“The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree” by Shokoofeh Azar

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“L’illuminazione del susino selvatico” è uno dei testi più recenti ed affascinanti sull’Iran, in grado di catapultarci in un Mazandaran post Rivoluzione nel quale il “magico” è parte integrante della vita degli abitanti

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

Iran 1979. Bahar’s family, an eccentric dynasty of mystics, poets and philosophers, flee Tehran at the outbreak of the Revolution. Marked by a terrible mourning – to tell the story is the ghost of Bahar herself, burned alive in a stake in a riot – she takes refuge in the woods of Mazandaran, away from men and roads. The remote village of Razan, immaculate and wild, welcomes them in the shadow of its millenary forests, populated by ghosts and wonders, old legends, the ruins of an ancient Zoroastrian temple. Within a decade, however, the tentacles of the new Islamic Republic reach them, bringing death and destruction, war and fanaticism, and forever breaking the balance between the world of the living and the beings of the forest. Bahar’s family will also be overwhelmed and divided, and each of its members will have to meet their own extraordinary destiny alone.

Preamble

Before going into the book, a premise is necessary, which is that this novel brings a very clear and aligned vision of what pre and post revolutionary Iran was, showing sympathy for the Shah and much less for what will come after. From experience I know perfectly well that the issue is still the result of strong diatribes among the Iranians themselves as it is extremely complex, articulated and full of facets which, for a thousand and various reasons, are still not fully known to the general public, even less to the author of this article.

Enlightenment Greengage Tree

By this I absolutely do not mean something like “in reality Khomeini was an unblemished hero” or other similar things, but that, precisely because of the complexity of the historical event, I think it is necessary to read this book above all as a testimony of the author rather that as “reality of all Iranians”. I am only now approaching the world and Persian history, but if you would like to know more about the Iranian Revolution and Iran in general, I suggest you follow “Diruz“, the project by Antonello Sacchetti (our guest on March 15, 2021), who even wrote a book on this subject.

“The Big Fish” in Mazandaran

Reading this novel I couldn’t help but think of “The Big Fish”, the work of the American Daniel Wallace from whom Tim Burton drew one of my favorite films. Although a “big fish” appears in both works, it was not so much that aspect that reminded me of it, but rather the atmosphere of magical realism that is the lifeblood of the novel; let it be clear, the Azar tradition is completely and absolutely Persian, but in my literary experiences it is the first time that I see it as gloomy as in this text. As in “The Thousand and One Nights”, we will in fact be dragged over and over again in the “micro-stories” of secondary characters but full of details, but in this case their tone will be absolutely dark. Stories of ghosts, jinns, mysterious messengers and a living nature but about to change forever.

peoples Iran
Woman of Mazandaran

The story of Shokoofeh Azar, also and above all with its setting of Mazandaran, a legendary land located between huge mountains and the shores of the Caspian Sea, tells the breaking of the balance between man and nature and, with it, of the link between man and the divine / supernatural. Paradoxically, it will be the latter to be destroyed with the arrival of the Revolution and the War, leading man to no longer identify nature as something to be guarded but to be exploited. An emblem of this are certainly the various representations of “magic” present here which, unlike being respected and viewed with favor, here will be literally eliminated from the new soul of the country.

Enlightenment is everywhere

Another really interesting detail is the concept of “lighting”, here decidedly personal than usual. Usually we are used to observing figures that apply themselves day after day in search of the “Way”, here everything happens instead by sideways and for the most part unthinkable. Among the members of the family there is in fact a very deep bond with the Sufi world and, also and above all for this characteristic, the protagonists are constantly immersed in an atmosphere that combines “magical” and mystical elements with the continuous and sad progress of life. In this case, the enlightenment will not be so much “understanding the secrets of the world” as getting rid of the toxic area that has ever taken over their lives.

Enlightenment Greengage Tree

Not surprisingly, it will be precisely at that moment that each character will be forced to face a journey from the isolated Razan, returning there only a long time later and in a profoundly different form and status, no longer linked to the earth as to the sky. This journey, however, takes on extremely different and varied characteristics depending on the protagonist, so much so that we will have those who fully explore their sexuality and her desire to travel and those who will find themselves giving birth to fish and becoming a mermaid herself.

A real beautiful book

The novel is one of the most recent and interesting about Iran and the Persian world, managing to stimulate the reader’s thoughts towards varied and current themes; moreover, the unique style of the author and a territory as fascinating as it is little known as the Mazandaran, will contribute to increase its fantastic side, leading to something very particular for the contemporary literary panorama.

Enlightenment Greengage Tree

Its great technique also makes it an extremely fluent text that manages to be dense with meaning without ever being heavy, representing one of the best and most interesting ways to approach Iran and its ancient culture.

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