Raw Desire: The Litany of Revolutionary Hangover in Iran

The unprecedented success of the popular novel Bamdad-e Khomar [The Morning After] by a female writer, Fattaneh Haj Seyyed Javadi, has provoked a rare, and for the most part vitriolic, response from the Iranian intelligentsia.

Sudabeh, an educated girl from cultured classes, is about to marry a young man of moneyed but uneducated classes. Her parents are strongly opposed to this marriage, but to no avail. They ask for Auntie, the much older sister of Sudabeh’s father, to intervene. Instead of exhorting her niece, she chooses to tell the story of her own life. Auntie, as headstrong girl named Mahbubeh during the Iranian transition out of the "ancient regime," falls passionately in love with a working class youth and marries him against the wishes of her aristocratic father. Soon, her marriage descends into a hellish nightmare, and she is forced to run back to her own family, childless and forever sterile due to her attempt to end an unwanted pregnancy. The title captures the general drift of the auntie’s story; the night of inebriation is not worth the dreadful hangover of the following morning.

The intellectuals’ critique of this novel is overwhelmingly negative. It charges the author with waging a vicious attack on the lower classes and celebrating a decadent exemplar that is the antithesis of genuine feminism. These readings, however, fail to account for the success of the novel, especially among the Iranian women and youth, the vast majority of whom are apparently neither from aristocratic families nor entertain any such pretensions. In this article, I have tried to elaborate on the reasons for the popularity of this book by exploring the current mindset of its readership. One can not grasp the sense and import of the novel without relating it to the heady and intoxicating days of the Revolution and its disappointing aftermath. The Iranians fell willingly for the spell of a revolution that promised blissful utopia, and then awoke to a huge hangover. Their collective litany parallels the personal story of Mahbubeh. We read this novel neither as aristocrats nor as workers, but as "women" emerging from patriarchy, betrayal and brutalization.

Ali Ferdowsi
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