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Meeting Simin Daneshvar

By Anna Vanzan

I have been researching for quite a long time on the blooming of Persian female literature. So far I have met several authors in Iran, whose fiction has inspired my book on the history of Iranian women writers since the Qajar times to nowadays. But I never had the chance of meeting the great lady of Iranian literary scene, i.e., Simin Daneshvar.

Her house is in North Tehran, in the same alley hosting the residence of another giant of Persian literature, i.e., the late Nima Yusij. Across her house stands a long kahgel (mud-with-straw) wall, a rare vision in the congested and rather modern urban setting of the capital.

Meeting Simin Daneshvar is moving: she recently recovered from a serious illness, but, in spite of her age (she is about 90) the queen of Persian prose is indomitable and witty.

Listening to her is like walking through the history of Persian literary culture of the last century, as she mentions episodes of her life and refers to the great literati whose company she enjoyed, such as Bozorg Alavi, Nima Yusij; not to speak of Jalal Al-Ahmad, her husband and companion. Though Al-Ahmad passed away 41 years ago, his presence is vivid and always recurring in Daneshvar's conversation. She talks about him as if he were still alive, and this reminds me of her touching story "Ghorub-e Jalal" (Jalal's sunset) in which she tenderly describes her husband's last days. The relationship between Simin and Jalal reverberates that between Zari and Yusuf, the protagonists of Daneshvar's most famous novel, Savushun, i.e., a liaison based on love, mutual respect and complicity, quite improbable in 1940s South Iran, but most probably a replica of that established between the two great writers. In the novel, Zari is afraid to lose her husband prematurely, a fear that comes true: a tragic similitude between the novel character and her creator's experience, as Al-Ahmad prematurely died too. Even more tragically, he disappeared just a few months before the publication of the novel which consecrated Daneshvar's fame.

Savushun : A Novel about Modern Iran
by Simin Daneshvar

She sits near the fireplace and while my eyes come across the awards on the mantelpiece I think they are too few for someone who inspired so many Iranian writers and paved the way to the flourishing of female prose in Iran. How many of the about 400 women writers in present Iran are in debt with Daneshvar's living model?

Though she is the author of one of the most best selling books in Iran and the uncontested forerunner of modern Persian novel, Simin Daneshvar is unpretentious and friendly, a true lady. While offering me the usual Persian treatments  - tea, cakes and fruit-  she speaks about her forthcoming book, a treaty on esthetic, a subject matter she taught at Tehran University for many years. I wonder where she can find so much energy to research and write: perhaps, she drags it from the lovely garden that surrounds the room in which she spends most of the day, now inundated by the sun that hits the windows.

I do not want to disturb her any longer. I walk out deeply moved by the encounter and conscious I have met both a piece of Iranian history and a protagonist of human achievement.

Zendeh bashed, khanum Simin (live long Madam Simin)! We still need you.

About the author:
Anna Vanzan (Venice 1955) holds a Degree in Oriental Languages and Cultures (University Of  Ca' Foscari, Venice) and a Ph.D in Near Eastern Studies (New York University). Though she is interested in the Middle East in general, her research is focused especially on Iran, Central Asia and the sub continent (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Muslim India).

... Payvand News - 05/06/10 ... --

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