Sometimes you stumble upon a book and wonder why (and how) you have never crossed its path before.
‘The Blind Owl’ is exactly this kind of book. Upon reading it, I had the feeling that I had always been searching for it, just unconsciously.
Hedayat is regarded in his home country of Iran, as the founder of (or one of) modern fiction in Iran. He wrote broadly, plays and fiction, realist and surrealist- but ‘The Blind Owl’ is his most praised work. I struggled to get a copy of it, eventually finding a UK pressing from the 1970s, finding out later that it had a more recent run, but that too was rather limited. The book was banned at the 18th Tehran International Book Fair in 2005 due to the Buddhist and Hindi imagery in the book, and the perceived attacks on Iranian society, and his books still are the subject of suppression in Iran today. This all gave the book a feeling of a lost treasure, but also something timeless, who’s ideas could still shake a government.
Originally it was published in India in 1937, eventually finding publication in Iran in 1941, where it was eaten alive by censors. For many years the book was understood through the lens of Tudeh, the Iranian Communist Party, who said that their morbid state of mind of the narrator in the book was symptomatic of life in Iran under Reza Shah. But since, many writers have argued (and I’d agree) that the book taps into a much more universal statement about alienation. There is Kafka, Satre, Camus in here, with religious symbols and art sewn into the narrative, and there is Beckettian repetition and humour, furthering the stifling feeling of a spiraling mental state. But at all times, Hedayat’s narrator is challenging in his insight and does not flinch when gazing into the abyss.
I remember finally receiving the book and turning to the author bio at the beginning of the book, and I read the whole book from this as a starting point: i.e. his suicide in Paris in 1951, where he had gone to study with Satre. I, perhaps wrongly, read the book from this as the logical end-point of the narrators musings on the realities of human existence, and the profound sense of alienation one can experience when society disappoints or provokes us. But to read ‘The Blind Owl’ from this point and to read backwards, is wrong. It takes away from the power of Hedayat’s writing, the lucidity with which he conjures images of the narrators experiences with illness and love, and the timelessness of his ideas.
Track down and a copy and read it, then read it again.