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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Marsh

Jafar Modarres-Sadeqi

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To purchase The Marsh

Title: The Marsh
Author: Jafar Modarres-Sadeqi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1983 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 76 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: The Marsh - US
The Marsh - UK
The Marsh - Canada
  • Persian title: گاوخونی
  • Translated by Afkham Darbandi
  • With an Intrdouction by Dick Davis
  • گاوخونی was made into a film in 2003 (English title: The River's End), directed by Behruz Afkhami

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Our Assessment:

A- : very well-wrought novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Marsh is a compact novella, twenty-four short chapters narrated by a man unable to move on with his life, especially after the death of his father. While going through some of the motions -- marrying, looking for a job -- he finds himself incapable of living up to most expectations, haunted instead by increasingly vivid dreams and visions of his father.
       The narrator shares an apartment -- a room, really -- with two friends in Tehran. One calls himself a poet, while the other "was busy practicing how to be a husband" and hoping for the day when he had enough money so that he could move into an apartment of his own with his wife. The narrator puts pen to paper to record his dreams, but finds there is a lot else to write about. However, instead of finding clarity in putting all this down on paper he finds himself sucked even further into this strange vortex.
       The narrator has a hard time letting go of anything. He loses his job when he doesn't bother telling his boss the reason he has to go to Isfahan for a few days (because his father died), but still occasionally returns to the workplace afterwards. More significantly, he keeps his room in Tehran, even after he gets married and moves to Isfahan.
       Even his marriage is a case of clutching onto something long after he should have let it go: he marries his cousin, whom he always loved -- only to figure out as soon as married her that:

I was never really in love with her as I was with ordinary girls. I always worshipped her from a distance as if she were an angel, and wanted her to be my wife, but not to make love to her.
       She more or less takes over his father's tailor-shop and, with her brother, does a good job with the business, but the narrator can't embrace the comfortable domesticity now available to him. Even as they let him do whatever he wants during the day, he isn't satisfied with his situation.
       His dreams push him back to Tehran -- and back to his father. River-imagery is particularly dominant, almost inescapable. Occasionally he tries to share his dreams with his wife, but she has no idea of what they mean to him: "She went to sleep in the middle of my description" is about as much of a reaction as he can get.
       Memories of water and going swimming with his father are particularly strong, and dominate his accounts. The clues the dreams offer are suggestive but incomplete, as when his father says in one:
Our whole lives are in this marsh. What we are and what we aren't, what we have and what we don't have, it's all gone in there. All the water which has touched our bodies has gone in there. And you're saying 'Let's go back' ?
       But -- for the most part -- the narrator finds he can neither fully give in to the water, nor is he strong enough to turn his back on it.
       Conveying such mind-games and burdening the story with so much symbolism can be dangerous, but Modarres-Sadeqi pulls it off -- largely through the very effective style and presentation of the story. From the first pages, as the confident father disappears underwater, Modarres-Sadeqi manages to startle with the shifts in the story -- even as little (beyond, perhaps, the narrator's visions themselves) is particularly odd. But the calm, almost off-hand admissions -- about everything from his marriage to his father's death ("My father didn't drown, he died while working behind his sewing table in his shop") -- are more powerful than anything in many fictions where an author has worked much more obviously for effect.
       At one point the narrator writes:
I realized I had written virtually everything I wanted to write
       And The Marsh, short though it is, feels like a work where the author has managed exactly that: written just what he wanted -- and needed -- to write, no more and no less. Even as it is a story filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, it is also complete within itself, satisfying despite not offering entirely clear answers.
       It's very good, and certainly recommended.

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The Marsh: The River's End - the film: Jafar Modarres-Sadeqi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Jafar Modarres-Sadeqi (جعفر مدرس صادقی) was born in 1954.

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