Poe’s Persian Cousin?

There are many  who probably know little or nothing about a writer known as Sadegh Hedayat. Hedayat was born on February 17, 1903 in Tehran, Iran to an aristocratic family. His father was a government worker as well as an author. Hedayat studied many trades and traveled to France and Belgium for several years before returning to Iran without a trade or a degree. He was heavily influenced by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, as well as Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The author wrote a number of articles and stories stemming from his life experiences. At a young age, Hedayat became a vegetarian after he witnessed the sacrificial slaughter of a camel. This prompted him to write his first book entitled “Ensān o ḥaywān” (Men and Animals), which was a critique on cruelty to animals. Several years later, while on a trip to Bombay, he published his major work “Buf-e kur” ( The Blind Owl). Many of Hedayat’s works dealt with the topic of insanity and death. The narrator in this particular story is one who cannot be trusted, as he is speaking about his murderous thoughts and deeds to an imaginery owl. It should also be noted that the book does not follow a linear timeline and as such, leaves the reader disoriented and with no real answer on how the story ends.

Growing up, my parents barred me from reading Sadegh Hedayat’s works. My father told me that the tales were too dark and gruesome even for a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan. I was sixteen when I first dared to procure a copy of “The Blind Owl”. Upon finishing the book, I felt as though I was in a gloomy haze. My dad was right! Why had I done this to myself? This melancholy lasted for several weeks and undoubtedly propelled me to study existential philosophy in college. The depths of pain and despair that Hedayat wrote about were raw and seething. In it, I felt his turmoil without knowing a single thing about the author.

There were times that I regretted allowing myself to tumble down the rabbit hole of madness that was Hedayat. I began to question life as he did in his tales and fear the depths of insanity that he embedded so intricately in his work. For this, I must applaud Hedayat, as he was able to shake me to my core and have me question everything around me. He had achieved his desired result and for this reason I now understand why his books were banned in Iran during the monarchy (he was both antimonarchical and anti-Islamic) and even today in a country ruled by Islamic clerics. To quote Hedayat from his book “Haji Aqa” (Mr. Haji), “In order for the people to be kept in line, they must be kept hungry, needy, illiterate, and superstitious. If the grocer’s child becomes literate, he not only will criticize my speech, but he will also utter words that neither you nor I will understand…. What would happen if the forage-seller’s child turns out intelligent and capable—and mine, the son of a Haji, turns out lazy and foolish?”.

Sadegh Hedayat committed suicide on April 9, 1951 in his flat in Paris.

 

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