The Colonel, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


It's a pitch black, rainy night in a small Iranian town.

Inside his house the Colonel is immersed in thought.

Memories are storming in. Memories of his wife. Memories of the great patriots of the past, all of them assassinated or executed.

Memories of his children, who had joined the different factions of the 1979 revolution.

There is a knock on the door. Two young policemen have come to summon the Colonel to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter and bury her before sunrise.

The Islamic Revolution, like every other revolution in history, is devouring its own children. And whose fault is that? This shocking diatribe against the failures of the Iranian left over the last fifty years does not leave one taboo unbroken.




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Review by

This powerful novel is set in a town in Iran in the late 1980s, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and roughly a decade after the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the accession to power of Islamic fundamentalists, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The main character is 'the colonel', an unnamed disgraced former member of the Shah's army, who is so named because of his former title, but also because he reveres Mohammad-Taqi Khan Pesyan, or 'The Colonel', who is considered to be a hero by Iranian secular nationalists (but not Islamic fundamentalists) because of his sacrifice in attempting to free the country from foreign influences in the early 20th century. the colonel frequently speaks to and confides in the portrait of The Colonel in his home, as he lives in fear of what will happen to him, to his children who are missing under separate circumstances, and to his eldest son Amir, who refuses to emerge from the basement and seems to be descending into madness. On a rainy night two young police officers come to the colonel's door, to inform him that he is wanted by the local prosecutor. He follows them, and receives tragic news: his youngest daughter, who is not yet 14, has been murdered. He and the two policemen proceed to the local mortuary to claim the body, as it must be washed and buried before the dawn call to prayers. The night, like the rainfall, is seemingly unending. the colonel is plagued by fear and uncertainty, as he recalls and regrets his past actions and decisions, while reality merges into often nightmarish scenarios that make him question his own sanity. The lives of his children, his wife, a roguish son-in-law, and an 'immortal' former intelligence officer of the deposed Shah's feared secret police are weaved throughout the novel, along with frequent references to important figures throughout Iranian history. The individual stories merge in the manner of a tornado that forms and strengthens, as chaos and a foreboding sense of doom becomes ever present.<i>The Colonel</i> was published in 2008, after Dowlatabadi had worked on it for 25 years, and it has been published worldwide to critical acclaim. However, it remains in the hands of censors in Iran, as the author, who still lives in Teheran, continues to refuse to allow it to be edited to meet the demands of the current regime. It is a beautifully written but challenging read, due to its references to Persian history, although the translator, Tom Patterdale, does a superb job in providing brief footnotes throughout the book, along with an excellent afterword and glossary that is invaluable to the average reader. My comments don't do justice to the complexity and richness of this superb and highly instructive novel about a country that is important to the Western world, but one that continues to be a worrisome enigma to most of us.

Review by

I loved this book, a superb book, but definitely one for people who know something about Iran. Its a harrowing story primarily set during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but cuts over several time periods prior. I love the structure and the way it switches not only between third person and first person, but also between different first person narrators. Whilst on one level the book deals with the impact on Iranians, both individually and on families, of the revolution, it also poignantly captures the bitter arc of Iranian history from the brief flowering of democracy under Mossadeq, cruelly crushed by the CIA in collaboration with the British in 1953, through the installation of a Western friendly dictator, the Shah, through to the revolution and the implementation of a theocracy. In the survival of the secret police character (Khezr Javid) from the era of SAVAK into the post revolution era, we are reminded that oppressive regimes need a secret security apparatus to ensure survival. For me, the major theme of the book is a lament, often expressed by Iranians, for freedom and democracy. For 18 months or so (1952-3), it looked as if it would be realised under the leadership of Prime Minister Mossadeq (the Shah had left Iran at this time). However, since the CIA's intervention, all Iran has known is the opposite. The revolution of 1979 that swept away the dictatorship of the Shah inspired hope in Iranians that they could once more move down the path of freedom and democracy. Sadly, the clerics, and in particular, Khomeini, had other ideas. The clerics had for many decades believed in the centrality of religion in the affairs of State. This belief was compounded by the desire for revenge long harboured since the 1920s when clerics were humiliated by the Shah's father. The various groups in the revolution believed that Khomeini would only be a figurehead and that once the Shah was gone, a democratic state could be established. But, a brutal period of blood letting saw the eventual near eradication of all the other revolutionary groups with the eventual result being a theocracy with the clergy firmly in control of all the institutions of the state.All of this background is captured in the book together with references to other icons of Iranian history and culture. Iranians believe that had the West not thrown out their elected government in 1953, Iran would today be a fully functioning democracy and they would be a free people. By installing and supporting a vile dictator, the West sowed the seeds for rise of theocracy.At 220 pages, The Colonel, is not a long book, but it does require constant attention. Narrators change, time periods change and ghosts appear. Persian literature has a tradition of a kind of magic realism, so it comes as no surprise that Dowlatabadi blends reality and fantasy at certain points. This also heightens the need for careful reading, but if the time is invested, the rewards of this outstanding book will be fully appreciated.

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