Title: bipanahihaye ahmad panahipour (Helplessness of Ahmad Panahipoor)
Author: Awat Poorabdollahi
Review by Mahdi Alizadeh Ziaei (Department of English, University of Edinburgh)
Most readers are familiar with collections of short stories but few may have heard of a collection of reports in a fiction genre. That is exactly what Helplessness of Ahmad Panahipoor is. The author calls the short stories “reports” because they are the result of his extremely keen observation of the contemporary Iranian society with all the problems and issues which my stay hidden from an ordinary member of the public who is busy with their everyday life. However, Avat Poorabdollahi never fails to observe the sufferings of the helpless and the homeless.
The stories are narrated in third person point of view. The narrator at times goes deeper into the minds of the characters, especially Ahmad Panahipoor, who seems to be close to an autobiographical representation of the author himself. The stories are set in contemporary Iran with all the social inequality and injustice on different political and social levels. You do not need to read much to get an idea of what the author thinks of that society. The first story, which very skilfully introduces the main character and the setting, will provide the reader with an image of the desperate writer Ahmad Panahipoor living near a dump and suffering from constipation; two direct allusions to the current status of the Iranian society and how the author feels about it.
Throughout the book, there are several references to the society’s inability to perceive and accept poetry, and the themes of helplessness and homelessness appear almost in all the stories. There are several autobiographical references in the stories which, set against the author’s life and experience, shed more light on the meaning and morals of the stories. For instance, “Suspension” is a story in the book in which the narrator says how he has been suspended, referring to the author being suspended from the university for a year following a detention by the Ministry of Intelligence for an issue of the student political journal at university. This may also explain the subtle political and religious innuendos used by the protagonists in the stories.
The fact that Avat Poorabdollahi calls his stories “reports” also indicates that the stories are written in a very simple style and language easily understandable by the general public but that does not mean that he avoids any word that comes to the characters’ minds or anything they utter. Let’s not forget, these are everyday people living under a huge beautiful blanket cast over the city which hides most of the ugly aspects of the contemporary society in Iran. It is the author’s job to pull away the blanket and show us what is lurking underneath; a plethora of helpless and homeless people from different walks of the society who have ended up there. So, we have writers and poets as well as junkies among them. No matter what background they come from, they share one point: they are all helpless.
The author seems to stick to the same style of writing in a few other works which he also calls reports, including Weakness and Fainting, Cuckoo flew out of the Cage, Perspectives of the Taste of the Mountain, and Persecutions of the Oil Field; once you have read the book, you will agree with me that this is probably the most appropriate style for his material. The material for his stories come from first-hand experiences of an out-of-town student who has lived in the capital fighting with a series of problems. A student of Electrical Engineering, who had to write love letters for youngsters to make a living. He says he finds his material from every corner of the city and when you read the book, you will definitely notice this.
Helplessness of Ahmad Panahipoor is a simple but effective book which will make every reader ponder over the problems in the current society of Iran. These are problems which may not be visible to naked eyes; issues which are obscured by the large-scale international political games of the states and the politicians. The author rightly criticizes the indifference of the society towards the sufferings of the homeless and the helpless; the society’s insensitivity towards art and poetry; and even insecurity. These are conveyed to the reader through very powerful comparisons and metaphors: a hospital teeming with patients dying of ghastly infections; a stinking dump; a bus full of insensitive and selfish people who do not even understand the language that two peddler kids speak; cockroaches eating a rotting body; and … The title effectively sets the tone of the book by employing an ironic pun on the words “helplessness” and “Panahipoor” [which indicates providing shelter], so the one to provide shelter is himself in need of one.
Helplessness of Ahmad Panahipoor reads well despite frequent, recurring and conscious spelling errors, which have been deliberately incorporated by the author, just like the occasional derogatory remarks and bawdy allusions. He keeps writing in the simplest possible form and leaves out anything which may stand in the way, even if it is a letter. This adds to the effect of the style, and makes the reader warm more immediately to the text and its context. So, all the instances of spelling and grammar errors suit the content; in fact, the latter are explained in the first sentences of the book as a deliberate decision by the author and he asks the reader not to criticize him for the apparent grammar errors.