Dar al-Majanin [Lunatic Asylum]

Jamalzadeh did not write fiction for twenty years after the publication of his path-breaking collection of short stories, Yeki Bud va Yeki Nabud, which, in a genuinely literary style, criticized important aspects of Iran's culture and society. It was only in 1941 that he wrote Dar al-Majanin, a novel which largely concentrates on its characters' psyches and existential problems, although--as in almost all of Jamalzadeh's works--the social framework is never out of sight.

The widespread belief that Jamalzadeh never wrote another good work, after his first collection of short stories was published, stems partly from the fact that the literary quality of his numerous short stories and novels varies to an unusual degree. This judgement may also be based on the fact that his first work--unlike the rest-- was uniquely innovative. Most importantly, Jamalzadeh refused to follow the fashionable currents of the time either in politics or in trendy "committed" literature, although he went on writing "realistic" fictions which were critical of Iranian social mores and political culture.

Dar al-Majanin is not only Jamalzadeh's second, but also one of his best. The novel's philosophical themes are spun around the intertwined lives of a number of friends and relatives who reside in an insane asylum because they are, or pretend to be, insane--one of whom, a character named Hedayat Ali Khan, has an uncanny resemblance to Sadeq Hedayat. The use of language, description of some scenes and sceneries, and the presence of imagery are at times masterly. In his development of the narrative lines, the author manages to delve into lengthy discussions of issues such as sanity and madness, reality and appearance, reason and mysticism, frequently quoting many Iranian and European poets, philosophers and mystics. The story is in some sense tragic, but it is far from depressing although it ends on an unhappy note.

Dar al-Majanin was written in 1941 and contains the prophetic literary prediction of Sadeq Hedayat's suicide ten years later. I once suggested to Jamalzadeh that, among its other meanings, the novel might also mean that Hedayat takes one into a false paradise from which there can be no escape. I am certain he told the truth when he emphatically said that nothing had been further from his mind. Still, that impression too may be gained from the story.

* Abstract prepared by the author.

Homa Katouzian
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