The Dean of Modern Iranian Writers

Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh holds a place of singular distinction in contemporary Persian literature as one of the innovators of the modern literary language, and the first to introduce the techniques of European short-story writing to Iran.

Jamalzadeh was only sixteen when he left Iran for good, but the impression left on him by his childhood training and environment proved indelible. After studying law in Switzerland and France, he joined a group of Iranian nationalists in Berlin who published the famous journal Kaveh and who engaged in a political and cultural campaign directed mainly against foreign influence and intervention in their country's affairs.

The publication of the celebrated Yeki Bud va Yeki Nabud [Once Upon a Time] marked the beginning of Jamalzadeh' career as a storyteller, and laid the foundation of modern Persian prose and pointed the literary direction for the next generation of Iranian writers.

Following the success of Yeki Bud va Yeki Nabud in 1921, Jamalzadeh refrained from literary activities for the next twenty years, which coincided with Reza Shah's entire reign. The long silence came to an end in 1942 after which he became one of the most prolific authors of modern Iran.

In general, there appears a sharp distinction between the early stories written by Jamalzadeh and his later compositions. Whereas conciseness, novelty of form, originality of ideas and a biting sense of humor mark the earlier writings, his later works show a tendency towards prolixity, sage remarks and mystical and philosophical speculations, frequent use of classical poetry and, at times, lack of shape and order. Everyday expressions adorn almost every line, to the extent that his penchant for juxtaposing idioms seems to override other considerations.

Jamalzadeh's pre-eminence is due mainly to his timely clarion call for a regeneration of Persian prose. One of the main themes that recurs in his writings is the dilemma of Western-educated Iranians when they return home. Numerous characters of this type appear in his works, all in different situations and with different potentialities, but none of them is able to tolerate the prevailing conditions, accommodate himself to the requirements of his milieu, or even feel at home in his own country.

Another theme in his writings is criticism of Muslim clergy and Shiite rites and institutions in Iran. Jamalzadeh was brought up in a religious family. Thus, his approach to religion--unlike that of Hedayat who abhorred everything religious--was more sympathetic and regarded the clergy as only falling short of ideals of the faith. Whereas the majority of Iranian modern writers do not know enough about the clerical mind and terminology and limit themselves to merely abusing the clergy, Jamalzadeh beat the akhund with the akhund's own stick. Clearly, the author of Yeki Bud va Yeki Nabud must be considered one of Iran's greatest modern writers who despite, or perhaps because of, long years of residence abroad, was until the end the most absolutely Persian of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, the golden touch displayed in his first work never quite reappeared in his later writings. All the same, his importance can scarcely be exaggerated: he has just claims to his position as the dean of modern Persian writers.

* Abstract prepared by the author.

Hassan Kamshad
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