Thursday, 5 January 2017

″Self-censorship is the worst″

Interview with the Iranian writer Abbas Maroufi
The novel describes events during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 while tracing the narrative of one family: against their father′s will, all four sons of the Amani family end up supporting opposing sides. Abbas Maroufi provides an intricate portrait of this highly dramatic period in Iranian history, mirroring the revolution. Courtesy Qantara.

Abbas Maroufi, born in Tehran in 1957, was one of Iran's most respected writers when he was sentenced to prison and a flogging for 'offending the fundamental principles of Islam'. It was only thanks to the intervention of the German PEN Center and the intercession of Gunter Grass that he was able to leave Iran in 1996. He has lived in Germany ever since. 

Volker Kaminski: In your novel Fereydun had three sons, your hero Majid is almost compulsive in his habit of looking at old family photos that bring back memories of his past in Iran. Are you ever like this? You have been living in Germany for 20 years now. Do you often dwell on what you left behind?

Abbas Maroufi: Memories very often come back to me and sometimes I write them down. That can happen very spontaneously. For example, someone passing my window can suddenly trigger a memory of someone I used to know. And this one memory can remind me of details that then set me thinking about a whole host of other details. Sometimes I am like the first person narrator in Proust's Recherche.

For him, a madeleine dipped in tea opened the door to his past. For me, it is colours, sounds, or a specific smell. Memories are never linear. The same is true of modern writing, which – unlike the works of Balzac and Flaubert with their single narrative threads – works with fragments. This is like my rather associative narrative style in my novel Fereydun had three sons.

Kaminski: To what extent does your novel reflect the situation you yourself were in when you left Iran? Your hero's life is in ruins. He is an asylum seeker and lives in a psychiatric hospital. To put it bluntly, he is a nervous wreck. At the same time, he is gripped by a yearning to return home. Is this what it was like for you? Did you want to go back home?

Maroufi: A writer's homeland is very important to him. It is a constant source of inspiration for his writing, his daily work. But I couldn't go back; I had been given a prison sentence. It was only thanks to support from outside the country, with the help of the PEN Center, of which I am a member and the personal intercession of Gunter Grass that I was able to leave Iran.

Regarding Majid's state of mind in my novel, it is indeed rather typical: he has not only lost his homeland, he has also lost his job, his social environment. And so he is tortured by 'bad thoughts'. He falls into a depression, feels humiliated and useless. On occasion, he acts aggressively towards the others in the hospital. It is only when he is busy with his daily work that he feels alright.