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1001 Book Review: The Blind Owl Sadegh Hedayat

the blind owl

We initially wanted to feature this book for banned book week, but unfortunately we were not able to complete it in time. The Blind Owl is considered perhaps the most famous literary work of 20th century Iran. It was written in the late 1930s and was originally published as a limited edition that was banned from publication in Iran. Find out what we thought about the book.

The Blind Owl Sadegh Hedayat
First published in: 1937
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Find a copy here:The Blind Owl

Synopsis (from book jacket): Considered the most important work of modern Iranian literature, The Blind Owl is a haunting tale of loss and spiritual degradation. Replete with potent symbolism and terrifying surrealistic imagery, Sadegh Hedayat’s masterpiece details a young man’s despair after losing a mysterious lover. And as the author gradually drifts into frenzy and madness, the reader becomes caught in the sandstorm of Hedayat’s bleak vision of the human condition. The Blind Owl, which has been translated into many foreign languages, has often been compared to the writing of Edgar Allen Poe.

Book Worm’s review:
★★★
This is a surreal book narrated by a man who may or may not be mentally ill or suffering from opium hallucinations. It is considered one of the finest examples of Iranian literature and is apparently a veiled commentary on the state of Iran. I must confess the symbolism passed me by.

I enjoyed the writing style and found the description of mental confusion to be very well done. I also enjoyed trying to connect past and present and to attempting to find meaning in the repetitive language and symbols.

Warning: This is not a book for everyone due to the portrayal and treatment of women and to the images of murder and death.

Jen’s Review:
★★1/2
Unlike Book Worm, I did not enjoy this book. The writing was solid and at times beautiful and poetic, but I am generally not a fan of surrealist literature and I often felt frustrated by my inability to understand the symbolism behind the images.

Reality and fantasy/nightmares/hallucinations all blend together to make the reader question what is real and what is illusion. Themes and imagery repeat frequently throughout and it is a circular novel that ends where it began. It’s also a very dark and depressing tale and leaves the reader with a grim sense of hopelessness. Take this quote as an example:

It was dark, silent night like the night which had enveloped all my being, a night peopled with fearful shapes which grimaced at me from door and wall and curtain. At times my room became so narrow that I felt that I was lying in a coffin…. Death was murmuring his song in my ear like a stammering man who is obliged to repeat each word and who, when he has come to the end of a line, has to begin it afresh. His song penetrated my flesh like the while of a saw. He would raise his voice and suddenly fall silent.

The novel has been linked to numerous suicides in Iran and the author himself also committed suicide 10 years after it was published by gassing himself. Reading the book is like being inside the mind of a severely depressed opiate addict while he experiences substance-induced hallucinations.

I found the author’s treatment of women to be disturbing. Female characters were treated in a disturbing manner (along with everything else in the book).

I’ll end my review by admitting that my lack of enjoyment was really due to my own inability to understand the symbolism and I can’t really claim this is a fault of the book. Perhaps it was due to a cultural difference between myself and the author. I think this is the perfect book to read and analyze with a group or class.  I certainly could have benefited from reading this in an academic setting. You can read an interesting piece about this book here.

Intrigued? The book gets 4 stars on GoodReads and we do encourage you try it for yourself. You can buy your copy here: The Blind Owl.

We want to hear from you. Have you read this book? What did you think? And, please explain it to me (Jen).

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have never even heard of this book. It doesn’t sound like something I’d like, but thanks for bringing it to our attention!

    And I have to ask: is the disturbing treatment of women gratuitous or does it have a purpose? Sometimes that difference is crucial to my enjoyment of a book.

    Like

    October 30, 2015
    • I am not sure. To be perfectly honest much of the symbolism went over my head. I don’t necessarily think it was gratuitous. Women were constantly referred to as “whore” and violent imagery connected to female characters but one person in our reading group suggested that the mother/wife figure perhaps symbolized the nation itself and thus was intentional. The plot was very hard to follow. Hopefully other shelfari folk (we read this with a group over there) who read can chime in if they see this comment.

      Like

      October 30, 2015
      • I would not call it gratuitous unlike some books I have read, it stood out more because the central focus was to a certain degree the woman I am sure with regard to how the story went if the author considered his homeland as a father then a male character would have received the same treatment, if that makes sense.

        Liked by 1 person

        October 30, 2015
  2. I didn’t know about this book, either. The excerpt above reads like a clunky, artless translation. It’s possible the book is better in Farsi. If it weren’t for your mention of the disturbing treatment of women in this book, I would almost feel sorry for the author.

    Like

    October 30, 2015
    • could be. Originals are always superior. I have heard good reviews of the translation. It was like a long hallucination so I imagine it was hard to translate. See my comment above about the women issue. I think the author suffered from depression, opiate addiction and ultimately killed himself. The mood of the book was very dark and was consistent with a person who was troubled/depressed.

      Like

      October 30, 2015

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