

In his portrayal of the voyage’s events and adventures, the author reports on the presence of “Franks” (the Portuguese) in Siam; the death of England’s King Charles II on 6 February 1685; the influence of Persians in Siam; his audience with the extremely persophilic King; and a ta’zia or passion play in memory of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Hoseyn b. Ali at Karbala. He also recounts vividly the scene in which the letter of the Safavid Shah was “placed atop the best looking elephant” before being presented to the Siamese monarch.7

The boundary between the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’ becomes progressively more blurred as the author’s travels take him further and further away. He reports of places he certainly has not visited (e.g., the Philippines and Japan) as ardently as he writes about those he has seen first hand. His dramatized depiction of the hazards of the sea voyage also stretches the boundaries of his narrative into the realm of fiction. He writes an account of a storm that left them “almost” shipwrecked; the day that “wind and water, as is the nature of the warring elements, rose up against [their] earthly bodies;” and the day that “flames of fear were kindled in [their] souls while the current drew [them] towards Paigu.” He also writes about the gloomy moment when Hoseyn Beg, the ambassador, was forced to “swallow that bitter prescription of death and returned to the Collector of souls;” the death of other members of the delegation (some in Bandar ‘Abbas, some at sea, some in Siam); and his “humble self who only survived to render the account to [the] awesome king.”8 The style of the narrative characterized by various hyperboles and poetic exaggeration is highly influenced by Sabk-e Hendi or the Indian style, popular in the poetry of the period. His account of the Persian poet who went to Siam to ‘sell his talent’ resembles more a fable than an actual account both in form and content.

“Once there was a great [Persian] poet whose empty stomach brought him to Siam to sell his talent. He dived into the sea of fantasy, brought up a splendid pearl from the jewel box of his mind, and recited a fine qasida in commemoration of the king’s favorite elephant, whose name was Full Moon.

‘Oh King, the full moon is your splendid elephant

The crescent moon your driving hook.’

When he brought the qasida with its clear and apt metaphor before the king and it was translated into the language of Siam, instead of receiving an award, he was given the title ‘sap lap,’ which means liar.”9

As participants in the Islamic civilization, a good many number of these travel writers, or rather, compilers of fictional sea narratives, chose Arabic as the language of choice for their narratives. A case in point is a significant work in the Persian Gulf sea literature compiled by Bozorg b. Shahryar-e Ramhormozi, a Persian sea captain of the first half of the 10th century. Bozorg collected stories from other captains and merchants of Siraf, Basra, and Oman and recorded them in Arabic in a book entitled Kitab ‘Ajayeb al-Hend, which includes 134 tales and anecdotes of India, the Far East, and East Africa. The names of many of the captains mentioned in the book are Persian, such as Shahryari and Babishad. George Hourani who has written extensively on Bozorg and his book contends that Kitab ‘Ajayeb al-Hend is a worthy precursor of the Sindbad stories in One Thousand and One Nights and praises the author for his storytelling gifts.10

It is in the very broad sphere of popular tales and fictional narratives of actual encounters with the sea that the genesis and patterns of change in trends, themes, and techniques of narration that have shaped the history of the Persian sea literature to the present time can best be traced. Popular tales like Darab-nameh,11 (ca. 12th century) Garshasp-nameh,12 (authored ca. 458 AH/1064-66 CE) and the stories of the Sindbad the Sailor in One Thousand and One Nights in which reality and dream intertwine and the natural and supernatural coexist, are often mentioned as the portents of magical realism—a literary mode highly popular in modern regional sea literature, as we shall further see.

In Darab-nameh, compiled in 12th century by Abu Taher Mohammad b. ‘Ali b. Musa Tarsusi (or Tartusi), the stories from the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty are linked with those of the conquest of Persia by Alexander, based on the version (of pseudo-Callisthenes) in which Darab, the legendary Kayanid king, and Alexander are half brothers. Darab’s life and fate, as his name in Persian signifies, is inseparably linked to water and the sea. Homay, the queen of Persia, is pregnant by her father, Ardeshir/Bahman, and gives birth to a son. She sets him afloat in a box on the Euphrates. A launderer takes him from the river and names him Darab. At the age of thirteen he sets off on a long series of adventures on the Sea of Oman, travels about the Greek Islands, “encounters storms at sea, talismans, cannibals, sea monsters, reaches an island of one-eyed people, is saved from danger by prophetic dreams, magical cures, divine intervention”, and eventually assumes the throne. Darab-nameh is written in a simple style and makes abundant use of devices derived from fairy tales. It is based, like many other narratives of the genre on a frame story, is filled in with fables as well as other stories and anecdotes from the stock of narratives drawn upon by poets and prose writers alike. Darab and Alexander, like many protagonists of Persian popular and courtly tales, leave home and overcome a series of challenges on their path to spiritual wholeness and self realization. Interestingly enough Darab, from the East is bound westward, and Alexander from the West travels to India and to the Land of Darkness in search of the water of eternal life.

Garshasp-nameh is a long heroic epic by Asadi Tusi (d. ca. 465/1072-73). Garshasp, the hero of the poem, is the grandson of Sam. The story contains passages on Garshap’s ancestors, his visits to the islands of India and his fascination with supernatural marvels. A recent literary discovery by Iraj Afshar of the only surviving manuscript of a verse romance, called Shirin o Farhad (880 AH/1475 CE)13, by Salimi Jaruni, most probably a native of Hormoz, deserves special mention. The author has dedicated the book to Solghor Shah ibn Turanshah, one of the Moluk of Hormoz who apparently ruled the Islands for about 700 years, from the 10th to 16th century. Jarun is the old name for the Hormoz Islands. The book is based on Shirin o Khosrow, a famous romantic epic by Nezami of Ganja from the last decades of the 6th/12th century. It is characterized by its simple and unornamented language and by the profusion of imageries and idioms colored by the climate and natural geography of the region (e.g. palm trees, dates, etc.) It also illuminates aspects of daily life in the Persian Gulf region.

It is interesting to note that the very same Southern cities, ports, and islands in most of modern regional narratives are stripped from all magical splendors of the past and are, instead, inhabited by displaced persons who, because of an accident of history and geology, are plagued by oil and technology and forced industrialization. The common denominator of the modern Southern narratives, written either by those who were born in the region (Chubak14, Mahmud15, or Golestan16 from Bushehr, Ahvaz, and Shiraz, respectively), or by writers/modern travelers like Al-e Ahmad 17 or Sa’edi,18 was that in all of them the fiction writer was subsumed by the social critic. Different in many ways, they resembled each other in their dark portrayal of depravities with little room for the potentially beautiful or joyous aspects of life in the region. Their portrayal of the south of Persia as a hot and humid region, wronged by both nature and modern technology, distinguish them, along with some others, as pioneers of a distinct type of regional literature, strongly colored by politics and ideology. Their dramatization of the circumstances of life in the region was later developed into a recurrent motif and appeared in the works of many novelists who succeeded them. Tangsir, arguably Chubak’s best work in his social realist phase, takes place in the Persian Gulf area and centers around the life of a Tangestani, a victim of injustice, who rises against his oppressors, kills them, takes refuge in the Gulf with his wife and two children, and becomes a regional hero. The text is marked by a profusion of proverbs, and the syntactic structure of southern dialects from the Bushehr region.


Ahmad Mahmud’s (b. Ahvaz, 1931-d. Tehran, 2001) faithful portrayals of his hometown, Ahvaz, in a trilogy that covers a time span of thirty years, stretching from the nationalization of the oil industries in 1951, to the Iran-Iraq War of 1981, recounts the tragic lives of the poor who, trapped in the dead ends of customs and traditions and gripped by dire need, are ready to sell their own flesh and blood in order to survive.


This holds just as true for texts produced by Jalal Al-e Ahmad  and Gholam-Hosayn Sa’edi whose regional works are distinguished by the re-emergence of the village topos, popular in the works of social realist writers. However, their treatment of the southern regions did not resemble the idyllic pastorals of the Constitutional period. In their monographs, sketches, as well as novels, village and city are both populated by anxiety-ridden characters.

In 1965 Sa’edi traveled to the villages and tribal territories on the littoral plains of the Persian Gulf. He went on to produce a series of manuscripts buttressed by anthropological analyses noting in detail the cultural history, ethnic background, modes of production, religious beliefs, speech patterns and idiomatic specificities of the local inhabitants, most notably among them the Ahl-e havā, those possessed by malevolent spirits. In his collection of six interconnected short-stories entitled Tars-o larz19, Sa’edi depicts the living condition in the fishing villages of Southern Iran where life is dominated by the sea and its changes and the villagers live in fear of hunger and tremble at the threat of drowning.20

A large number of younger writers began to distinguish themselves during the seventies and eighties by focusing on local scenes and their customs, and folklore. Their works reflected the dominant nationwide literary trends and is discernible by their spirited experimentations with techniques of narration and with the choice of plot, imagery, and structure. A short lull in literary production followed the Revolution of 1979, in which many writers took a more or less active part and viewed as a unifying cause and a pathway to the realization of their ambitions. This hiatus was short-lived as novels and short stories soon proliferated, overshadowing any previous generation. The writings of the period, both national and regional, have a broad range, extending from heavy revolutionary polemics and depictions of prison, torture, and displacement, to the much lighter genres including detective stories. A comprehensive inventory of the literary output of the post revolutionary fiction writers would be by far more diverse than their predecessors in thematic variations, language, and aesthetic structure and would broaden this inquiry beyond any meaningful scope. We shall therefore limit ourselves to classifying only the major themes in this body of literature.

It is interesting to note that magical realism, a term inseparably linked to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez the Colombian novelist, has been greeted by the Persian novelists of the South with more enthusiasm than any contemporary literary mode. As held by Franco Moretti, Magical realism, or rather, marvelous reality, as the original Spanish signifies, is not as much a poetics as it is a state of affairs in certain areas of the world.21 A world in which surrealism resides in the objects themselves, what seems to be fantastic is in fact a reasonable description of the environment, and the most incredible people and events do not really appear fantastical. “A world into which fiction had spread and contaminated practically everything: history, religion, poetry, science, art, speeches, journalism, and the daily habits of people.” 22 A world that operates on the simultaneous existence of two contradictory levels of reality, natural and supernatural exploits the often grotesque juxtaposition of the two with implied irony or even downright black humor.

Among the vast group of fiction writers of the South who have produced magical realist narratives, Moniru Ravanipur (b. Jofreh, Bushire, 1954) 23, deserves special mention. Her fictional works are almost all set in the Persian Gulf region, centered around local myths and legends, and sprinkled by her regional dialect, that of the remote village of Jofreh on the Persian Gulf. Ravanipur’s most renowned work of fiction, Ahl-e gharq (The Drowned), is clearly classifiable as magical realist and in so many ways the prototype of the magical realism in Iran. As perhaps one of the most articulate interpreters of the sea in Persian literature, the inhabitants of Jofreh are all drawn to the sea by a magical force, as if it is a camouflaged magnet.

Jofreh, in the first part of The Drowned, is linguistically, socially, and politically cut off from the rest of the country. The sea has substituted the world beyond the village. The villagers interact with the inhabitants of the sea through an intuitive, non-verbal mode of communication, a means through which they cling to the memory of their loved ones, the drowned, who inhabit the sea with other sea beings. The villagers fully believe that “the drowned” continue an existence in the depth of the sea, and are repairing their vessels to return to the earth, to the realm of the living. The drowned and the living, along with other sea creatures are all at the mercy of an evil sea spirit, whose murderous orders are carried out before they are given, almost before he thinks of them. 24 He replicates a ruler of incredible exploits, far more astonishing than all the cruel kings of history. The people of Jofreh, however, through their occasional sacrifices are able to maintain a certain degree of harmony with the sea, its inhabitants, and its monstrous ruler.

The first important change that takes place and disrupts life in the second part of the novel is the arrival of three tall blond and blue-eyed men, whom the people of Jofreh believe resemble the legendary inhabitants of the sea.

When three tall blond and blue-eyed men emerged from the white boat, the children withdrew. It wasn’t clear from which part of the world these men of the sea had come. It wasn’t clear whether they were human beings…or the inhabitants of the sea who had come to the village in the guise of humans? 25

It does not take long for the people of Jofreh, however, to realize that the newcomers do not speak their language, do not share their interpretation of events, refuse to accept the existence of the submarinians and are insensitive towards the elaborate system of communication between the land and the sea. The arrival of the newcomers is followed by the appearance of roads and the intrusion of a transistor radio, tuned to BBC’s world service news program. The villagers who have never seen one before perceive it as a magical box in which numerous men, women, and children are imprisoned, and when the magic box, the radio, announces “This is London,” the residents of Jofreh unanimously declare, “This is Jofreh.” A fantastic present sent from the faraway West to that faraway village: truly, a marvelous reality. The true magic of the second part of the novel, reminiscent of A Hundered Years of Solitude, is not magic: it is technology: A history that the village shares with the region and the entire country.

Jofreh completes an entire cycle: birth, transformation and decrepitude, and can be read as the account of a certain period in the history of the Persian Gulf area, and even of Iran itself. At first the village is a prehistoric and primitive village, an idyllic habitat with mythical overtones. By getting connected to the rest of the nation, it lives much the life of twentieth century Iran itself. The conflict between modern and traditional in Iran, subject of innumerous books, articles and debates in the past several decades, did indeed have a predilection for the incredible. Throughout the years that Jofreh, caught between past and present, lives its long history, many important historical events are taking place, above all, first the arrival and establishment of the British Petroleum Company in the Persian Gulf, and later the nationalization of the oil industries in 1951.

The Drowned captures the region’s uniquely wide gamut of social, political and economic realities and can be interpreted as a social document. It relates in numerous ways to the realities of the world it embarks to portray: a situation in which old and new combine in the strangest ways, always keeping the fate of the region in suspense. The employment of this technique has allowed Ravanipur to brandish both the phenomenal quality of regional writings in Iran and the splendid wonders of the Persian Gulf reality, a reality overlooked by most of our social realist writers. She has employed a variety of strategies for actively involving the reader in her fictional world, making the process of reading remarkably experiential.

A retrospective juxtaposition of representations of the Persian Gulf and the seas in South of Iran in the examined fictional narratives brings to light a telling difference between the representations of the sea in classical narratives versus its appearance in modern Persian fiction. The stories we examined show the various ways in which classical Persian maritime narratives present their readers with the sea as a symbol of inner “essences,” and the sea journey as a symbol of “the exploration of the self.” Darab, Garshasp, Sindbad, and others – all have gone down to the sea, and there experienced a transformation, a rebirth, a sea change. However, this traditional attitude toward the sea has changed. What the central character of “Why the Sea Was Stormy”, one of the highly acclaimed short stories of Sadeq Chubak, fears in the actual sea is what he hears within himself: the puzzling creatures of his heart of darkness, and the equally frightening prospect that dreads both the sea that he sails on and the inner sea that he does not dare to gaze at. In fact, the two are, in his eyes, one. In such an age with such an understanding of the inner self, the sea change is as foreign as the ships that once sailed the seas. The magnetic magic that Sindbad once spoke of as being in the sea is so weak now that it cannot be fully felt. It seems that the magical splendors of the sea have departed from the Persian literary scene forever.

1 Xavier de Planhol, “Daryā”, EIR, vol. VII, 79-81; E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World, 2 vols., (Princeton, N.J., 1947); Idem, The Persian Empire: Studies in Geography and Ethnography of the Ancient Near East (Wiesbaden), 1968.

2 Mary Boyce, EIR, vol. I, 27. Boyce contends that, “Zoroastrians could as justly be termed worshippers of water as fire; and in revering this element they plainly continued an even more ancient tradition. In their cosmology water was the second of the seven ‘creations’ (Pahlavi, dahishnan) into which the world was divided.” Idem, Zoroastrianism, I: 147-91.

3 de Planhol, 79-81. As mentioned by de Planhol, a little later precise knowledge of tidal areas, including, it seems, those of the Persian Gulf, began to develop (Yt. 8.46; see Herzfeld, 1947, 636-37; Bundahishn, TD2, 82 ff.; see also Herzfeld, 639-42).

4 Annmarie Schimmel, A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry (University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 204-7; C.H. de Fouchecour, La déscription de la nature dans la poésie lyrique persane du XI siècle, (Paris: Librarie C. Klincksieck, 1969), 116-17 and 216.

5 Mas‘udi, Moruj-al Dhahab wa ma‘aden al-jawaher. (c. 947), ed. Charles Pellat (Beyrouth, 1966).

5 Muḥammad Rabīʾ Ibn Muḥammad Ibrāhīm, The Ship of Sulaimān, trans. John O’Kane (London: Routledge & K. Paul , 1972), 30. See also Mohammad Rabi’ b. Mohammad Ebrahim, Safinah-’i Sulaymani: Safarnamah-’i Safir-I Iran bah Siyam, 1094-1098, ed., ʿAbbas Faruqi (Tehran: University of Tehran Press, 1356/1977).

6 C. Marcinkowski, SAFINE-ye SOLAYMANI, The title of the Persian manuscript, Safine-ye Solaymani, has a double meaning: safine, namely ‘ship’ and ‘notebook, miscellanea’. Solayman, besides the Safavid King’s name, attests to the wisdom of the Biblical King Solomon, as reflected in Persian legends.

7 Ibrāhīm, XX.

8 Ibrāhīm, 48.

9 Ibrāhīm, 52.

10 J. W. Fück, BUZURG b. SHAHRYAR (EI2, vol. 1, 1358). George Hourani, Arab Seafaring, (Princeton, 1995). Hourani contends that a large number of Persian words (e.g., Bandar, daftar, didban, nakhuda, or rahmani, a substitute for rahnameh) passed into the Arabic maritime vocabulary during that long period and came to constitute an essential component of it (Hourani, 62); see also G. Ferrand, “L’ élément persan dans les textes nautiques arabes,”( JA 204, 1924), 193-257. U. Gehrke and H. Mehner, Iran.

11 Dārāb-nāma-ye Tarsusi, ed. Z. Safa (Bongah-e tarjoma va nashr-e ketab, Tehran, 1344/1945). W. Hanaway, DĀRĀB-NĀMA (EIR VII), 8-9.

12 Z. Safa, Hamasa-sara’i dar Iran, 4th ed. (Tehran, 1363 ˆ./1984), 283-89. Francois de Blois, GARSHASP-NAMEH (EIR X), 318-19.

13 Salimi Jaruni, Masnavi-ye Shirin va Farhad, ed. Najaf Jukar (Tehran: Mirath-e Maktub, 2003). According to Qazvini, a fisherman called Jarun was the only, or the only known, inhabitant of the Island and it was named after him as Jarun. See Mohammad Qazvini, Yaddashtha, ed. Iraj Afshar (Tehran, 1984), Vol. 9-10, 54-5).

14 Sadegh Chubak was the first writer of his generation to use the full potential of the dialogue as a narrative technique. Besides his two novels, Tangsir (1963; trans. F. R. C. Bagley and Marziya Sami’i as “One Man and His Gun” in Sadegh Chubak: An Anthology. Delmar, N. Y,1982, 13-181), and Sang-e Sabur (1966, trans. M. R. Ghanoonparvar as The Patient Stone, Costa Mesa, California, 1989), he has published several collections of short stories; Khayma Shab-bazi (The Puppet Show, 1945) and Antar-i ke Luti-ash Morda Bud (1949; trans. Avery as “The Baboon Whose Buffoon was Dead,” New World Writing 11, 1957, 14-24), Zir-e Cheragh-e Ghermez, Pirahan-e Zereski, and Chera Darya Tufani Shoda Bud (Why the Sea Was Stormy).

15 Ahmad Mahmud is among the most prominent writers on rural and regional themes in modern Persian literature. Although he has written a number of short stories, his fame rests largely on his panoramic historical trilogy; Hamsayeha (Neighbors, 1974), Dastan-e yak Shahr (The Tale of a City, 1991), and Zamin-e Sukhteh (Scorched Earth, 1982). Pictures of poverty and despair are juxtaposed with the trivial pursuits of wanton landlords, greedy village elders and police agents, against a backdrop of cheerless village life.

16 Ebrahim Golestan (b. Shiraz, 1922-) made his literary debut with two collections of short stories, Juy o Divar o Teshna (The Stream and the Wall and the Parched, 1967) and Madd o Meh (The Tide and the Mist, 1969). His only longer narrative, a satirical allegory; Asrar-e Ganj-e Darra-ye Jenni (The Secrets of the Treasure of the Haunted Valley, 1974) makes imaginative use of techniques of the cinema in its narrative.

17 Jalal Al-e Ahmad is known for his critical views on intellectual alienation and cultural colonialism.

18 Gholam-Hosayn Sa’edi’s literary output includes “Aramesh dar Hozur-e Digaran” (Composure in the Presence of Others, 1967), published in a collection entitled Vahemaha-ye Bi-nom o Neshan. Two of Sa’edi’s later works, Ghariba dar Shahr (Stranger in the City, 1980), and Tatar-e Khandan (The Grinning Tatar, 1984) saw the light of day only after the revolution. He left for Paris after the revolution, where he died in 1985.

19 Sa’edi, 1968, trans. Minoo Southgate as Fear and Trembling, 1984.

20 Ḥasan Mirʿabedini, Ṣad sāl dāstān-nevisi dar Irān, 3 vols. (Tehran, 1987-98), 510.

21 Franco Moretti, Epic Modern: The World System from Goethe to Garcia Marquez, trans. By Quintin Hoare (Verso, London, 1996), 234.

22 Mario Vargas Llosa, ‘Latin America: Fiction and Reality’, in J. King, ed., Modem Latin American Fiction: a Survey (Faber and Faber, London and Boston 1987) 5.

23 Ravanipur has written several collections of short stories and novels. Her literary works include Ahl-e Ghargh (The Drowned, 1989) and Del-e Fulad (Heart of Steel, 1990), several collections of short stories,Sang-e shaytan, occasional stories for children, and a compilation of southern Iranian legends and beliefs, Afsaneha va bavarha-ye jonub.

24 Nasrin Rahimieh, “Magical Realism in Moniru Ravanipur’s Ahl-e gharq,” (Iranian Studies 23/1-4, 1992), 61-75. Rahimieh contends that situating the novel in a village so isolated that its inhabitants do not realize they belong to a larger country, has enabled Ravanipur to capture the clash of contradictory realities in Iranian life, a constant shifting of the levels of reality which echo the most recent chapters of Iranian history.

25 Moniru Ravanipur, Ahl-e gharq, 127-8 (The passage is translated into English by Nasrin Rahimieh).