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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A City under Siege

Habib Ahmadzadeh

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To purchase A City under Siege

Title: A City under Siege
Author: Habib Ahmadzadeh
Genre: Stories
Written: (2000) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 101 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: A City under Siege - US
A City under Siege - UK
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A City under Siege - India
  • Tales of the Iran-Iraq War
  • Originally published in داستانهای شهر جنگی, with two additional stories (and some other material removed)
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

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Our Assessment:

B : solid collection of war stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Habib Ahmadzadeh's nine Tales of the Iran-Iraq War collected in A City under Siege aim for intimacy and a connection with the reader. Most are told in the first person, several are even more directly addressed to 'you', one in the form of a letter (accompanying a corpse). An air of uncertainty is also found throughout the texts: question (and exclamation) marks abound, and Ahmadzadeh frequently relies on ellipses; this also gives a sense of immediacy to many of the narratives, the reader pulled into the protagonists' uncertain worlds:

I didn't know what to feel. Relieved ? Put out ? Duped ? ... Yes, duped ... But happy for being duped this time. No, I was upset. Was this some kind of a sick joke ? Where did the plan go wrong ? ... I had calculated everything to the last detail ...
       Translator Paul Sprachman's Introduction helpfully situates these stories, specifically as part of Iran's 'literature of perseverance and the art of resistance' -- the 'Sacred Defense' writing obsessed with the Iran-Iraq war that continues to be encouraged by the current regime. That conflict -- here focused on Saddam Hussein's attempted power- and land-grab in the Shatt al-Arab and the city of Abadan (the 'city under siege' of the title) -- and the enormous toll it took has understandably had a lasting effect in Iran (and naturally is also used by the current regime to justify their aggressively militant position against the Arab states, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom (who, of course, were for Saddam before they were against him)). Ahmadzadeh's stories are helpful in presenting an Iranian perspective; fortunately, also, they do rise beyond the simplistically ideological, and offer more than black-and-white pictures from this conflict.
       Ahmadzadeh portrays a variety of combatants, many of whom are ill-equipped for war, and who make do as best they can. Some are completely out of their element: would-be film director Jamsheed is assigned to be a lookout-tower spotter, but his grand visions blind him to the real dangers of combat; the lookout pyramid he builds ("under the heaviest, direct fire from the enemy") is a typical white elephant (though "it made the enemy focus on that weird pyramid of yours and ignore the city for a couple of weeks").
       Some of the authentic elements in the frontline wartime scenes are quite fascinating, from the bombs dropped by the Iraqis that failed to explode and were then recycled by the Iranians to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners (and casualties) of war.
       There can be few expectations and little proper planning in these wartime circumstances: the best laid plans (and all the others) go astray, as fate seems to drive everything. Frustration, anger, and grief are the dominant emotions -- 'Vengeance, vengeance, vengeance' is the title of one story -- yet there's a sense of struggling to maintain humanity throughout, too .
       Besides conveying the tragedy of such conditions, Ahmadzadeh offers both a surprising amount of humor (though it is often wistful) and actual narrative tension. In the opening story 'Eagle Feather', for example, a soldier addresses his thoughts to the Iraqi in his sights: he will unleash a mortar on him when he gets into range, then count down the time until impact, which is done quite effectively (complete with a nice twist, too).
       A City under Siege is a solid collection of wartime stories. Ahmadzadeh relies heavily on certain tricks and has a few authorial tics, but he's a talented writer and these are effective, good stories. This collection is certainly a good introduction to frontline Iranian life during this conflict (with which most Western readers will presumably not yet be very familiar).

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 April 2011

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A City under Siege: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Habib Ahmadzadeh (حبیب احمدزاده) was born in 1964.

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© 2011 the complete review

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