Book Reviews

Alan Cheuse Reviews 'The Colonel'

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Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's new novel, The Colonel, tells the story of an Iranian military figure whose personal life demonstrates the strains in the social and political order of his native land.


The Iranian novelist Mahmoud Dowlatabadi has published nearly 10 works of fiction. His latest novel has been censored in his home country. It's called "The Colonel," and it is out in English, translated from the Persian by Tom Patterdale.

Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it quickly becomes apparent why the Iranian government blocked its publication.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: On a rainy night in a town on the Caspian Sea, in a time after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, two members of the Ayatollah's secret police come to fetch a patriarch known to us only as The Colonel to their headquarters, so he can bury his youngest daughter. Her name was Parvaneh and she was a member of a left-wing Islamist group. She's died during a government torture session.

We follow the Colonel through the night as he goes about his pathetic and painful task, though it's not that he's the most heroic main character we've ever encountered. Some years before, seeing himself as dishonored by his wife's infidelities, The Colonel killed her with his sword which left him to care for their addle-brained eldest son Amir, a communist once who supported the Mullah.

The Colonel's second son, Taqui, has died in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. His youngest son, Masoud, has become a martyr on the battlefield. The Colonel's elder daughter has survived by marrying a sadistic pistol-packing supporter of the current regime, a wheeler-dealer for whom the dead mean nothing and the living all have a price.

By the end of this book, you feel as though you're watching a horror movie set in Iran; a political zombie novel about the dead and the walking dead, the foolish, sometimes heroic, and always pathetic victims and survivors of the Ayatollah's ghoulish revolution.

BLOCK: The novel "The Colonel" is by the Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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