This important work by the Iranian author Shahriar Mandanipour (1956– ) is a two-volume novel about love, war, earthquake, and pre- and postrevolution Iran. It opens with a prologue entitled “The Four Mothers of Separation.” Four angels—Gabriel, Michael, Seraphim (the trumpet blowing angel), and Death Angel—come to pick a little soil to create man; the first three fail to persuade the earth to hand over a little soil. The Death Angel succeeds in creating man, but then he blows everything to nonexistence.
Volume one consists of four parts; these sections represent the four elements of wind, earth, water, and fire. Part one starts with a description of the devastating earthquake in Rudbar, the northern part of Iran, 1990. Roja saves her youngest daughter, Zeitun, but her husband, Davud, manages to save himself while forgetting the older girl. He goes back to the ruins of their house and brings the injured girl, Golnar, but she has lost her legs and dies due to loss of blood. He gives the body to his wife and disappears. Roja buries her daughter and, carrying Zeitun, looks for her husband. The following parts go back and forth between earthquake, war, and the pre- and postrevolution events.
The novel revolves around the love of three men for Roja, who is the major character. She is a pretty wise village girl who has some high school education and chooses Davud, a university graduate and a semi-intellectual. Because of this marriage, Roja’s father disinherits her and does not let her come to his house. Kakai, the second admirer of Roja, is an ugly, illiterate and simpleminded man who is in the battlefield most of the time. In part four he brings a grenade from the front with the intention of throwing it in Roja’s house, but he never does it. The third admirer is Yahya, an albino who pretends to be Davud’s friend in order to worm his way into Roja’s heart. Women in this story are presented with more sympathy than men. In moments of misery and disaster, it is the memory of the women that gives the men the strength to go on, though the physical presence of a woman is sometimes disturbing and these men leave one woman to run after another.
Roja loses her daughter, husband, and mother in the earthquake. Parts two to five cover a 10-year conflict within the characters; the last two parts are flashbacks to the first year of the events. The novel ends with Roja adopting a girl who has lost her family in the earthquake, being exonerated from the death of her husband Davud, and reuniting with her father.
The language of this novel is not colloquial and informal; it is poetical in many parts and also embellished. As the story moves from the earthquake in the northern part of Iran to the war in the southern part, some words and expressions are presented through the narrator or the characters that imply a change in geography. Basically, though, even the uneducated characters’ speech is reported in a rather formal and stylized manner. Mandanipor uses stream of consciousness quite often, especially when a disaster happens. Though the prologue hints at some Oriental fatalism, Roja’s adoption of an orphan girl presents a picture of rebuilding a new life and some hope for the future, elements that are missing from most of Mandanipor’s other works.
Mozaffari, Nahid, and Ahmad Karimi Hakkak, eds. Strange Times, My Dear. The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature. New York: Arcade, 2005.