cover image Seasons of Purgatory

Seasons of Purgatory

Shahriar Mandanipour, trans. from the Persian by Sara Khalili. Bellevue Literary Press, $16.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-942658-95-5

Mandanipour (Moon Brown) skillfully fuses the poetic and the brutal in this complex and intense collection. The care and humanity of his voice adds poignancy to plots anchored by violence. Many of the stories feature animals: an elusive leopard is at the center of “The Color of Midday Fire,” about a deep friendship rooted in war. In “Shadows of the Cave,” the mysterious baker Mr. Farvaneh declares that “man became man when he withdrew from the animal kingdom”; and the shadow of vicious stray dogs haunts the narrator of “Seven Captains.” While the turmoil and danger of everyday life in Iran are the backdrop, Mandanipour focuses on the personal struggles of the characters and their hardscrabble lives. The harrowing title story charts the slow disintegration of a man wounded in battle, who seems oblivious to the activity around him. These haunting, urgent works are as nuanced and provocative as the lives they depict, and they defy easy categorization and neat takeaways, as reflected in an enigma offered up by the narrator of “Shadows of the Cave,” first published in 1985: “Meanings, often contrary to common perception, are the image of their own meaninglessness.” Prolific in Iran though relatively new to U.S. readers, this author deserves greater attention. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (Jan.)