iranian short stories

Seasons of Purgatory by Shahriar Mandanipour- Translated by Sara Khalili


By g emil reutter

In Seasons of Purgatory, Mandanipour writes of life in the Theocratic Republic of Iran. His character development and plot development is fresh in each short story.  Woven through are stories of defiance, front line war, a judgmental village, the taking of a daughter and belittlement of the father.

We meet Mr. Farvaneh in the story Shadows of the Cave. A defiant man who still wears a tie when he visits his wife’s grave. He also maintains a library and a fascination with the animals at the zoo across the street from his apartment. He is also the glue that holds his building together until the end when as in life it really doesn’t matter. Mandanipour brings us to the backward town of Guraab in the story Shatter the Stone Tooth. The narrator is there to help bring some education to the people of the town, yet he spends most of his time in a cave with a stone carving on the wall and a wild dog. The story progresses quickly as the town turns on him and in mass attempt to kill the dog in various barbaric attempts symbolizing the conflict between the man and dog and the town for one is urban and the other rural.  The title story, Seasons of Purgatory, brings us to the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. Primarily the Iranian soldiers and their commanders who sit above a valley that is no man’s land. Mandanipour captures the violence, disregard for human life as an abandoned Iraqi soldier long dead leans on a rock formation as animals feed on him, bullets strike him and howls fill the valley.

King of the Graveyard tells the story of a husband and wife in search of their son and his unmarked grave in the local cemetery. They search for years, envy those with marked graves unable to grieve for their son. The son killed for opposing the revolution, shot down in the street and dumped in an unmarked grave so the family would be deprived of grieving.  Another couple have a son taken and disposed of and then in horror learn their daughter had been taken and raped, those rapists respond and give the father sweets pretending to be groomsmen. Heartbreaking as the father feigns celebration, dancing in the street.  The story Seven Captains brings a philanderer back to town twenty some years after his married lover was stoned to death for their relationship. It is an excellent example of love and betrayal on many levels throughout the story.

In these tales of collective and individual violence; of boredom, brutality of war and religion; love and loss; Mandanipour establishes himself as a gifted, well-crafted story teller. Seasons of Purgatory is a must read for lovers of the short story. The translation by Sara Khalili to English captures the intensity and vibrancy of Mandanipour’s stories.

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g emil reutter is a writer of stories, poems and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at: