The Colonel

The Colonel

by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

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Winner of the 2013 Jan Michalski Prize
Longlististed for the Man Asian Literary Prize

A new novel by the master of Iranian letters that directly engages politics in Iran today
Ten years in the writing, this fearless novel—so powerful it’s banned in Iran—tells the stirring story of a tortured people forced to live

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Winner of the 2013 Jan Michalski Prize
Longlististed for the Man Asian Literary Prize

A new novel by the master of Iranian letters that directly engages politics in Iran today
Ten years in the writing, this fearless novel—so powerful it’s banned in Iran—tells the stirring story of a tortured people forced to live under successive oppressive regimes.
It begins on a pitch black, rainy night, when there’s a knock on the Colonel’s door. Two policemen have come to summon him to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter. The Islamic Revolution is devouring its own children. Set over the course of a single night, the novel follows the Colonel as he pays a bribe to recover his daughter’s body and then races to bury her before sunrise.

As we watch him struggle with the death of his innocent child, we find him wracked with guilt and anger over the condition of his country, particularly as represented by his own children: a son who fell during the 1979 revolution; another driven to madness after being tortured during the Shah’s regime; a third who went off to martyr himself fighting for the ayatollahs in their war against Iraq; one murdered daughter, and another who survives by being married to a cruel opportunist.

An incredibly powerful novel about nation, history and family, The Colonel is a startling illumination of the consequences of years of oppression and political upheaval in Iran.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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—guilty 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)
From the Publisher
"This important novel offers at least some glimmer of insight into recent history that remains quite opaque to most of us…and perhaps even to many Iranians themselves."

"Yes, it's a good book."
Vice-chairman of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (although the book is still unavailable in Iran) in the
 New York Times

“Dowlatabadi combines the poetic tradition of his culture with the direct and unembellished everyday speech of the villages. With this highly topical new novel Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Iran’s most important novelist, sheds light on the upheavals, which haunts his country until today.”
—Man Asian Literary Prize nomination citation

“[A] masterpiece." —Quarterly Conversation

"A demanding and richly composed book by a novelist who stands apart."Kirkus Reviews

"Mr. Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life, especially that of the rural poor, in language that is complex and lyrical, rather than simplistic." —The Financial Times

"The Colonel is a remarkable and important book ... a masterpiece." —The Globe and Mail

"The nature of authoritarians is not to learn from mistakes but to attempt to erase them. The Colonel is a very thorough accounting of those mistakes, and of their cost, and a demonstration of the necessity, for humanity’s sake, of overcoming them." The Rumpus

"Iran's greatest writer."The Millions

“It’s about time everyone even remotely interested in Iran read this novel.”
—The Independent

"An affecting and beautiful novel." —The Literary Review

" ... Instructive ... a stirring tale replete with the hideous viscera of violent confrontation." 

“An outstanding master achievement.”—Der Spiegel

The Colonel is a page-turning panorama of Iranian mental anguish, producing visions and nightmares like dark exotic blossoms.”
—Neue Zurcher Zeitung

“This novel has what it takes to become a strong and irresistible window into Iran.”—Die Zeit

“…a very powerful work."—Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review

“Because of its honesty and indeed brutal clarity of language the novel has so far not been published in its original language, Persian…[an] honest and truly literary account.”
—English Pen

Praise for Missing Soluch

“Beautifully and incisively rendered, and imbued throughout with hope.”Publishers Weekly

“There are some brilliantly tough pieces of writing…[The original’s] vigour comes through in translation.”Times Literary Supplement

“Brings East of Eden to mind… Dowlatabadi knows a world that has seldom overlapped with the modern novel."The New York Sun

"Dowlatabadi has created a masterpiece."Words Without Borders

Library Journal
In this powerful novel, longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Award, Iranian writer/actor Dowlatabadi has created a vivid account of the changing political ideologies of Iran and their influence on the country's unceasingly oppressed citizens. The political and social history of Iran is depicted through the lives of the Colonel and his five children. This narrative technique allows Dowlatabadi to comment on the various regimes controlling the country and its people and to encompass a significant span of Iranian political history within the framework of his story. Through Dowlatabadi's skilled interweaving of cultural and historical references, events ranging from the Shah's regime to the 1979 revolution to the country's war with Iraq are portrayed through their impact on the family. The story of the Colonel's regrettable past unfolds alongside flashbacks detailing the disillusionment and suffering of his children. VERDICT An important and compelling novel that will unquestionably be appreciated by readers with an interest in the political history of Iran and its societal effect.—Catherine Tingelstad, Pitt Community Coll. Lib., Greenville, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Iranian novelist Dowlatabadi (Missing Soluch, 1979, etc.) re-imagines the life of a fabled Persian patriot against the bloody backdrop of the Islamic Revolution. We see the revolution through the eyes of the Colonel, an officer in the Shah's army, a figure largely based on Mohammad Taqi Khan Pesyan, who led a partially successful Persian revolution in 1921 and was lionized after his assassination. As the novel opens, the Colonel is taken in the dead of night to collect his daughter's body from the prosecutor's office. From there, the book jumps back and forth to show the Colonel at his height and the struggles of the officer and his son Amir as the Ayatollah returns and the Shah is forced into exile. The military man's five children represent different factions within Iranian society, and nearly all come to tortuous or violent ends. Patterdale offers up a fine translation of Dowlatabadi's book, gently guiding Western readers through its complex maze of political intrigue and moral failings with restrained footnotes, a rich glossary and a thoughtful afterword. At its core, the book is about the inherent corruption that power inspires and the toll it takes on the people under its long shadow. A demanding and richly composed book by a novelist who stands apart.

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Product Details

Melville House Publishing
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Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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