By Susan Harris
Sunday brings Nowruz, the spring festival celebrated across the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Although Zoroastrian in origin and still observed as a holy day in that and other religions, the holiday has evolved into a secular celebration of spring and a national holiday in many countries. We’ve published work from all the regions involved, but since the holiday originated in Persia and we launched WWB with an issue of writing from Iran, we’re starting our party there.
Behnam Dayani’s “Hitchcock and Agha Baji,” from our inaugural July/August 2003 issue, combines an Iranian teenage film buff, a Hitchcock classic, and a character straight out of the Arabian Nights to rich and entertaining effect. After seeing Psycho, the Hitchcock-crazed narrator returns home in a fugue state of fright; when his toothless great-aunt, Agha Baji, appears at the front door, he mistakes her for Norman Bates’s mother and faints. Agha Baji asks the narrator to take her to see Psycho. In response to her only question—“why do you think the son kept his ma’s skeleton?”—the narrator tries to explain that the skeleton is the “distractionary gizmo” found in all Hitchcock films, what the director named “the MacGuffin.” Agha Baji’s misinterpretation of this term, and what the narrator learns about her mythic early life, suggest that in this story Psycho is the MacGuffin: the real story lies elsewhere.
WWB favorite Goli Taraghi’s short stories explore the collision between the contemporary Western world and the restrictive, insular society of Iran. In Taraghi’s “Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons” the exhausted narrator, returning to her home in Paris after a visit to her native country, is plagued by her helpless seatmate, an elderly villager traveling to visit her exiled sons. The disoriented woman, who has never flown or even left her village before, sends the exasperated flight attendants into retreat, gets stuck in the lavatory, and peppers the narrator with questions—how will she know when she reaches her “stop” in Stockholm?—and stories of her sons and her pomegranate orchard, the yield of which she carries in her groaning bag. After landing in Paris, the narrator escorts the old woman on her way to her connection and resumes her life. Several days after her return, the narrator makes a jarring discovery, and a comic, if wince-inducing, story of the seatmate from hell morphs into something much more complex, and universal.
We hope you’ll look into these and other examples of great writing from Iran in our pages. And we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the arrival of spring (in this hemisphere, at least) and the abundance of world writing you’ll find in our archives in every season.
Image: Haftsin table of Nowruz, by Babak Habibi (Wikimedia Commons)
Published Mar 18, 2016 Copyright 2016 Susan Harris