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Isfahan Is Half the World

Isfahan Is Half the World: Memories of a Persian Boyhood

Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jamālzādeh
translated by W. L. Heston
Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Isfahan Is Half the World
    Book Description:

    Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, acclaimed as the father of modern Persian short story, wrote this work. Sar o Tah-e Yak Karbas. to provide his fellow Iranians a memoir in story form of traditional Islamic life in Iran before westernization.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5552-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)

    The events in Iran beginning in late 1978 which ended in the overthrow of Pahlavi rule and the establishment of an Islamic republic came as a surprise to many westerners. For Americans, it is not difficult to sympathize with the desire to overthrow dictatorship, and even to applaud its fulfillment, but the Islamic republic, with its rejection of western values and its hostility toward the United States, has been hard to fathom, the more so because a number of the figures involved have been educated in the west and, indeed, in the United States. What could be the appeal of...

  4. Volume One: Reminiscings and Beginning

      (pp. 5-9)

      Sar ο Tah-e Yak Karbās, “Cut from the Same Cloth,” was written eleven years ago and is now presented with some revisions to my beloved countrymen. It is almost entirely a tale from the author’s childhood, and because the arena of those events and incidents is Isfahan, it can also be calledEsfahān-nāmeh, “The Isfahan Story.”¹

      On the whole, it is the tale of adventures of forty or fifty years ago, and perhaps in this respect will not appeal to the taste of younger elements of the present period who in truth are men of today and tomorrow, thirsty for...

    • PART I Memories of Childhood Times
      (pp. 10-65)

      Everyone knows that I am a legitimate child of Isfahan and born of its pure earth.¹ That Isfahan is called “half the world” is enough to describe the city. That by making a profession of contentment, which is one of their excellent characteristics, its people have been satisfied with “half the world” for a city that is really worth a hundred worlds suffices to describe them.

      Hāfez of Shiraz, who was orginally an Isfahani, considered his Shiraz better than our Isfahan, even though he called our Zāyandeh River the Water of Life. Love for homeland is no fault, of course,...

    • Part II: Wanderings of Youth

      • CHAPTER 1 The Flip of a Coin
        (pp. 66-71)

        The sun had been up not more than an hour or two when I knocked at Javād Āqā’s door. Opening it, their man asked, “With whom do you have business?” “With Javād Āqā,” I said. “Tell him it’s an old friend who’s come from far away.” Javād Āqā arrived with dispatch. “What luck! How splendid! What a surprise!” he cried out with glad gusto. “It’s a fortunate day! I’d be happy to die with such good news! Today will be counted as one of the best days of my life….”

        The hand of time had changed our features so much...

      • CHAPTER 2 The Greedy Eyes of the Wealthy
        (pp. 72-85)

        [And Javād Āqā continued his conversation like this:]

        The thing that always disturbed me about that period and which indeed sometimes kept me in extreme agony was the extraordinary struggle and strain and effort and exertion that my father showed in accumulation of wealth and property on the one hand and in miserly parsimony and stinginess on the other and, truly, he would try to skim a profit off anything. If I occasionally cast caution to the winds and raised this matter with him in conversation, I heard no answer save curt gibes and abuse accompanied by acid scowls. “You...

      • CHAPTER 3 The Magi’s Abbey and Their Pir
        (pp. 86-111)

        It wasn’t long until I reached the School of the Four Gardens.¹ Its other name, as you certainly haven’t forgotten, is the School of the King’s Mother and it is the same school that Shāh Soltān-hoseyn Safavi’s mother built. I had a long-standing acquaintance with it. At times of sadness and mental anguish and when entangled by inner crises resulting from fate’s inconsistencies, I had time and again fled from house and bazaar and kith and kin, and in a mood to meditate, had taken refuge in a corner of that very school. Each time my feet brought me into...

      • CHAPTER 4 Heartache
        (pp. 111-125)

        I briefly related to him the events of my marriage and divorce, and en because of the friendship and familiarity that had been solidly established between us in that short time, I also set out for him my untold secrets. I didn’t conceal that some time after being freed from the hands of the sayyids’ girl of Feshārak, it so happened that in the customary manner of a youth, I conspired to a little flirtation with an outgoing and affectionate young lady nearby in our neighborhood who, if I’m not mistaken, was up to a little something too. Before I...

      • CHAPTER 5 Resurrection
        (pp. 125-132)

        My fresh, new style of life began with those arrangments. For the first ten or twelve days, I enjoyed its unspoiled simplicity so much that like a man under the influence of liquor or hashish, I didn’t properly notice the passing of the minutes and hours or the succession of days and nights or the change of day into night and night into day.

        A strange smoky haze obstructed my view and everything appeared to my eyes in another shape and color markedly nicer than usual. I had a fairy-tale world, and I took great pleasure in living and breathing,...

  5. Volume Two: Traveling on the Horizons and in the Mind

    • Part I: Roaming and Getting Acquainted

      • CHAPTER 1 Extortion
        (pp. 135-151)

        I was still in bed heavy-eyed with sleep one day when my chamber door opened slowly and the usual beaming face of Mollā Abd-ol-hadi appeared. After reciting an appropriate poem as an invitation for me to awake and without replying to my greeting, he asked, “Have you ever gone to our village of Kolāhdown and had a look at the Shaking Minarets and the Fire Temple nearby it?”

        “I’m disgraceful,” I said, “but since I haven’t gone to visit any of the cities worth seeing of Islam, how should I have seen the Fire Temple of the Zoroastrians?”

        “Then you...

      • CHAPTER 2 People of Purity and Truth
        (pp. 151-169)

        Mowlānā did some thinking and said, “How would it be to go and eat lunch at Mir’s grave? It’s a cheerful place to relax and its waters are colder than hail and clearer than crystal.”

        “Long live Mir!” I said, and we set off.

        It wasn’t long until we reached Mir’s Takiyeh. It was in fact a charming and invigorating place, located on the way to Takhteh-pulād. Gradually I recalled that once or twice in childhood, I had come here with my mother and other women of the house for some vow made to God and perhaps we had even...

      • CHAPTER 3 The World of Chivalry and Manliness
        (pp. 170-200)

        The next evening after a supper to break the day’s fast, we went direcdy to thezurkhānehwith me as a parasite on Mowlānā. In the gymnasts’ terminology, thezurkhānehis a place for the clean and pure and, as you know, evildoers and men of ill-repute do not have the right to strip down in it. Thiszurkhānehwas located in the Imam’s Door quarter, though the Isfahanis say Imum for Imam, in the vicinity of Chumlown. They had put up an archway and had watered and swept and thrown down carpets for a fair distance in front of...

      • CHAPTER 4 Nightlife
        (pp. 200-209)

        “It’s a nice night,” he said, “and there’s still some time left until the cannon’s fired to mark the beginning of today’s Ramazān fast. How about taking a stroll across the Bridge of Thirty-three Arches to walk a while in the Field of a Thousand Acres and on the slopes of Sofeh Mountain.”

        “Actually, ‘Nights such as these are no time for sleep,’ ” I said, “and if you aren’t tired and don’t feel sleepy, I’m wide awake and ready to go any time you’d like.”

        Before going out of the city, we happened to pass a humble little grocery...

      • CHAPTER 5 The Hell of Fanaticism
        (pp. 209-227)

        “I beg you,” said Mowlānā, “to ‘cut down the compliments and add to the purse,’ as the saying goes. Your excuses are worse than the sin! It would be nice if you would instead wash up as quickly as possible and get yourself organized because they’ve brought some beasts for us to ride and we must go to Lenjān.”

        Taken aback, I asked, “Then are they making sweets to give as alms in Lenjān? What business would I have there?”

        “You yourself know,” he said, “that I’m from Lenjān and I came into the world in Falāvarjān, a village of...

    • Part II: Return to the Original or Solving the Problem

      • CHAPTER 1 And They’re Cut from the Same Cloth …
        (pp. 228-239)

        In short, I passed twenty-three whole months with such a man and I truly enjoyed my life. Each of God’s days arrived from the fragrant garden of mercy with fresh fruit and delicacies fresher than fresh and each hour my devotion to Mowlānā and my faith in him and my affection for him increased.

        I’ve recounted briefly for you a description of some scenes from the first days of my acquaintance with Mowlānā. That handful is but a sample from a donkeyload and you may infer the remainder yourself by analogy. Early most mornings he was present at my pillow,...

      • CHAPTER 2 Without Rhyme or Reason
        (pp. 239-256)

        It was one of those incomparable nights which God seems to have bestowed exclusively on the city of Isfahan, and like the perfume of the Mohammadi rose and the intoxication of Khollar wine and love’s first kiss, any description of it is unrewarding. We three spontaneously raised our heads toward the sky and gazed at the indigo ceiling of the spheres. Like a fisherman’s hook on the breast of the ocean sky, the crescent moon was visible above the dome and minarets of the school, and as fish greedy for bait bring their round mouths out of the water, the...

      • CHAPTER 3 “Party’s Over!”
        (pp. 256-277)

        “Oh, how lucky you’ve been!” said Ali Āqā. “But then let’s please see what I should do next.” “What you should do is clear as day,” said Mowlānā. “You must give up these little games and be a man! Being a man has nothing to do with constantly bragging to people and thinking only of throwing the rotten stuff of your boasting in some poor person’s face as soon as you set eyes on him, but rather you must, like a snake that sheds its skin, cast off from body and soul that stinking skin of conscious and unconscious ostentation...

      • CHAPTER 4 The Absent Who’s Present
        (pp. 277-284)

        Two months and fifteen days had now passed as described and again my brother and I and the rest of Present the household were all sitting there, awaiting the moment of Mowlānā’s arrival. The sound of the evening call to prayer arose gradually and there was still no news of Mowlānā. I said to Ali Āqā, “I’d better go and see why he’s late. I fear some misfortune may have befallen him, God forbid!” “What are you talking about?” he said. “Mowlānā’s not a fancy foreign watch to be here on the dot. He must have been detained somewhere, but...

    (pp. 284-286)

    As you may recall, I said in the beginning of this story that Javād Āqā and I had flipped a coin in the cool underground room of his house to decide which of us would tell his adventure first and the toss went to him.

    When he had reached this point in his adventures, he called the servant and said, “Have our dinner brought!” After eating a matchless dinner which only Isfahan’s matrons of incomparable taste can manage to prepare, he settled down and said, “Now then, it’s your turn to tell your adventures.

    “My friend,” I said, “I’ve been...

  7. Translator’s Postscript
    (pp. 287-291)

    Soon after submitting a proposal for this translation to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), I wrote to Jamālzādeh and described the goals of the NEH translation program, explained why I thought this work would fit those goals, and asked his permission to publish the final translation. Jamālzādeh replied promptly, not only agreeing to publication of a translation by someone then unknown to him but also generously offering his help and encouragement. The correspondence continued during the proposal’s review by NEH and during the translation process after its acceptance. As drafts of chapters were completed, they were sent, usually...

  8. Glossary
    (pp. 292-296)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-298)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)