Savushun (A Persian Requiem)

views updated

Savushun (A Persian Requiem)

by Simin Danishvar


A novel set in the ancient city of Shiraz during World War II-occupied Iran; published in Iran (as Savushan) in 1969, in English in 1990.


When the Allied forces occupy Iran, a husband refuses to sell them crops and his wife struggles to exercise her will in support of her husband’s refusal.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Novel in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

For More Information

Simin Danishvar, one of Iran’s best-known pioneers of women’s writing, was born in Shiraz, Iran, in 1921. She attended missionary schools in Shiraz, and in 1948 moved to the capital of Tehran to study Persian literature at Tehran University, from which Danishvar (also spelled Daneshvar) would receive her doctorate. At the university, she met and later married Jalal Al-i Ahmad (1923–1969), a prominent socially engaged writer who later in life composed a strong critique of westernization in Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi entitled Gharbzadigi (Plagued by the West, also in WLAIT 6: Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times). Danishvar traveled to the United States in 1952 on a Fulbright Fellowship to study creative writing at Stanford University in California. Becoming a teacher, she later joined the faculty at Tehran University. Danishvar’s earliest works include the collection of short stories Atash-i khamush (1948; Fire Quenched). Her subsequent works, including the short-story collection Shahri chun bihisht (1961; A City Like Paradise), show a longstanding commitment to prose fiction. In addition to her own writing, Danishvar has translated landmark fiction and drama into Persian (Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, William Saroyan’s Human Comedy, Arthur Schnitzler’s Beatrice, and George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man). She is best known for her novel Savushun (A Persian Requiem), which was published only a few months before her husband’s premature death. While she has released a number of later works, including Bihki salam kunam? (1980; Whom Should I Salute?), Ghurub-i Jalal (1981; Jalal’s Sunset), and Jazxrah-i sargardani (1998; The Wandering Island), none has surpassed Savushun in popularity. Portraying the turmoil of 1940s Iran, its plot brings to the fore two contemporary social issues that intersect by the close of the novel.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

Modernization and its failings

A historical underpinning central to Savushun is the memory of the occupation of Iran by outside political powers during the Second World War. This occupation represented just one more incident in a series of events that had long characterized Iran’s tenuous relationship to the major Western powers in the region: Britain and the Soviet Union. Because of its strategic location, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Iran faced numerous attempts by outsiders (mainly Great Britain but also Tsarist Russia) to exert control over its lands. While much of Asia and Africa fell under foreign control throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Iran and Afghanistan retained some independence. In the case of Iran, this independence was largely due to the dynamics of Russian and British imperial expansion rather than to any formidable military resistance. Iran lay in a crucial position from the points-of-view of both these powers, so for either to gain a dominant share of control was to risk a major war.

Russian interests in Iran differed from those of the British. For the Russians, who by the middle of the nineteenth century had gained control through military force of Baku, Georgia, Daghestan, Armenia, and much of eastern Transcaucasia, the motivation for expansion into Iran was the historical drive for a warm-water outlet. For the British, at least prior to the discovery of oil, the overwhelming interest in Iran was its proximity to India. The British and Russian empires were thus engaged in a perpetual rivalry based on economic control and domination of Iran. Both empires vied for economic concessions from Iran, each gaining an advantage over Iran’s merchants in the process. Not all Iranians suffered from this economic competition. However harmful it may have been to Iranians who labored to sell their products at a fair price, other Iranians profited, particularly at the royal court. The Iranian monarchy derived great financial reward by playing the two powers against each other, and the strategy meanwhile insured the survival of Iran as a country. The end result, however, was devastating to Iran: An ever higher percentage of its resources fell under outside control as more foreign concessions were granted, it grew more indebted to outside powers because of additional loans from them, and corruption in the Iranian government increased. Meanwhile, the local population grew impoverished while harvests were allocated to foreign armies. If British soldiers wanted grain, they would approach the open silos. In the event of Iranian resistance, the soldiers often destroyed the silos and took what they needed for themselves.

In the early 1930s, the autocratic ruler Reza Shah initiated a vigorous program to modernize Iran on the model of European countries, minus their political systems. The price for some of his most important economic policies, however, was stilling dictatorship until his abdication in 1941 during World War II in favor of his son (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi). The country, though advancing economically, remained stagnant politically. By incorporating Western technology and bureaucracy and by attempting to curtail the power of clerical leaders, Reza Shah tried to foster modernization. But his regime did not embrace other aspects of Western society; it refused to allow political parties, free elections, or a free press. In lieu of political parties and political participation, Reza Shah invoked Iran’s pre-Islamic past as the ideological foundation for the mission of modernizing the nation. Ultimately this ideology would fail; instead of becoming a great and independent nation-state, Iran would find its fate bound up yet again with the more powerful and modern states of Britain, the Soviet Union, and later, the United States.

An authoritative style

Unsurprisingly the shah’s reforms led to the expansion of the bureaucracy and the Iranian army, which served primarily to heighten governmental authority over peasants, tribes, and organized urban opposition. As Reza Shah set out to unify the nation and establish the mechanisms for a strong nation-state, he emphasized the need for a strong military. A drive for national unification ensued, gaining impetus from the efforts to erase the legacy of foreign control of Iran and to “Persianize” the country by discouraging minority languages, tribal allegiances, and religious affiliations.

As part of his agenda of westernization, Reza Shah ordered the mass unveiling of women in 1936. The state saw the drive to emancipate women and elevate their status as a necessary element in creating a modern nation and countering the omnipotence of the mosque. In forcing women to abandon the veil, Reza Shah hoped to create a symbol of modernization and westernization for the nation. There was a backlash, however, and not only from conservative groups. At first a number of women’s organizations—established before the 1930s and dedicated to expanding women’s rights in education, the workplace, and politics (women’s gaining the vote)—had supported the shah’s reforms. But as his policies became concerned more with state control, these women’s groups became devoid of any real political power. Instead of helping them effect substantive change, the shah’s government initiated token measures. The forced unveiling was not wholeheartedly supported by these women’s groups; some objected that it was too harsh and abrupt a change, and that it was unaccompanied by any program of education or real reform.

The net result of the shah’s modernizing policies, combined with his authoritative style, was to produce significant opposition. Although social reforms and modernization programs—such as the development of the railroads and the centralization of government—created the basis for Iran’s emergence as a “modern” nation-state, by 1941 the social and political position of most Iranians had not changed and, in some cases, had worsened. For women, although the mandatory unveiling law took effect, true liberation was not fully realized due to the persistence of a fundamentally patriarchal view of them in government. Women were still subject to Islamic jurisprudence in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, which “discriminated against women’s equality in the family” (Moghissi, p. 38). It was this mix of countervailing forces that brought about the kind of display of character in Savushun, which features a woman who ends up asserting her individuality while at the same time remaining loyal to her husband.

European-Iranian relations

For all his talk of independence, the fact remained that Iran under Reza Shah was still affected by the Western powers. The Iranian government sought relationships with both Germany and Britain, the latter of which continued to be the major power in Iran. British capital investment in the oil fields during the 1930s overshadowed all Iranian investment in trade and industry. The British held one of the most lucrative oil concessions in Iranian history, and although Reza Shah temporarily cancelled the Anglo-Persian oil concession in 1932, it was quickly revised and restored. The chief interest of the British was to foster a pro-British regime that would act as a buffer to Russian expansionism and protect the western flank of the Indian empire. Thanks to the discovery of oil in Iran early in the twentieth century and to the creation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) in 1909, the British continued to play a key role in Iran’s domestic political scene, often supporting political groups and tribal factions that would promote British interests. Throughout Reza Shah’s reign, the British sought to manipulate Iranian politics, including its Majlis (parliament), in the service of oil concessions that favored Britain at the expense of Iran’s own wealth.

By 1941 Germany had become the leading country in Iranian foreign relations and had figured significantly in helping to establish the Iranian industrial base, by, among other things, completing the Trans-Iranian Railroad. Germany’s influence was not limited to the economic realm. Because of the large numbers of Iranians who had been educated in Germany prior to the war, Iran was viewed as a breeding ground for pro-German and even Nazi sentiment. The Germans went so far as to declare Iran a pure “Aryan” country, a slogan that suited Reza Shah’s dictatorial and nationalistic inclinations. The presence of German agents and the sympathies of the shah towards Germany were the two principal reasons given for the invasion and occupation by British and Soviet troops in 1941, though there were others: opening a new corridor to Russia, safeguarding oil installations (which had principally benefited Britain), and pre-empting any pro-Axis officers who might have been tempted to oust the unpopular shah and install a pro-German regime.

Allied pressure forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his son in September 1941, and he was deported and died in 1944. After his deportation, Iran was divided into three zones by the British and Russians. Soviet troops occupied the north; British troops, the south; and Tehran, along with some other important areas, remained unoccupied. In January 1942, Great Britain, Iran, and the Soviet Union signed an alliance. The Allies guaranteed to safeguard Iran’s economy from the negative effects of war and to withdraw their troops within six months after the war’s end.

On the home front

After Reza Shah abdicated and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was installed as monarch, a greater openness dawned in society. By 1942, a number of organizations and political groups had re-established themselves and had begun to make demands on the government. Trade unions, most of them Marxist, reappeared. The revival of a free press led to the flourishing of newspapers, which were often advocates of political and economic change. For women, the removal of Reza Shah from power had contradictory effects. On the one hand, the anti-religious atmosphere cultivated by Reza Shah’s government dissolved, so clerics gained a stronger voice. Many women found themselves re-veiling out of social pressure or, alternatively, personal preference, now that they did not have to abide by Reza Shah’s dictates. Some women, however, refused to re-assume the veil and fought to get women’s issues on the agendas of political parties. A number of publications dedicated to women’s issues began to be distributed at this time, and several women’s associations, which had been quashed during the 1930s, reemerged.

Although there was greater openness, the occupation had detrimental effects on the population as well. Bread riots erupted in Tehran in the winter of 1942 because of an acute grain shortage, which was aggravated by hoarding and speculation and the diversion of food supplies to the occupying armies. The result was widespread famine in many areas. The occupation, Reza Shah’s abdication, and wartime economic and social problems gave rise to growing unrest. In the north, encouraged by the Russians, minority peoples—the Azerbaijanis and Kurds—agitated for the right to use their own languages. New political parties, such as the Tudeh (Communist Party), and leftist trade unions sprung up in other areas. The South saw tribal leaders, landlords, and religious leaders raise their voices, with British encouragement. By 1942 and 1943, American advisers had come to Iran to assist in the transport of war supplies via the Trans-Iranian Railroad. All three of the Allied forces tried to influence internal Iranian affairs, due to postwar as well as wartime concerns connected to Iran’s close proximity to the Soviet Union, and a desire for control over Iranian oil resources.

The occupation, which eventually resulted in Iran’s support of the Allies, left deep scars on the political, economic, and cultural life of the Iranian people. The desire for independence and a self-sufficient economy grew in the postwar years, but as the reality of global politics and the U.S.-Soviet competition for world leadership known as the Cold War pressed in on Iran, it became increasingly vulnerable to those interests. By 1951, Iranians were anxious for greater independence and the ability to exercise control over their own oil resources. Under the leadership of Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iran ended its relationship with Britain over its oil resources and called for the nationalization of the oil industry.

The ultimate blow to Iranian independence came in 1953 when a CIA-directed coup toppled the popularly elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq and reinstalled Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the son of Reza Shah, to power. The coup signaled the beginning of a brutal military dictatorship, wiping away the opportunities for independence and democratic reform. The coup was not an isolated event, however; rather it was an extension of the pre and post-war designs of the superpowers. While Britain’s influence decreased considerably, the United States stepped into the void. For many Iranians, the coup just repeated history; once again foreign invaders and collaborating Iranians would deny the people and nation the right to control their own destiny.

The Novel in Focus

Plot summary

Savushun unfolds through the heroine Zari’s thoughts and musings, as well as through events and incidents that advance the socio-historic dimension of the story. The novel opens during World War II, at the height of the British occupation of the south, and centers on the landowning class of Shiraz, who are attending the wedding of the governor’s daughter, Gilantaj. At the wedding are the novel’s hero and its more understated heroine—the married couple Yusof and Zari. They mingle with other members of the Shirazi elite and some foreign officers of armies that have occupied Iran for four years during the war. There is small talk about politics. While Yusof takes a stand against the occupation, his older brother, Khan Kaka, hopes to influence members of the British army so they will help him land an appointment to the parliament.

In the novel, Shiraz is portrayed as a city robbed of its classical greatness and physically compromised by the effects of occupation. Yusof comments during the wedding reception to MacMahon, an Irish war correspondent whom Yusof befriends, that “the people of this city are born poets, but you (the British) have stifled their poetry” (Danishvar, Savushun, p. 34). Although Iran has not experienced direct European colonialism, the novel alludes to a number of typically colonial institutions that have penetrated Iranian life, such as the missionary school that Zari attends and the missionary hospital in which her children were born.

Among the more notable European characters at the party is a Sergeant Zinger, who, says Zari, came to Iran 17 years earlier to sell Singer sewing machines to Iranian women. At the time the novel takes place, however, Zinger is a military officer in British uniform.

A benevolent and well-respected landowner, Yusof refuses to sell his crops to the occupying armies. He does not want to see the peasants who lease land from him and the people of Shiraz starve at the expense of British and Russian soldiers. Spotting a way to make some money off the occupation, his brother, Khan Kaka, suggests that Yusof sell his harvest to the army men or they will “take it by force” (Savushun, p. 32). Yusof’s statement at the beginning of the novel presages his ultimate martyrdom:

“There is nothing surprising and new about the foreigners coming here uninvited, Khan Kaka,” Yusof replied. “What I despise is the feeling of inferiority which has been instilled in all of you. In the blink of an eye, they make you all their dealers, errand boys, and interpreters. At least let one person stand up to them so they think to themselves, ‘Well, at last, we’ve found one real man.’”

(Savushun, p. 32)

Yusof’s peers consider him an idealist. Living up to the image, he takes his rations of sugar and food coupons from the government and distributes them among the poor peasants in the villages.

Yusof’s wife, Zari, emerges as a quiet, unconventional heroine. Much of the novel is narrated from her point of view. Zari’s primary concern remains her family. She is preoccupied with her three children (a boy and twin girls) and is expecting a fourth. Yet she begins to question her own limited position as a woman in this patriarchal culture of hers. As Yusof leads and organizes a resistance against the foreign occupiers, she quietly does the work of women: mothering, providing charity to the less fortunate, and serving and supporting her husband. All the while she harbors an increasing number of questions about the suppression of women in the face of male domination. She begins to view this gender-based suppression as parallel to Iranians living under the yoke of foreign domination. Her questioning of male dominance, however, occurs largely in private. Through Zari’s internal dialogue with herself, the reader becomes privy to the psychological entrapment she feels because of the limited opportunities available to women in her society.

Zari’s charitable work in the poor neighborhoods of Shiraz is one of the few ways she can contribute beyond her isolated household roles of devoted wife and mother. And even this is belittled by her husband, who dismisses her religious and social devotion as “useless” and “rotten to the core” (Savushun, p. 149). Unlike Yusof, who is preoccupied with dramatic political and historical events of the day—that is, with plotting his dangerous resistance movement to the foreign occupation—Zari quietly submits. When she isn’t tending her husband and children, she spends her days ministering to the poor, the sick, and the insane. She understands that unlike the men, “the only brave thing that she could do was to not keep the others from being brave and let them—with their free hands and thoughts, with their tool of tools—do something” (Savushun, p. 248).

Zari’s quiet resignation to her female role and her own limitations are shaken near the end of the novel when the repeated nightmares she has about her husband’s death become real. The last time Yusof heads out to the pastures to give food to the peasants rather than to the British army, he does not come home alive. Allegedly his killer is one of the peasants who has worked for him, but there is suspicion that the British officer Sergeant Zinger is behind Yusof’s death. In her sorrow, Zari retreats into angry, violent thoughts and teeters on the edge of madness. Then, instead of becoming a silent, mournful widow, she emerges as an outspoken supporter of her husband and the cause for which he fought. She goes about telling others that he died because he wanted to keep the contents of the silos for his own farmhands. This marks Zari as a woman who, while remaining faithful to the family structure, far exceeds the role it ascribes to a woman. While her husband lives, she shies away from bold defiance, but after he’s been killed, she embraces it. She had wanted to raise her children “with love in a peaceful environment,” proclaims Zari, but instead will “raise them in hatred” (Savushun, p. 317). She vows to put a gun in her son Khorow’s hands.

An Iranian woman’s political awakening

Zari’s anger serves as a catalyst for her political awakening and initiates her movement from a private into a public realm. By participating in her husband’s funeral procession and demanding that he be properly honored as a martyr for the cause of Iranian independence, Zari undergoes an inner transformation that imbues her with a new self-confidence and courage. She does this by speaking up in protest against those who would keep her husband’s death a private event.

The day of the funeral for Yusof, friends and mourners flood the house and yard. There is disagreement among the mourners about where to parade Yusof’s body in the occupied city. “With the foreign army in the city … there’ll be a riot,” says Khan Kaka (Savushun, p. 363). Zari, increasingly incensed at her brother-in-law’s lack of respect, insists on the public procession: “They killed my husband unjustly. The least that can be done is to mourn him. Mourning is not forbidden, you know. During his life, we were always afraid and tried to make him afraid. Now that he is dead, what are we afraid of anymore? I, for one, have gone beyond all” (Savushun, p. 363). Emboldened, she claims her voice and challenges her brother-in-law Khan Kaka, whom she finds hypocritical and self-interested. By the end of the novel, Zari understands the story of Siyavash, an ancient Iranian hero, who like Yusof, becomes a martyr (see Shahnamah, or Book of Kings , also in WLAIT 6: Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times). From the blood of Siyavash’s dying body, goes the legend, a tree issued forth. His legendary story is relayed by a peasant woman, who explains the meaning of the day and evening that commemorate the martyr’s death. Zari relates her own husband’s death to the harvest ritual on this day of commemoration and collective mourning for a fallen hero, and the connection encourages her to challenge those who are complicit in her husband’s death. Participating in the funeral procession that leads her husband’s coffin down the streets of Shiraz, which are full of chaos and rioting, Zari becomes an activist of sorts. She quotes her husband, saying, “A city must not be completely without men” (Savushun, p. 376). Ironically Zari herself becomes the sort of heroic figure that both her husband and the story of Siyavash envision, though in both these cases the ideal is a male. At the end of the novel, her fate is uncertain, but in understanding Siyavash, she celebrates a part of her culture that eluded her at the British-run schools in which she studied Christian heroes and memorized Western poets such as John Milton (Cook, p. 197). The suggestion is that finding her identity as a woman requires drawing on her national heritage and is furthermore related to finding her identity as an Iranian. Zari’s self-awareness grows as she makes the connection between her own limited opportunities as a female in Iran and those of her countrymen under the yoke of Western occupation.

Zari’s dawning awareness reflects a growing consciousness among her real-life counterparts in Iran. By the early 1960s Mohammed Reza Pahlavi had initiated the so-called “White Revolution,” which promoted modest reforms throughout society. Included in these reforms were an expansion of women’s educational opportunities and the granting of suffrage to women. Some of the changes had an impact on women’s lives, but as late as 1969 Mohammed Reza Pahlavi showed a contradictory stance toward the position of women in Iranian society, as revealed in the following interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in 1976.

Look, let’s put it this way. I don’t underrate them (women); they’ve profited more than anyone else from my White Revolution. I’ve fought strenuously so that they’d have equal rights and responsibilities. I’ve even put them in the army, where they get military training for six months and are then sent to the villages to fight the battle against illiteracy. And let’s not forget I’m the son of the man who took away women’s veils in Iran. But I wouldn’t be sincere if I stated I’d been influenced by a single one of them. Nobody can influence me, nobody. Still less a woman. Women are important in a man’s life only if they’re beautiful and charming and keep their femininity.… This business of feminism, for instance. What do these feminists want? What do you want? You say equality. Oh! I don’t want to seem rude, but.… You’re equal in the eyes of the law but not, excuse my saying so, in ability.

(Mohammad Reza Shah in Fallaci, p. 62)

Such contradictory attitudes toward women were widely held in Iranian society. On the surface, women gained a semblance of equality when they gained the vote, but when they tried to redefine the parameters of their preconceived roles, they often met with ambivalent or hostile attitudes.

The final lines of the novel, a note of condolence to Zari from MacMahon, articulate a sentiment about the struggle for Iranian independence throughout history that can likewise be applied to the struggle for women’s rights: “Do not weep, sister. In your home, a tree shall grow, and others in your city, and many more throughout your country. And the wind shall carry the message from tree to tree and the trees shall ask the wind, ‘Did you see the dawn on your way?’” (Savushun, p. 378). These lines suggest that Yusof’s death was not in vain. MacMahon, an Irishman who is familiar with the effects of occupation and colonization because of his own country’s experience with the British, offers a hopeful way to understand Zari’s loss: her husband’s death can be seen as an act of martyrdom and the beginning of a movement that will eventually liberate Iran. Additionally his words can be understood as a hopeful sign that women such as Zari could and would play a role in the life of Iran’s modern history.

Sources and literary context

By the middle of the twentieth century, some modernist female poets had broken new ground in Iran by interjecting a female voice into an almost exclusively male poetic tradition. But there were few women who had begun to experiment in the newer field of prose fiction. Actually because there was no longstanding fictional tradition in Iran, at least in the modern sense of the genre, the emergence of a female voice in the novel and short story was far less threatening than in poetry. Simin Danishvar is usually credited as the first female author to publish a work of fiction, namely her 1947 collection of short stories Atash-i khamush (Fire Quenched). The collection received very little attention and, although she continued to write, not until the publication of Savushun in 1969 did she gain respect as a serious author. Even then, she did not receive as much attention as male writers.

[Danishvar] belonged to an age when unwritten laws had developed to communicate to every artist the expectations of the avant-garde intellectual community. A corpus of literary strictures insisted that only certain kinds of experiences, certain kinds of characters, and certain views of society were worthy of serious consideration. Those authors who violated these notions of socio-political engagement or proper thematic concern faced social stigmatization, slight, or neglect. (Milani, “Power, Prudence and Print,” p. 331)

As suggested, Savushun can be understood as a reflection of women’s growing awareness and public participation in twentieth-century Iran. Danishvar was one of the first to portray such a reality in the character of a female protagonist who speaks in her own voice. Whereas earlier works written by men had depicted women as the object of change rather than as agents of change, Savushun gives voice to a female perspective and a female’s voice.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

Writers as social critics

Throughout twentieth-century Iranian history, the country’s poets and prose writers dealt with turbulent social and political developments. During the 1960s and 1970s the Iranian intelligentsia saw itself as the articulate vanguard of social criticism and opposition to both the tyranny of the shah and the anti-reformist stance of the clergy. Poetry and prose fiction became the principal vehicles for expressing discontent with the Iranian political system and its effects on society. Writing provided Iranian intellectuals and artists with the possibility of communicating these concerns through a complex scheme of literary metaphors that could survive the scrutiny of powerful government censors. The modern intellectual class, rushanfikr (literally, “enlightened thinkers”), as well as foreign observers, evaluated much of Iranian literature based on whether or not it was politically engaged and registered political and social criticism. Of course, the corpus of this modern literature was largely the product of male authors; it was in essence the “public” discourse of a male-centered intellectual world. Savushun is a much more understated and less political novel. While it does of course deal with events of national history, it is a much subtler political critique and includes a critique of Iranian patriarchal culture as well.

In a country where segregating the sexes and upholding a feminine ideal are facts of life, Iranian women writers had difficulty overcoming obstacles to writing and publishing. Not only were there external barriers to overcome, but there was their own internal hesitancy born of years of suppression. Yet some women, such as Danishvar, managed to penetrate, transform, and go beyond this largely male literary world. Readers were moved, for example, sometimes shocked, by the poetry of Furugh Farrukhzad (see “Sinning” and Other Poems , also in WLAIT 6: Middle Eastern literature and Their Times), which encompassed social commentary and expressed a woman’s search for autonomy, growth, and love, including erotic love. Other works by women were criticized for being overly sentimental or were ignored altogether. Danishvar’s own success can in part be attributed to the fact that she focused on the interior thoughts and feelings of her protagonist, a private, not a public space. Also the infusion of modern Iranian history and the events of World War II into the story gave it an element that resonated for a wide readership.


Hushang Gulshiri, himself a famous writer, offered the first serious critical treatment of Danishvar’s complete works in an Iranian literary journal, Naqd-i Agah, in 1984. Gulshiri mentions the novel’s enormous popularity. It gained renown for becoming the most sold book in the country in the twentieth century. One of the reviews, by M. R. Ghanoonparvar, attributes the popularity of the novel to “its unpretentious narrative. In other words, in this novel, Danishvar tells her story simply, in a way that does not alienate the average reader” (Ghanoonparvar, p. 78).

Because of the enormous flourishing of women’s writing after the 1979 revolution, Danishvar has undergone a re-evaluation of sorts by a younger generation of authors who recognize her achievements in both the literary and feminist contexts. By writing against the grain of socially acceptable forms of prose fiction and revealing the inner thoughts and feelings of her protagonist, she created a precedent, opening up a whole new landscape of characters and literary models for younger writers. Her focus, moreover, on a young woman caught up in the events of an era suggests that women have not been absent from Iran’s sociopolitical history, that their participation has perhaps been understated and undervalued. The socially engaged novel Savushun is itself an example of such participation. In questioning the role of women in Iran, the novel has promoted change to a degree that the programs and policies of the monarchical state did not.

—Persis M. Karim

For More Information

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran Between Two Revolutions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Al-i Ahmad, Jalal. Plagued by the West (Garbzadegi). Trans. Paul Sprachman. Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan, 1982.

Cook, Michaela. “The Muslim Woman as Hero in Daneshvar’s Savushun: A Novel about Modern Iran.” In Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women’s Writing as Transgression. Ed. Deidre Lashgari. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Danishvar, Simin. Savushun. Trans. M. R. Ghanoonparvar. Washington, D.C.: Mage, 1990.

Fallaci, Oriana. Interview with History. Trans. John Shepley. New York: Liveright, 1976.

Ghanoonparvar, M. R. “On Savushun and Simin Daneshvar’s Contribution to Persian Fiction.” Iranshinasi 3, no. 4 (winter 1992): 77–98.

_____. Prophets of Doom: Literature as a Sociopolitical Phenomenon in Modern Iran. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984.

Hillmann, Michael C. “Persian Prose Fiction: An Iranian Mirror and Conscience.” In Persian Literature. Ed. Ehsan Yarshater. Albany, N.Y.: Biblioteca Persica, 1988.

Keddie, Nikki. Roots of Revolution. New York: Yale University Press, 1981.

Milani, Farzaneh. “Power, Prudence and Print: Censorship and Simin Daneshvar.” In Journal of Iranian Studies 18, nos. 2–4 (spring-autumn 1985): 325–48.

_____. Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

——. “What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Can’t Women Write?” In Images of Women in Fictions: Feminist Perspectives. Ed. Susan Koppelman Cornillon. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972.

Moghissi, Haideh. Populism and Feminism in Iran: Women’s Struggle in a Male-Defined Revolutionary Movement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.