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Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War

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Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life . . . in language that is complex and lyrical. The Financial Times In the midst of the IranIraq War, an Iraqi journalist is given a tour of a military prison. The Major in charge of the camp informs the writer of what is expected: he is to write a fabricated report about a murder that has occurred in the camp, “Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life . . . in language that is complex and lyrical.” —The Financial Times In the midst of the Iran–Iraq War, an Iraqi journalist is given a tour of a military prison. The Major in charge of the camp informs the writer of what is expected: he is to write a fabricated report about a murder that has occurred in the camp, with the aim of demoralizing Iranian soldiers. Reluctant to write the report, the writer spends a long night talking and drinking with the Major and detailing a work of fiction he is composing about a group of soldiers trapped on a hill, dying of thirst as they battle for a water tank with a group of enemy soldiers perched on the opposite hill. The tank remains undamaged, but neither group has a hope of reaching it without being killed. In a narrative riddled with surreal images, shifting perspectives, and dark humor, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi—widely acknowledged as the most important living Iranian writer—offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of the warring countries as he questions the meaning of national identity and does something that has been nearly impossible to do in Iran for the last century: tell a true story.


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Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life . . . in language that is complex and lyrical. The Financial Times In the midst of the IranIraq War, an Iraqi journalist is given a tour of a military prison. The Major in charge of the camp informs the writer of what is expected: he is to write a fabricated report about a murder that has occurred in the camp, “Dowlatabadi draws a detailed, realist picture of Iranian life . . . in language that is complex and lyrical.” —The Financial Times In the midst of the Iran–Iraq War, an Iraqi journalist is given a tour of a military prison. The Major in charge of the camp informs the writer of what is expected: he is to write a fabricated report about a murder that has occurred in the camp, with the aim of demoralizing Iranian soldiers. Reluctant to write the report, the writer spends a long night talking and drinking with the Major and detailing a work of fiction he is composing about a group of soldiers trapped on a hill, dying of thirst as they battle for a water tank with a group of enemy soldiers perched on the opposite hill. The tank remains undamaged, but neither group has a hope of reaching it without being killed. In a narrative riddled with surreal images, shifting perspectives, and dark humor, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi—widely acknowledged as the most important living Iranian writer—offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of the warring countries as he questions the meaning of national identity and does something that has been nearly impossible to do in Iran for the last century: tell a true story.

30 review for Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    enjoyed this novel about the iran/iraq war and the prose used the story could be slightly confusing at times but has a mixture of old persian stories and how to feel when at the front and thirsty and make you feel you were there hanging on to the thread and wondering if this was the last time

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hakan

    İranın yaşayan en büyük yazarlarından Mahmud Devletabadinin, okuduğum İngilizce tercümesi 2014 basımı (Farsça basım yılını bulamadım, Türkçe çevirisini de henüz yapılmadığı anlaşılıyor Sussuzluk romanı, işlediği konuyla, anlatım tarzıyla insanı çarpıyor. Goodreadsde Irak-İran Savaşının romanı diye takdim etmişler ama bence bu çok katmanlı roman için indirgemeci bir tarif. Elbette savaştan bir enstantane anlatılan. Ama yazar bunu Klasik Fars edebiyatının derinliğinden yararlanarak, zaman zaman İran’ın yaşayan en büyük yazarlarından Mahmud Devletabadi’nin, okuduğum İngilizce tercümesi 2014 basımı (Farsça basım yılını bulamadım, Türkçe çevirisini de henüz yapılmadığı anlaşılıyor “Sussuzluk” romanı, işlediği konuyla, anlatım tarzıyla insanı çarpıyor. Goodreads’de Irak-İran Savaşının romanı diye takdim etmişler ama bence bu çok katmanlı roman için indirgemeci bir tarif. Elbette savaştan bir enstantane anlatılan. Ama yazar bunu Klasik Fars edebiyatının derinliğinden yararlanarak, zaman zaman takibi zorlanan, ama keyif veren üslubuyla evrensel bir konu halinde kotarmış. Dilimize çevrilmeye değer bir eser. Devletabadi, daha önce okuduğum Albay’da da (İran’da basımı halen yasak) İran devriminin hikayesini bir aileyi tema alarak işlemişti. Ezcümle karşınızda sıkı bir yazar var.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Crown

    This book should be read alongside Blindness and Hunger, for the symbology and allegorical telling of the novel is not merely literal and physical, but existential and intellectual. The senses pine for more. The mind's expanse is infinite. What are young people who are thirsty for meaning and purpose in a leaden and desolate earth meant to do to find that purpose? Volunteer for the army? Follow excruciatingly simple orders like "defend this water tank"? Die for their country? Now meaning is This book should be read alongside Blindness and Hunger, for the symbology and allegorical telling of the novel is not merely literal and physical, but existential and intellectual. The senses pine for more. The mind's expanse is infinite. What are young people who are thirsty for meaning and purpose in a leaden and desolate earth meant to do to find that purpose? Volunteer for the army? Follow excruciatingly simple orders like "defend this water tank"? Die for their country? Now meaning is fulfilled because their family members are told they died holding the objective. Now a turn. When truth is commodified and used as a psychological tool, the writer becomes the sword rather than the pen. What now, is the writer meant to do in that same world with those same values and goals? "Since time immemorial, we poets have assuaged and mollified the drunkenness of caliphs with our grandiloquent oratory and the tenderness of our temperament, to the accompaniment of the lute; and now we are expected to use our words to applaud and encourage the insane intoxication of our leaders, leaden words that have to march at the speed of a printing press, draped in military clothes and paraded in front of eyes that cannot stand seeing any bad news in print." These are the questions before us against the backdrop and realities of the Iran-Iraq war, a war where every Western nation supported the war criminal Saddam Hussein, who would later become their very enemy not because of the genocides he committed (one of them in '86 during the war backed by the Americans), but because his nation had oil. The novel does not touch upon this — it was written before the illegal invasion of Iraq in '03, but it is there, ever present, like a cloud on a sunny day, like a drizzle on a dewy morning. "A hill and a group of soldiers whose task is to defend it, a healthy, young prisoner whose life was extinguished in the instant it took to fire a bullet, and his well-built body shoved into a pit at the bottom of the hill." Young people died, many on the Persian side for Iran did not have the backing of nearly every world leader unlike Saddam; however, young Iraqis died just the same, because those same leading nations needed to sell weapons. What are we all doing, if not dying of thirst while being forced to defend a water tank just because we are told that is the way forward, whilst staring at the gaping maw of corporate surveillance and politicians in acting in the interests of their corporate backers? "Skimming words, passing over words has become a habit for humans. Maybe if pen and paper hadn’t been invented, humans would have developed a sharper capacity for memorizing words. For example, this title of the “noblest in creation” might have left a trace on the memory of mankind that was not superficial and shallow; that would not have been forgotten, and if uttered it would not be out of habit, and so this most important judgement on mankind would not be destroyed by mankind, and this accursed brain would not have dragged me to the edge of insanity, to a point where I have arrived at the horrendous conclusion that there is nothing in this world more vile, base, destructive and hypocritical than the clay of Adam … and my captive in the trench is thirsty, Major. Even monkeys don’t take their own kind as captives …’"

  4. 5 out of 5

    James

    Really enjoyed the book, it is a very unique perspective on a conflict/ war covering only one specific incident over a very brief period of time. It is very vivid in description like you are their yourself. It is a situation that can easily be transcribed into almost any other conflict around the world and not uniquely specific to the Middle East or Iran/ Iraq War.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Coombes

    Millenia of Persian and Mesopatamian history are interlaced with modern conflicts (What truce? Weve been on the offensive or defensive for centuries) in this story that subtly probes the nature of humans in conflict, ancient and modern. Millenia of Persian and Mesopatamian history are interlaced with modern conflicts (“What truce? We’ve been on the offensive or defensive for centuries”) in this story that subtly probes the nature of humans in conflict, ancient and modern.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Set during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s this follows two authors on opposite sides of the conflict as they try to write a fictional account of the war plus one of them is asked to solve a murder in a prison camp. Yes, it's as confusing as it sounds. I found it difficult to follow and it wasn't always clear what was fiction-fiction and what was fact-fiction. Not terrible but not something I'd be recommending to my library patrons.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eliana

    A difficult but worthwhile read. The prose is lyrical and gives the reader a very visceral experience of war. The references to classical persian poetry and Arab and Persian history are numerous (helpfully many are footnoted); they give the symbols and metaphors a transcendent quality. Many of the narrative shifts are difficult to follow but the result is that the narrative layers meld together to create a striking portrait of humanity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Trevithick

    3.5 stars. Clever idea for a story, and it contained some truly beautiful moments. I agree with other readers about the kaleidoscopic nature of the writing hurting my affection for the book - with the constant switching between characters (who include a set of Iraqi soldiers, a set of Iranian soldiers, and an author thinking about how to write about these characters) it did become a little tricky to follow it all. But I really did enjoy this.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eva Praskova

    I really didn't care for the writing style. The story was an important one, but the language used completely blocked me from immersing myself in it. It wasn't the narrative style that bothered me, using characters in a story inside another story is a clever idea, but the wording and language itself didn't sit well with me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    A twisted up sort of story that riddles together reality and a fictional saga and done very well. Each episode demonstrates the complexities of the war and how your nationality and it's worth can be tested from a moral sense.

  11. 5 out of 5

    K's Bognoter

    Labyrintisk, hallucinatorisk, iransk antikrigsroman er fascinerende, men måske også mere kompleks og svært tilgængelig, end den behøvede at være. Læs hele anmeldelsen på K's bognoter: http://bognoter.dk/2014/09/24/mahmoud...

  12. 5 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

    KOBOBOOKS Reviewed by The Complete Review

  13. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    A beautiful, albeit sometimes confusing, tale of a man torn by his conscience in a land torn by war. This short fiction set during the Iran-Iraq war pulls from the humanity of both sides through the Katib and his characters.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bart

    The backside was very promising, but the incomprehensible changes in pov destroyed most of this promise

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Couldn't get past 30 pages.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hoshyar

    i expected a better novel from such a famous names... I am fairly disappointed

  17. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Taha

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Michael Smith

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Baumann

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul Stephens

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nellalou

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Gilbertson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sadicha

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    Review to follow.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Austin Rideout

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Donellan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amber

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