cover image The Colonel

The Colonel

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, trans. from the Persian by Tom Patterdale. Melville (Random, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61219-132-4

Dowlatabadi (Missing Soluch) is regarded as one of Iran's greatest novelists, yet this work, 25 years in the making, is banned in his native country. This fact alone is evidence of the difficulties that have long plagued Iran, and this novel stands as a testament to that struggle. Set during the Iran-Iraq War, the book follows the colonel, a devout patriot and soldier, as he grapples with the fates of his children, all condemned in one way or another by the revolution and its aftermath. On a miserably wet night, the colonel is tasked with burying his youngest daughter, 14-year-old Parvaneh, killed for handing out anti-regime pamphlets on the street. As he wanders through town in search of a pick and shovel with which to bury her, his thoughts spiral to the downfall of his family, and he wonders to what extent he bears responsibility: "The colonel felt guilty, too%E2%80%94guilty for the very existence of his children, or lack of it, as the case may be. He bore the burden of the offences of each one of his offspring on his shoulders." Unfortunately, for unfamiliar with Iranian history, the book is a confusion of events, names, and historical figures entwined in the colonel's personal narrative. There is no clear arc, and Patterdale's explanatory notes do little to help solve the ambiguities of the plot. The novel may be a bold statement decrying a country's troubled past, but the message will be lost on the average reader. (May)