Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War

BOOK: Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War
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PRAISE FOR
THE COLONEL

Winner of the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature

Longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Award

Shortlisted for the Haus der Kulturin’s

International Literary Award

“Examine[s] the complexities and moral ambiguities of the experience of the poor and forgotten, mixing the brutality of that world with the lyricism of the Persian language.”

—THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Dowlatabadi combines the poetic tradition of his culture with the direct and unembellished everyday speech of the villages. With this highly topical new novel Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Iran’s most important novelist, sheds light on the upheavals, which haunts his country until today.”


MAN ASIAN LITERARY PRIZE NOMINATION CITATION

“A demanding and richly composed book by a novelist who stands apart.”

—KIRKUS

“You feel as though you’re watching a horror movie set in Iran … the foolish, sometimes heroic, and always pathetic victims and survivors of the Ayatollah’s ghoulish revolution.”


ALAN CHEUSE, NPR

“Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life, especially that of the rural poor, in language that is complex and lyrical, rather than simplistic.”


THE FINANCIAL TIMES


The Colonel
is a remarkable and important book … A masterpiece.”


THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“A pleasure to read … Dowlatabadi is heralded as one of, if not the, greatest Iranian novelists, and
The Colonel
bears that out. That Dowlatabadi persists, despite having been at various times imprisoned, tortured and censored, is a testament to the Iran that could be, and that still can be.”

—THE RUMPUS

“It’s about time everyone even remotely interested in Iran read this novel.”


THE INDEPENDENT

“An affecting and beautiful novel.”


THE LITERARY REVIEW

“Instructive … A stirring tale replete with the hideous viscera of violent confrontation.”


BOOKLIST

“An outstanding master achievement.”


DER SPIEGEL

“This novel has what it takes to become a strong and irresistible window into Iran.”


DIE ZEIT

“A very powerful work.”


MICHAEL ORTHOFER
,
THE COMPLETE REVIEW

“Because of its honesty and indeed brutal clarity of language the novel has so far not been published in its original language, Persian … [an] honest and truly literary account.”

—ENGLISH PEN

PRAISE FOR
MISSING SOLUCH

“Beautifully and incisively rendered, and imbued throughout with hope.”


PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“There are some brilliantly tough pieces of writing … [The original’s] vigour comes through in translation.”


THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

“Brings
East of Eden
to mind … Dowlatabadi knows a world that has seldom overlapped with the modern novel.”


THE NEW YORK SUN

“Dowlatabadi has created a masterpiece.”


WORDS WITHOUT BORDERS

MAHMOUD DOWLATABADI
is one of the Middle East’s most important writers. Born in 1940 in a remote farming region of Iran, the son of a shoemaker, he spent his early life and teens as an agricultural day laborer until he made his way to Tehran, where he started acting in the theater and began writing plays, stories, and novels.

Dowlatabadi pioneered the use of the everyday language of the Iranian people as suitable for high literary art. His books include
Missing Soluch
, published by Melville House and his first work to be translated into English, and a ten-book portrait of Iranian village life,
Kelidar
. In 1974, Dowlatabadi was arrested by the Savak, the shah’s secret police force. When he asked what crime he’d committed, he was told, “None, but everyone we arrest seems to have copies of your novels, so that makes you provocative to revolutionaries.” He was in prison for two years.

His novel
The Colonel
was shortlisted for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin International Literature Award, long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the winner of the 2013 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature.

THIRST

Copyright © 2014 by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
English translation copyright © 2014 by Martin E. Weir

In the original Farsi, this book was titled
Besmel
by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

This translation has been published by arrangement with Haus Publishing, London

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

and

8 Blackstock Mews
Islington
London N4 2BT

mhpbooks.com
    
facebook.com/mhpbooks
    
@melvillehouse

ISBN:
978-1-61219-301-4

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014944157

v3.1

1

SOMEWHERE, ON SOME SPOT
here on planet Earth, a shell is discharged from the muzzle of a gun. No, let me rephrase that … Somewhere, on some spot on planet Earth, a leaden shell, heavy and destructive, is fired from the long, wide barrel of a heavy mortar. We can’t be more precise than that, unless we know how much explosive material is contained in that almost cone-shaped shell. But we don’t, and perhaps the person who orders the firing button to be pressed doesn’t know either. But why am I imagining a finger pressing a button at all? Maybe it’s a switch that is flicked instead. Up or down? How should I know? What difference does it make, and why should the components of a killing machine be important when they make such a fearsome unified whole? So, let’s just say a shell was fired in order to drop from the sky somewhere on this Earth – after following a trajectory that in my mind’s eye, seems long – to explode, destroy and ignite a whole area and send a cloud of smoke billowing into the air.

Without doubt, whenever a shell is fired, it must have an intended target. If possible a specific one and if not a non-specific one. But on the particular scrap of land where our tale will unfold, the target happens to be both specific and non-specific. Specific because the setting is a battleground, and non-specific because someone far away, out of sight, has surmised that this area is a centre for resistance
in the form of guerrilla warfare. And so, on the basis of this assumption, a bombardment began at sundown, starting at an inconspicuous location and eventually surrounding the young men of this story; and since it is nighttime and therefore impossible to show any flame or light, it is not clear how many from that small group survived. An order to retreat has been given, but no-one can tell whether anyone has escaped from the circle of fire in time, or whether they are lying on the ground at a distance, half-alive. Likewise, it’s unclear whether anyone has remained in position, dead, alive or wounded. Even if anyone should utter a sound, the din caused by the hail of bullets doesn’t allow the soldiers to hear each other’s voices. The person who is moaning and calling for water must be quite close, in any event. But close to whom? Perhaps to those who are still alive and well.

Any number of shells have rained down. But that water tank still remains standing in one of the valleys between the hills up ahead. In all likelihood, it has shuddered several times from near misses, causing the water inside to spill over and run down the outside of the tank, but it’s still standing in the same gulley, seemingly immune to all gunfire. The tank should be safe for the time being, as it’s not in the enemy’s direct line of sight; unless, that is, their troops crawl out of their trenches, charge down the hill and happen upon it. But it seems that they have not yet been given the order to do so; if they did advance down the hill, they might find themselves trapped in the same gulley as the water tank, in plain sight and within range. Which would mean that anyone who opened fire could kill
as many of them as he had bullets. So the hope is that, at least until this intense bombardment is over, the water tank will remain unscathed, while those soldiers who have fallen on the path leading from the tank to the trenches will also stay where they are, dead or alive. In the distance, between the brow of the hill and the water tank, some enemy soldiers have fallen dead or dropped to the ground: some of them before reaching the tank and some on their way back with full water bottles, some of which may still be intact, dangling from their necks and shoulders. But we can also assume that many of those flasks will be mangled and riddled with bullet holes. Now anyone who tries to fetch water will first have the difficult task of finding and quickly gathering up any empty, intact flasks before dashing down to the tank to get water.

BOOK: Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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