by ghazal ghaffari (@ghazal)
One of the most important books from Iran, and Hedayat’s magnum opus. This brilliant book is the literary manifestation of a fever dream. Hedayat leads us through the non-linear story of an unnamed narrator, plagued by death and murderous intentions. A wildly unconventional piece of literature, with subtle plays on the Persian language, The Blind Owl is a must for lovers of literature.
I first read Boof-E Koor when I was probably too young, yet my mind was not free of the owl. When I eventually returned to it in college, I was amazed at how much I’d missed, and reading it with my fellow HOWLers allowed me to relive that experience!
BEHIND THE PEN
Sadegh Hedayat was an Iranian author and translator, one of the first Iranian writers to take on modernism in his work. His personal life was erratic as he went on to continue his studies in Europe (Hedayat was also a passionate vegetarian, writing a book on the subject and believing that if humanity wants to stop wars, they need to first stop the slaughter and consumption of animals). After producing several pieces–plays, short stories, novelettes, historical dramas, and sketches–he turned to focusing on Iran’s major issues at the time. His work is filled with realism, precise descriptions, and bleak themes.
Hedayat is not a horror author in the traditional sense, though arguably some of his work can be considered horror by the chosen subject matter. Some of his most famous titles are: Three Drops of Blood (Se qatre khūn); The Blind Owl (Boof-e koor); The Stray Dog (Sag-e velgard); Buried Alive (Zende be gūr)
The Blind Owl was translated into English by D. P. Costello (1957), by Iraj Bashiri (1974, revised in 1984 and again in 2013), and by Naveed Noori (2011). (source: wikipedia)
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
The story of an unnamed narrator, troubled and haunted by his own mind as well as the people in his life. Broken into two sections, this tale of desire, death, and despise, will take you through the streets and homes of Shahr-e Rey. Keep track of who you meet in your journey–you may see some twice.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
Before it was time to discuss The Blind Owl, there was already a buzz in the room. HOWLers were posting gifs, pictures, and facts about owls; one HOWLer shared their extensive knowledge of owls as we waited to read the book and was met with great responses and delight. Given the book’s short length, it was set for a single day discussion on Wednesday. The different translations were also discussed between the HOWLers as they were deciding between which copies to pick up.
The book’s format–which includes long paragraphs taking up several pages–were causing issues for some HOWLers using an ebook version, making it a rough read in some parts. Like many modernist texts, The Blind Owl also experiments with prose, language, and themes, which may give some readers a hard time connecting with the piece, as was the case on this occasion. Some translations also include parts written in italics, which are not in the original text.
Another interesting conversation that sparked prior to the discussion day was about Iran’s culture and traditions. Two HOWLers shared their experience in Iraq and Israel, and similarities between the three countries’ culture was explored. As the only Iranian HOWLer at the time, I took it upon myself to share my own knowledge and personal experience in order to shed some light on some aspects of the book and any questions brought up. An interesting point brought up by one HOWLer about the historical context of the book possibly explained the mentality and actions of the book’s narrator. Women’s roles in Iranian society were going through changes, which caused a lot of anxiety in men. This possibly led to the birth of an archetype in Persian literature, as the narrator shares a lot of similarities to other characters in books by different contemporary Iranian authors, such as Houshang Golshiri, Aboutorab Khosravi, Shahriar Mandanipour, and Koorosh Asadi. This character is usually a man in his late twenties or early thirties, in poor economical settings, with an anxious and obsessive mind and troubled relationships with women, some who he may desire and idolize and some who are seen as tormentors in his eyes. It’s also important to note that these men are usually portrayed as unsympathetic, even if they are the point of view character, which also may be why some readers have trouble connecting with their stories.
As it was caught by some HOWLers, the narrator has an odd relationship with sex, as well as the people around him (mostly the women). There are several comparisons made between said relationships and filth by the narrator, causing him feelings of disgust and sickness. Which is also an interesting link between Hedayat and Kafka, as Hedayat was deeply interested in the works of Kafka. One HOWLer even compared The Blind Owl to The Stranger by Albert Camus, another comparing Hedayat to Ligotti.
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- Uncanny, beautifully crafted, nightmarish, and densely intertextual. Not easy to understand on first read, but hoo hoo gives a hoot 😉
- At times Hedayat beats a dead horse in order to drive home his theme, but I found his book an altogether memorable reading experience and a poignant reminder of just how futile it can feel to exercise one’s free will against inexorable fate.
- The best anti-drug novella I’ve ever read.
- This was a hard read, much like the end of a cucumber. I enjoyed what Hedayat did with the more emotional aspects of the story, and it must have been completely revolutionary to say some of those things when it was published.
This one’s a true ride; almost all HOWLers reading seemed to agree on that. It demands your attention and focus and it will not hold your hand through the bumps of the road. If you like bleak, experimental, and unconventional horror, this one might be for you.
HOWLS SCORE: GROWL! (4/5)
ghazal ghaffari (they/she) works with puppets, writes, and translates. Born and raised in Iran, they grew up surrounded by books and theater, and work to continue in and contribute to that world. They work backstage to avoid the EYES and spend their time annoying their cats and making art, sharing it on their twitter and instagram under @anonymousfrog__