Blind Owl

Penguin Classics. Apr. 2022. 112p. tr. from Farsi by Sassan Tabatabai. ISBN 9780143136583. pap. $14. F
“In life there are wounds that like termites, slowly bore into and eat away at the isolated soul.” So begins this dark psychological novella, a defining work of modern Persian literature originally published in 1936 and largely suppressed in Iran to this day. An alienated narrator who spends his days painting pen-case covers and consuming wine and opium recounts a series of fevered visions mingling images of death and desire that are both palpable and dreamlike: the intimacy of a slaughtered lamb, the cold objectivity of a lover’s dismembered corpse. Obsessive nesting stories concerning the speaker’s cousin and “slut wife,” their mutual wet nurse, and various decrepit men termed “the vulgar” are open to interpretation, but corroborate in their galling physicality a devout wish for that “sleep of oblivion” apparently shared by Hedayet himself, whose final words, in 1951, were a brief suicide note: “I left and broke your heart. That is all.”
VERDICT Ranking alongside the masterworks of Poe, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Pessoa, this indelible existential nightmare is rendered with startling clarity through Tabatabai’s assured new translation, in an accessible edition certain to expand Hedayat’s renown, and notoriety.
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