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Writing War in Contemporary Iran

The Case of Esmāʻil Fasih’s Zemestān-e 62

Saeedeh Shahnahpur

Writing War in Contemporary Iran offers a complete account of Esmā’il Fasih’s life, works, and position in contemporary Iranian literature. This book uses a text-based analysis of Fasih’s wartime novel Zemestān-e 62 (The Winter of ‘83, 1985) as a case study, and illustrates how the book set a precedent for anti-war novels that appeared in the period following the Iran–Iraq War. Unlike the many one-dimensional novels of the time which focused only on state ideology, Fasih’s novel grapples with broader issues, such as the state’s war rhetoric and the socio-political realities of life in wartime, including the impact of the War of the Cities on the daily lives of Iranians, government policies and their enactment, and the contribution of the upper class to war efforts. In this vein, The Winter of ‘83 was the first Persian anti-war novel that was different in that it did not present a glorified or heroic vision of the war and its participants. Furthermore, the book deals with the analysis of Fasih’s postwar novels, which emphasized the roles and sacrifices of Iranian women during the war—a neglected theme in Persian war novels—marking him as one of the most culturally important war writers in contemporary Iran.

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Esmā′il Fasih is one of the best war writers of contemporary Iran, who has devoted six novels and one collection of short stories to the subject of the Iran–Iraq War. Fasih’s reputation rests exclusively on his wartime novels, Sorayyā dar Eghmā and Zemestān-e 62, because of his significant and innovative approach to the war. As Fasih’s first war-centric novel, Zemestān-e 62 not only elucidates the state’s discourse on martyrdom through its representation of various forms of war rhetoric, but it also openly criticizes some of the government’s wartime strategies, especially those related to conscription, restricted female employment, and Islamicized recruitment criteria in government organs, which had profound impacts on citizens’ personal and professional lives. Concentrating solely on the latter aspect led many state-affiliated literary critics to label Fasih as an anti-government writer, but his pervasive references to, and thus reinforcement of, war rhetoric explicitly discredits this claim. This aspect together with the portrayal of the War of the Cities made Zemestān-e 62 a new archetype in Persian war literature, for these features received major attention in anti-war novels appearing in the post-war era.

Text-based analysis of Zemestān-e 62 with respect to its narrative elements exposes the writer’s approach to the war. For instance, Fasih’s choice of an upper-class protagonist testifies to the novel’s significant treatment of the war ← 159 | 160 → and those who participated in it, either actively or passively, by choice or misfortune. Unlike many Persian novels that concerned...

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