Feature

Author of the week: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Since the 1970s, the Iranian writer has been regarded with suspicion by those in power in his native land.

Writing has been a risky occupation for Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, said Larry Rohter in The New York Times. Since the 1970s, the Iranian writer, now 71, has been regarded with suspicion by those in power in his native land. In 1974, when he was arrested by the shah’s secret police, he asked what crime he’d committed and received a confounding response. “None,” he recalls being told, “but everyone we arrest seems to have copies of your novels.” Released more than two years later, Dowlatabadi would soon write a novel that he shoved into a drawer to avoid further trouble. Published here in May, The Colonel focuses on the 1979 Islamic revolution and its aftermath. “I did not want even to have this on their radar,” Dowlatabadi says.

Though The Colonel has yet to be published in Persian, Dowlatabadi summoned the courage three years ago to send the manuscript to Iranian authorities. The “vice chairman of books,” he says, eventually offered this verdict: “Yes, it’s a good book. But this is not our understanding of how the revolution occurred.” Dowlatabadi could choose to pursue publishing a Persian version outside Iran, but he insists on waiting for the state’s endorsement. “It’s a good thing for the regime to have the experience of writers who work within the system,” he says. “This has to be an established norm or practice in our country: that people who have different opinions can rationally disagree. It shouldn’t be that I want to kill you, I want to confront you, or I want you to leave.”

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