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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry / epic

Vis and Ramin

Fakhraddin Gorgani

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To purchase Vis and Ramin

Title: Vis and Ramin
Author: Fakhraddin Gorgani
Genre: Epic
Written: ca.1055 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 537 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: Vis and Ramin - US
Vis and Ramin - UK
Vis and Ramin - Canada
Vis and Ramin - India
Wis et Râmmin - France
Wisramiani - Deutschland
  • Persian title: ویس و رامین
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Dick Davis
  • Previously translated (in prose) by George Morrison (1972)

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Our Assessment:

A- : lively romantic epic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 11/2/2010 Kanishk Tharoor
TLS . 22/10/2008 Francis Robinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Davis's fluent translation plunges the reader into the tenor and texture of the world of the poem. By reproducing its rhyming couplets -- the hallmark of much Persian poetry -- he retains the driving rhythm of the original." - Kanishk Tharoor, The National

  • "More and more elaborate measures are taken to keep them apart, and each time love finds a way through locked doors and over high walls. Then Gorgani gives the tale a new twist by having the lovers persuaded to part (.....) The first striking point is that there appears to be no attempt to gloss over matters that might offend Islamic sensibilities (.....) As the poem progresses, Visís voice becomes more prominent and her feelings more complex, right down to the dramatic denouement in the snow. Moving through the verses is a constant reflection on the trials of love. (...) As Vis and Ramin is such a remarkable poem, why is it not better known ? (...) This wonderful work should win Gorgani the Western audience he richly deserves." - Francis Robinson, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Vis and Ramin begins with the powerful King Mobad finding himself very taken by the lovely Shahru and proposing to her. Shahru explains to him why this isn't a great idea -- for reasons that include the fact that she's married, and that she even has a grown son, Viru; indeed, she points out that she's getting on in years and really wouldn't be that much of a catch much longer. Mobad is disappointed, but willing to settle for a daughter of Shahru -- the problem there being that she doesn't have one. But she promises: "If I give birth to one / I'll give her to you; you will be my son".
       Given Shahru's age, they apparently figure that's the end of that; indeed, "Years passed, and hearts forgot the promise they / Had made to one another" -- but then the old woman does get pregnant again after all. And with a girl at that -- one who grows into the stunning, strong-willed Vis. As it happens, Vis is brought up along with Ramin, Mobad's younger brother (or possibly son -- the story leaves some ambiguity there) by the same nurse, until Ramin reaches ten and returns home.
       Forgetting about that ancient promise she made to Mobad, Shahru decides to marry off Vis to her brother Viru (apparently a not unheard of coupling in that time and culture). Hearing of the intended marriage Mobad reminds Shahru of her oath, eager to take young Vis back to Marv and his court as his bride. Vis, on the other hand, is totally committed to the idea of marrying her brother, asking: "how can / I go to Marvand marry an old man ?"
       Mobad doesn't slink away -- he declares war. And wins -- or at least captures -- Vis. Already wed to Viru -- albeit just -- she's not pleased by this turn of events:

I don't care if you're moonlight and the sun,
You can be sure I'll never sleep with you.
I've yet to give my body to Viru,
You simple-minded fool, and you've attacked
My home and left my native city sacked,
How can I give my heart to you ?
       Powerful Mobad gets his way -- he drags Vis home and marries her -- but is also thwarted. Vis' trusty nurse concocts a talisman which, as long as it remains damp, renders him impotent. The nurse is kind of hoping that Vis comes to her senses and submits, so that they can dig up the talisman from the river bank where they bury it and destroy it in fire, but even the possibility of that is dashed, not by Vis but by nature: there's massive flooding, and:
The talisman was swept away, which meant
Mobad was now forever impotent;
Vis became unattainable
       Yes, Vis has managed to get married twice and still remains a virgin.
       Mobad remains possessive of his wife, even if he can't physically possess her, but now it's Ramin who falls head over heels with his brother's (or father's ...) bride. He too tries to enlist the help of the nurse, even as Vis is still pining for the man she was originally betrothed to, brother Viru. But then she considers Ramin more closely -- and suddenly: "the love she'd lavished on / Viru was instantaneously gone".
       Vis is a bit torn, realizing that her predicament is getting to be a really messy one. Marrying her brother was apparently not frowned upon in this culture, but:
It's God I want, and my good name,
Not Prince Ramin, and calumny, and shame;
Why should I even think of ugliness
That can procure me nothing but distress ?
What will my family call me ? How shall I
Ask God for his forgiveness when I die ?
What shall I say ? That one desire betrayed me
And found a hundred methods to degrade me ?
       When Mobad has to head out of town, Ramin stays behind, pleading sickness -- and winds up hooking up with Vis. Things get messier on Mobad's return, with Vis allowed to go back to her family but Mobad still feeling the sting of dishonor and hatching plans for vengeance -- yet ultimately unable to let go of Vis, pining and seeking after her. They even try to bury the hatchets and are reunited -- Mobad, Vis, and Ramin, one seemingly happy family -- but Vis and Ramin's passion for another can't be restrained. In one comic scene, Vis steals out of the marital bed to be with Ramin, leaving Mobad to wake lying beside the old and shriveled nurse who took Vis' place in bed in the hopes of fooling the drunk king .....
       Just when Mobad thinks he can patch up things with Vis he learns a Roman emperor has invaded Persia, and so he has to go off to war -- and all he can think about is Vis and Ramin betraying him while he's away. Yes, he moans:
I might be king of kings, but I've not known
A man with greater troubles than my own.
       Still, locking away Vis in the promising sounding Devils' Fortress, and keeping Ramin busy elsewhere Mobad thinks he might have the situation temporarily under control. Vis doesn't take her imprisonment well. Mobad eventually fetches her back to his palace -- installing extra locks and defenses there too, just to be sure ... -- but conveniently has to be away for a while after she arrives. Enter, of course, Ramin.
       Not for the first time, Mobad is fed-up and disappointed, as he complains to Vis:
Nothing I do is able to detain you,
No stratagems or iron can restrain you.
       But he doesn't give up -- he wants his woman. Vis is kind of impressed by his dedication, and promises to better her ways. An exhausted Ramin meanwhile asks for a transfer -- maybe some distance will help. Having trouble letting go, Vis isn't thrilled by that idea:
You'll see so many beauties there you'll lose
Your heart to them and not know which to choose
       Indeed, while Mobad was and continues to be a thorn in their love, it's the new girl Ramin meets, Gol, that might really finally break the two apart. Ramin falls head over heels with the beauty, and that seems to be that. Except, of course, it's not the true, eternal sort of love that Vis and Ramin shared; conveniently:
After some time with her, Ramin's desire
For Gol began to waver and to tire
       So he tosses her aside and soon enough Vis and Ramin are sneaking around again behind the back of the king (helpfully drugged out of his senses). Vis wants to remain true to Mobad -- "Mobad, and no one else, is worthy of me", she tries to convince herself -- but of course she and Ramin are meant for one another. And, eventually, she gets around to betraying him yet again -- leading to, for example, the chapter titled: 'Mobad learns that Ramin has taken his wealth and Vis'.
       It takes Mobad's death -- a natural if grisly one -- to finally allow the happy ending. And happy it is, Ramin enjoying over eight decades (!) as king and almost all of those with the lovely Vis before finally dying at 110. Vis does die before him, but they had a good run (eighty-plus years together ...), so true love definitely wins out.
       For such a singularly obsessed tale -- five hundred pages essentially going back and forth between will they or won't they (be together, forever, that is) -- Vis and Ramin is a surprisingly lively and fast-paced work. The verse-presentation is part of it of course -- Davis' rhyming pentameter ('heroic') couplets galloping along -- as does Gorgani's cut-to-the-chase plotting and pacing. So too does the tight focus on a small number of characters: Vis and Ramin, above all others, then Mobad, then the nurse, with only a few others briefly coming to the fore. Even the extended back-and-forths as the various characters complain about their fates to each other nicely maintain tension. Desperation also makes for both fine drama and some decent comedy: there are quite a few exciting scenes, and some very funny ones (generally involving a hoodwinked and/or frsutrated Mobad).
       There is a lengthy chapter that is more poetic, a true love-letter Vis sends to Ramin (though apparently composed for her), which makes for a welcome change of pace and romantic expression.
       Davis' translation is certainly an heroic effort -- though over the great length of the poem there are inevitably some clunkers ("When we're replete with drink, and crapulous / even the best wine can taste poisonous"). Some imagery doesn't work ideally, either:
My love, my heart's like roasted meat, desire
Has turned it night and day within love's fire
       But sometimes, even at a bit of a stretch, it all works well enough:
Ramin grew desolate with grief, and night
Obscured the world and dimmed his failing sight
(The world did not grow dakr, it was his eyes
That darkened from his heart's smoke-laden sighs)
       A thousand-year-old, five-hundred-page verse epic may sound like it would be a slog, but Vis and Ramin is surprisingly fresh and a very lively read. There are times it bogs down in the melodrama, there's a lot of (too-)quick-change vacillating, and there are some parts of the story that are just dealt with too summarily (Vis and Ramin spent their early childhood together ! what the hell happened there ?). But Gorgani commits fully to the passion-that-will-not-be-denied, and easily sustains his epic with that.
       A fine work and a good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 April 2016

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Vis and Ramin: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Fakhraddin Gorgani (فخرالدین اسعد گرگانی) lived in the eleventh century.

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