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A Literary Novel from Iran for Young People

Written by

Farhad Hasanzadeh

Translated from the Persian by

Constance Bobroff

Available from Amazon as a Kindle eBook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BPD4261

On both sides of the road were salt flats with a wall-to-wall carpet of salt. The whiteness of the salt irritated my eyes. I closed my eyes…”

A 16-year-old girl, Dorna, resident of the city of Abadan, Iran comes upon an old notebook. In it, she reads the story of how the War separated Mr. Ẕal from his boyhood crush all those years ago. She decides to post the story in installments on her blog. But this will not be just another cliché Iran-Iraq War story. Dorna is determined to make this weblog something altogether new. Unwilling to cave in to the demands of her blog-followers to hurry and skip to the end, she revels in the storytelling, allowing the past to catch up to the present. Meanwhile, the reader is treated to a behind-the-scenes adventure in the translation process with glimpses at issues concerning Persian language and literature in the digital realm.

Written by a prize-winning author, short-listed for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the original book went into three printings in Iran. Ages 15 and up.

Original Persian title: “In veblāg vā-gozāar mishavad.”

Book Excerpt:

Chapter One: An Introduction to a Real Badass Story

Home >> DORNA >> Zal >> Comments >> Translator

Hello!

Welcome to my blog which I’m officially calling “The Bunch of Keys.” The Bunch of Keys is going to be different from all the other weblogs you’ve ever seen. This weblog is basically a story. Moreover, there is a story to this story. And perhaps there is even another story to that story. Well, just sit back and relax and allow me to transport you to an amazing place because believe me, you’re in for one helluva badass story.

I know, I know. I can already see the huge question marks popping up inside your mind. You are sitting there going “What the …?” So here’s the deal: I’m putting someone’s story on my blog but I’m also going to be putting the story of my putting this story on my blog. Got it?

Okay, so there’s only one small problem: I don’t quite know how to begin.

One possible way to begin would be like so: My name is Dorna. You know “Dorna” as in “Crane.” I mean the migratory bird, of course, not the machine used to lift heavy objects. I’m a 16-year-old girl, resident of the city of Abadan, in the country of Iran.

Abadan is–maybe I should say was–an important city on the Persian Gulf in the south of the country. Abadan was sort of a British invention. But don’t think those Englishmen built this city for their health. No, it was on account of all the tala-ye siyah. Yes, my friends, that’s how we say ‘black gold’ in Persian. ‘Texas tea.’

Yes, so anyhow, as I was saying, the reason Abadan ever got a place on anybody’s map is chiefly thanks to our British-made oil refinery. They built the refinery and the town and the streets and shops to go along with it back in 1912. What that means for you is that if you hear Abadanis saying ‘roundabout’ instead of ‘traffic circle,’ please blame the Brits and not us. The other reason people have heard of Abadan would be the Cinema Rex fire. You can get the nitty-gritty on that from Wikipedia if you so desire but suffice it to say, the fire was one of the more grisly events leading up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Just a stone’s throw away, across the Shatt al-Arab waterway is our neighbor, Iraq. I’m sure you know that in Iraq, they speak Arabic while here in Iran, we speak Persian which is also known as Farsi. (If you didn’t know that, now you do.) Being close to the border, many people in Abadan can speak Arabic. However, some of us are more comfortable with good, old Persian. I’m a member of our local Kanoon library. I read more books than a bookworm and I write stories and…

No. Ugh!

What garbage! Who wants to read a lot of asinine drivel about some nobody called Dorna? After all, this blog is hardly about me. It’s about a guy and a girl. Actually, this blog is supposed to have a higher purpose: it’s about the affairs of the heart. It’s about one man’s love for a woman. OK, so stop the violins because that’s not right either. I guess the most I can say for now is that it’s about one man’s past.

So maybe I should put it this way: It’s about a guy who has been entrusted with a bunch of keys and, until he can return said bunch of keys to its rightful owner, he will find no peace of mind and is wholly incapable of getting on with his life.

OMG!!! What I just wrote absolutely reeks.

I feel like one of those brain-dead rejects at school who suck at creative writing and can’t manage to string together a couple of coherent sentences. Here when I am someone who’s attended countless creative writing workshops and produced loads of minimalist, maximalist, normalist and non-normalist screeds, this is pretty embarrassing. I mean, how hard can it be to produce a simple story within a story and throw it on a blog? This is all the more so when nowadays every kindergartener has already got two or three blogs under their belt. 🙂 It’s not like I’m some kind of newbie, you know. I’ve established a real online presence as a blogger and my followers have come to expect more. But, seriously, this one will be on an entirely different plane. This is going to be something that’s never even been attempted before.

Hold that thought because I think I’m gonna need to chill for a bit. I could use some AFK time. (That’s ‘Away From the Keyboard’ for those of you troglodytes.) I need to think how to start from scratch. Maybe you’d also like to take a breather while I try to sort out my thoughts and emotions. Thanks. I’ll be back soon…

…Ok, I’m back. That’s a little better. I’ve got my thoughts a little more in order now but as for the emotions department? Not so much.

So, how about giving me a little more time?

How does tomorrow sound?

I’ll come back tomorrow and write the rest.

It’ll be better this way. Hopefully waaaaayyyyyy better.

Written by {Dorna} on {Friday, 27 July 2012} at {22:22}

Leave a comment! ✉

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Home >> Dorna >> Zal >> COMMENTS >> Translator

There are 5 comments. Begin comments:

Hello Dorna! Congratulations on setting up this new virtual hang-out. Rownak tells me you are planning to dazzle us with something new and fresh. Something to wow the socks off our creative writing class. Hopefully you’ll make your old teacher here proud. It’s been a couple years since our library has brought home any prizes. Good luck! We’re behind you all the way!

-Mrs. Hemmati

Your blog is gr8! Only the name is a little icky. It makes you think of locks and locksmiths and stuff. Visit my page and if you want, link to me and I’ll link back to you.

-Bigfoot

Today a weblog has been born! Whoopee! July twenty-seventh shall remain forever etched in the annals of time!

-Your dear brother, Ali

dorna, as i told u the other day when I saw you best 2 forget the dude w/ the keys  my big brother was saying hes got a screw or two loose  .dont ruin yr summer w/ this psycho.  plz just take up something more normal 🙂 🙂 🙂 arghavan was also surprised when i told her about yr plan 2 write about the bookshop guy 4 r class 🙂 🙂 🙂 everywhere u look in this town there r soooo many worthy topics but here u have 2 go and choose the worst thing imaginable    come on, u stubborn girl 🙂 🙂 🙂

-rownak

My dear, as you know, I have read all your other blogs. Everything you’ve put up so far has been marvelous! And now I want nothing more than to just sit back and put my feet up here and wait to see what you’re going to treat us to this time. I have already sent your link to a billion citizens of Abadan to drum up some customers for you. In fact, one billion is not enough so I sent it to all the Abadani networks out there I could think of and told everyone to spread the word! 🙂

-Uncle Mehran

End of comments. No more comments.

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Home >> Dorna >> Zal >> Comments >> TRANSLATOR

Opening Inbox. You have 1 new emails:

M at 7:45 AM, maryam@yahoo.com, wrote:

Connie jun, I read the first chapter of your new translation project. I like the digital nod to the traditional frame story. Very Persian! Is this Dorna blogger girl supposed to be a modern-day Shahrazad? Well, I hope you’ll be able to stay alive for at least one thousand and one nights to translate her story.

You’d asked about Sohrab Sepehri’s poem, “Sound of the Water’s Footsteps” in your email last week and I replied with some translation suggestions. In general, you should aim to make the English as simple and uncomplicated as Sohrab’s Persian. I was particularly interested in hearing if you liked the way I translated the “charging by the ounce” part. As if happiness is something you can buy at a store! Are you getting the poem online soon? Did you make any headway in getting your server guys to implement the htaccess workaround I suggested for Apache? Take it from me, trying to do Persian without Unicode is like a bird trying to fly without wings.

Given that Nabokov eschewed textual modification while Jakobson maintained only the idea should be translated, mutatis mutandis, the two seemingly diametrically opposed theories must inevitably come together at the point where the former expresses frustration with the “dictatorship” of rhymed translation of poetry while the later falls short in always managing to put his paraphrasis into practice, I firm believe from fluent words we comprehend meanings that run through hearing to trends of perspective.

To that I would only ask, what’s up with the Abadan locale? The mere mention of Abadan is making me involuntarily clutch my water bottle closer to my heart. Could you not choose a cooler, greener spot up north? Those southern scenes of marshy date palm groves and the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf are pretty but I’d really have preferred a setting up in the rainy, green jungles of northern Iran. Most Persians have fond memories of Mom and Dad bundling the family into the car for the long drive up north for summer vacations and the feel of surf and sand on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Another thing is that the “comments” section really needs to go. The Twitterati are the only ones who are going to appreciate having a bunch of silly, disjointed comments. This brings me to the particular commenter named “Mrs. Hemmati” who is evidently supposed to be Dorna’s creative writing teacher at Kanoon. This character is problematic. I mean, think about it, can the adults who have hardly mastered email really be expected to even know what a blog is? And would they really be submitting such encouraging comments on a kid’s blog? Why don’t you have something more typical like this Mrs. Hemmati hitting the student over the head with a frying pan calling her dumb and lazy? (I know it’s a higher form of love we just can’t understand.)

But honestly, I just wish someone would sit down with some of these teachers and explain the ABCs of how to change their Facebook privacy settings so we wouldn’t have to see them playing “What kind of cheesecake are you” all night. That has got to be causing some sort of cognitive dissonance for their relatives back in Iran who marvel that “studies” in America can so very much be something to drool over, LOL.

And sorry but the book’s title has me confused. How do you turn over a weblog to someone? No comprendo.

Ok gotta run! I hope you have fun tonight at your zur-khana as you call it. Please respond at whatever odd hour you get back to your ivory tower.

$ $ $

Opening Sent Mail.

C at 1:16 AM, you wrote:

Hi Maryam. I’m just back from Gregory Gym, yes, my zur-khana and “house of strength,” responding first thing as requested! Some of your comments betray a real Iranian dry humor in you. How refreshing to find someone with such an– I daresay– intimidating array of knowledge who can also see things from the perspective of the younger generation. You must be busy yourself with book editing and conference papers. Please do not hesitate to say so if I’m taking you away from your important work for a trifling children’s book.

Believe it or not, Maryam, long ago, someone actually said this very line to me: I’m going to turn your website over [sic] to so-and-so. I, too, had wondered at the time, is a website something you can just hold in your palm and hand over to someone? Well, I sure got my answer soon enough, and let me tell you, it’s a miracle I even lived to tell about it. Now I find myself having just been asked to translate a book with this very title. I do not know how to explain such coincidences and I start to question my version of reality. Didn’t even the great Hafez say that the world is but a mirage in one of his poems?

My chief worry however, is that the area of expertise for our target demographic may lie more in Minecraft and less in Sunni-Shiite relations in the Middle East. Mario, yes. Bilal the Muezzin, not so much. I fear the footnotes will be longer than the actual text.

I was checking around the internet to see what the Iranian readers had to say about the Persian original of this book. Unlike you, they really liked the fact that the story took place in the South. A person gets tired of the big-city folk up in Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad always calling the shots.

Gracious Maryam! You must warn me if you’re going to say something utterly hilarious. I almost lost my lunch over what you said about the adults mastering email. (What a delicious lunch of bamiyeh, that is, okra I had for lunch! Khanom Professor brought it for me.) Not sure about frying pans but you’re right, the father always seems to be bringing some sort of calamity on the son’s head in Iranian culture. But you know, there is an equal but opposite thread of resistance to tyranny. There is nothing Iranian culture likes more than the little guy prying himself out from underneath the boot of the bully. Especially with the odds stacked against them. In fact, if they die in the process and become a martyr, even better! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I feel like I’m preaching to the chapel choir.

I appreciated your reference to Twitter, an app with a morgh theme, that is, with an avian theme, tweet tweet! In fact, I was recently trying to translate that line of poetry from Forugh Farrokhzad, “Remember the flight, the bird will die.” I think she was referring to normal birds but you know, the translation really sounds more like some pilot who’s struggling with the controls, having just run into a flock of pigeons during descent! Reminds me, isn’t it funny how the Persian word morgh originally meaning ‘bird’ has evolved over the centuries. Now in modern Persian, morgh has been demoted to something far less grand: ‘hen.’ (Sorry for going off on a tangent there. I’m a bit of a word nerd.)

In other news, Ostad dropped by the office this afternoon. (Instead of ‘Professor,’ I prefer to call him “Ostad” (as in ‘Maestro’ or ‘Master’ in a master-apprentice relationship. Now there’s a fine Persian word for you! However, now that you mention 1001 Nights, I wonder if I shouldn’t pronounce it as “Ostaẕ” like you see in some of the older Persian texts??) Anyhow, Ostad is an extremely tall person and I have stowed my suitcase out of sight under the office desk as I couldn’t find any other place to put it. (I would put it up behind the mountain of BetaMax tapes but I need that spot for my sweat-soaked gym shorts to dry, out of sight.) Today Ostad was trying to discuss recommendation letters with some of the other grad students. Each time he stretched his leg and banged it into my suitcase, he shot me one of those looks that can set a whole world ablaze. Awkward.

Maryam, the custodians threw me out of the office this evening while they were waxing the floors. I went to a coffee shop but their internet was down. LOL, I needed a better ‘CoffeeNet’ or whatever you call internet cafés in Iran. (Oh I figured out you’re in Iran because of your Yahoo email address. Everyone in Iran uses Yahoo. A dead giveaway LOL.)

PS Do you know what is annoying? The ‘saqqa-khana,’ or ‘house of hydration’ (that is my personal name for the water fountain down the hall, past the xerox room) makes this enormous racket every now and then when the refrigeration unit lumbers to life. It’s impossible to get any sleep in here with that starting and stopping all night.

You have just closed your email Inbox.

***

Available from Amazon as a Kindle eBook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BPD4261/

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