The Iranian Classic Not Seen on Bestseller Lists
Simin Daneshvar has yet to receive the same honor as Rumi and Hafez
Ever since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie drew our attention to the lack of diverse literature in her now-famous TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” more readers have begun to take notice of unconscious bias in their reading habits. On social media, hashtags, like #diverselit, #womenwriters, #diversefiction, and #readwomen, have helped fuel a change in the way books reach readers. Well-known writers, such as Roxane Gay and Viet Thanh Nguyen, continue to champion diverse writers though their online presence. Despite these initiatives to promote works with themes that are not mainstream, our access to diverse literature, even today, is influenced by what is available to be bought, what gets reviewed and promoted, by whom, and in which outlet. In the age of increasing social media influence, official gatekeepers like governments and traditional publishers may have lost some of their hold on what gets read and what gets ignored, but a quick glance at recommendations on popular bestseller lists online suggests that we are far from a world where cultural blind spots do not exist.
Take the case of literature from Iran that is popular in other parts of the world. It is more likely that you have heard of classical Persian works by Hafez, Khayyam, and Rumi or modern works from the Iranian diaspora like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran than you have heard of Simin Daneshvar’s Savushun. Savushun is the first modern Iranian novel written by a woman author, a runaway hit in Iran at the time of its publication, and is now considered an unparalleled Persian classic.
First published in 1969, Savushun explores the daily challenges of a landowning family in Shiraz during the British occupation of the city in the last years of the Second World War. Its female protagonist Zari offers a rare and intimate view of an Iranian woman struggling to assert her own identity at a time of political and social unrest caused by foreign powers. Though deeply rooted in her family responsibilities, she is an educated woman well aware of her potential influence on those around her. Even as the occupying powers wreak havoc on her otherwise stable family, her awareness of the…