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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Colonel

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

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To purchase The Colonel

Title: The Colonel
Author: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Genre: Novel
Written: (2009) (Eng. 2011)
Length: 223 pages
Original in: Farsi
Availability: The Colonel - US
The Colonel - UK
The Colonel - Canada
Le colonel - France
Der Colonel - Deutschland
  • Farsi title: زوالِ کلنل
  • Translated by Tom Patterdale
  • First published in German translation (2009); as of this time not yet published in the original Farsi

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Our Assessment:

A- : strong, dark novel of modern Iran and the personal toll politics and history have taken

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 17/6/2009 Sabine Berking
The Globe and Mail A 20/7/2012 Marina Nemat
The Independent . 4/10/2011 A. Naffis-Sahely
NZZ . 2/6/2009 Angela Schader
Die Zeit A 18/6/2009 Eberhard Falcke

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Colonel, by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, is a masterpiece. But reader beware, it is a dark one and doesn’t offer even a tiny droplet of hope. (...) The Colonel is a remarkable and important book, and it feels like drowning in darkness, which has been the fate of the people of Iran for the past 33 years." - Marina Nemat, The Globe and Mail

  • "We are, in the meantime, fortunate to have this passionate and informative fable of the Islamic revolution in our hands. (...) It's about time everyone even remotely interested in Iran read this novel." - André Naffis-Sahely, The Independent

  • "Does the novel not collapse under the weight of all this history ? Yes and no. There are points at which the chronology of events becomes hopelessly tangled, and western readers will appreciate the help offered by the epilogue and glossary in the German translation. Yet ultimately, the novel is not a history lesson; instead, The Colonel is a page-turning panorama of Iranian mental anguish, producing visions and nightmares like dark exotic blossoms." - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Allein die unerbittliche Entschiedenheit, mit der Doulatabadi diese hoch verdichtete Gesamtatmosphäre herstellt, macht seinen jüngsten Roman zu einem außerordentlichen Werk. Der Erzählraum, der damit aufgezogen wird, steht für nichts anderes als für die iranische Geschichte seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (.....) Zu den Leitmotiven des Romans gehört neben Unterdrückung und Gewalt vor allem die Entfremdung vom eigenen Land, vom eigenen Leben, vom eigenen Selbst. (...) Für uns ist das Buch eine erschütternde Lektüre. Für iranische Leser wäre es womöglich eine verändernde." - Eberhard Falcke, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       زوالِ کلنل, published as 'The Colonel' in German [the version on which this review is based] and French (but still waiting for the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran ...), is set in the 1980s. While the action only covers a single day, Iran's tumultuous recent past and political turmoil, from the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh to the perversion of the 1979 revolution and the complete takeover by the Khomeinite factions, all play a role and are addressed here.
       The novel begins with a knock on the Colonel's door, late at night, with the two men who come to his house asking him to come with them to the state prosecutor's office for a brief visit. The Colonel knows such an official summons, at such an hour, can't be good news, but in fact he is not directly threatened. Rather, he is allowed (after paying the necessary official fees) to pick up the body of his barely teenage daughter, Parwaneh, -- a complete innocent in a time and place which does not allow for that -- who disappeared two months earlier and was killed by the authorities, and to bury her.
       His efforts to see her (semi-)properly buried before the night is out lead to other encounters and the dredging up of many memories. The Colonel bears many burdens, and among them is that of having failed to prepare his family for survival in this country. Each of his five children has, in their own way, been crushed by it: one son fell during the 1979 revolution, another cowers in the cellar, driven to madness already under the Shah's regime, while the third went off to martyr himself fighting for the current regime in the then ongoing war against Iraq (and whose fate is as grisly as that of any of his siblings). The one surviving daughter lives what might seem like a normal life, but she is married to a cruel opportunist -- the kind of man who finds success (and brings misery to others) regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.
       The Colonel has his own, almost overwhelming guilt to bear as well, having to live with the consequences of two far-reaching decisions he took. One was professional: he refused to participate in the Dhofar Rebellion in the mid-1970s, unwilling to be a puppet of the British (whom he saw behind the Iranian efforts) and support their interference. The other was very personal: the Colonel also killed his wife, for dishonoring him by having an affair, and the specter of this act naturally has long hung over the family as well.
       The Colonel focuses entirely on the Colonel as he tries, half-dazed, to do what needs be done. Each encounter, whether with his son hiding in the cellar or wanting to ask his daughter to perform the ritual washing of Parwaneh (which can only be done by a female relative) before her burial, finds him again left to himself and his own devices: his family has been torn apart, and they are now just individuals doomed to their different solitary fates; so, too, the Colonel is doomed to his. The Colonel's peregrinations in the darkness are mirrored in how his mind wanders as a veritable flood of memories washes over him, and past and present mix murkily.
       Through this narrative that shifts back and forth among the many dark hours of the present and past Doulatabadi conveys the Colonel's despair and the weight of all that he and his family (and, by extension, Iranians generally, for all these decades) have had to live (and die) with. It can be difficult to follow at times, and the narrative is also extremely dark and bleak, but it's a very powerful work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 April 2011

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The Colonel: Reviews: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: Other books by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (Mahmud Doulatabadi, etc.; محمود دولت آبادی) was born in 1940. He has written many highly acclaimed novels and also worked as an actor.

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