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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Mirror-Polishing Storytellers

Gholamhoseyn Sa'edi

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To purchase Mirror-Polishing Storytellers

Title: Mirror-Polishing Storytellers
Author: Gholamhoseyn Sa'edi
Genre: Drama
Written: (1985) (Eng. 1996)
Length: pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: in: Othello in Wonderland and Mirror-Polishing Storytellers - US
in: Othello in Wonderland and Mirror-Polishing Storytellers - UK
  • Persian title: آینه داران آتش افروز
  • Published in Othello in Wonderland and Mirror-Polishing Storytellers, which is:
    • Edited and with an Introduction by M.R.Ghanoonparvar
    • Translated by Michael Phillips, with M.R.Ghanoonparvar
    • With an afterword, 'Othello in the Islamic Republic', by Kaveh Safa

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Our Assessment:

B : effective play of horrors of war

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Tribune . 24/4/2005 M.L. Raina

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Mirror-Shaping Storytellers, Sa’edi invokes the Persian folk form of naqqal to narrate the events of the Iraq-Iran war. In the most chilling last scene, the ordinary Iranians whose sons have been sacrificed haggle over the body parts that are brought home in a state of religious frenzy." - M.L. Raina, The Tribune

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:

       Mirror-Polishing Storytellers is a play about the Iran-Iraq war, Sa'edi condemning the conflict and, especially, the claims (especially from the Iranian side that is the focus here) of fighting in the name of a god.
       At the center are the stories of two boys sent to war, Jamal and Esma'il, and their families, but the play also involves narrating Storytellers -- a chorus, of sorts. As one of them explains:

today's storyteller polishes his mirror, bares all; he breaks through the skin and exposes the veins and nerves, the wounds of the soul, the heart's blood. Today's storyteller is a mirror polisher, and today we've placed the mirror in such a way as to reveal to you a large picture of the greatest of calamities.
       Sadly, of course, this 'mirror' could not be displayed in Iran itself (Sa'edi living and writing in exile at the time), and this 'greatest of calamities' continued for several more years after the play was first written and published.
       As the storytellers introduce the in(s)anity of modern warfare they also have this exchange:
FIRST STORYTELLER: All good comes from the sword.
SECOND STORYTELLER: What a pity they make so few swords nowadays.
       This is Sa'edi at his best -- a clever twist of expression and expectation -- but unfortunately he can't just leave it at that and goes on to state the obvious, listing the weapons of modern warfare that have taken the place of the now merely symbolic sword.
       It is difficult, of course, to show restraint in dealing with such events -- and there are places when the venting of anger is effective, as in the exchange
FIRST STORYTELLER: Tell me, Master, what are the gains of war ?
SECOND STORYTELLER: Destruction, hunger, famine, homelessness, death, snakes, rats, and clerics.
       Sa'edi is, appropriately, unforgiving of the role of religion in this particular conflict, as (ab)used by those in power in Iran at the time. When even the graves are looted (as relatives fight over the mixed-together body parts of those blown to pieces at the front), a representative cleric suggests the families send their other sons to the war; told that none remain he cheerfully suggests:
Then go yourselves. Become martyrs and fill the empty graves. In our Islamic Republic nothing is impossible.
       Farce and tragedy -- especially when it hits so close to home, as this then still on-going war surely did -- are a brutal mix, but it effectively conveys Sa'edi's message of the absurdity and outrageousness of war. Yet even he is left with nothing else to close with than the actors assembled on the stage, shouting: "Enough war" and: "Peace, peace, peace !" -- surely a cry that dispiritingly resounds emptily on this and any stage.
       A solid, creatively presented drama, Mirror-Polishing Storytellers has enough universal resonance (as, sadly, far too many anti-war plays also do) to be of interest even beyond merely as a period-piece of this particular conflict.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 June 2013

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Mirror-Polishing Storytellers: Reviews: Other books by Gholamhoseyn Sa'edi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Gholamhoseyn Sa'edi (Gholam-Hossein Saedi, غلامحسین ساعدی) lived 1935 to 1985.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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