The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness

The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness

Cyrus Samii

“If Iran was a fairy tale at all, it was a Persian tale… the story of the cold-hearted princess who would only be seduced by the one who bested her…. It is a fairytale that might explain…how each of us ran the race and how each of us lost.”

Iran’s psyche, no, her soul, is a labyrinth of allegories and anecdotes, parables and proverbs, myths and metaphors, lines of poetry and tales of old wives.  Like individual knots, these are intricately woven into that eternally beautiful, but ultimately functional thing called the Persian Carpet.

It is in this spirit that Cyrus Samii, in his powerful debut novel “The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness” has spun his tale of two friends who symbolically, but in a real and identifiable way, unfurl the image, design and pattern of the carpet that was Iran in the 20th century. The pursuit of hopes and dreams and their ultimate betrayal are told through the contrasting lives of two friends, Firouz and Nur ed Din.  Narrated in detail from school days it is a “memoir” of a timeless love affair that each has had with Iran set within the context of Persian fairy tales and politics. Within the tenuous dualism that defines Iran, the two characters symbolize different views and approaches to their love for their country: the pragmatic, and the spiritual.

Samii describes Iran at once as Turandot, the beautiful princess who demands impossible feats from her suitors only to set them up for disappointment, and cruel punishment when they cannot deliver.  Her sublimity is never questioned, but her resistance to accepting love is the crux of the despair and frustration that Samii describes in a stunning descriptive voice.  Through a series of references to Persian folklore, English literature, and Hollywood movies he further alludes to Iran as Eliza Dolittle, the fair lady who is to be transformed according to western standards of acceptability, but against the traditions that have been part of her identity for so long.

Set in the context of the Islamic Revolution, the story begins in 1931 as a group of young students in the American College of Tehran (Alborz High School) form future aspirations that eventually take them to the American University of Beirut.  From there, Firouz goes on to the University of Chicago where he learns philosophical, as well as practical ways to serve his country as an administrator and bureaucrat.  His classmate Nur ed Din, the scion of a religious, though not dogmatic leader, returns to Iran to take his place as the would-be spiritual leader after his uncle’s death.

Firouz becomes a high-ranking official in the Plan Organization in charge of prioritizing and allocating resources for the development of infrastructure and commercial projects in Iran. Nur ed Din relocates to the foothills of Kerman growing roses for rosewater with his beloved wife, Fereshteh, in the hope that he will receive the inevitable “sign from God.”  As they settle into their respective positions, with the oil money flowing in and the Shah’s increasingly despotic rule, events in Iran develop at unbridled speed against the backdrop of an industrializing and mercantile nation on the verge of becoming the regional super power.   Exquisite and sensual passages paint a vivid, almost palpable description of how the nation transformed during this period.

Samii tells of the frustrations of the people, the corruption within the government, the disparate affluence manifested in Western-inspired kitsch influences, and the abject poverty of those who were left out of the “Carnival ride”, ultimately culminating in misplaced idealism and intangible misunderstanding of the Revolution that compelled a people to take to the streets with the unison cry of “The Shah Must Go!”

Metaphorically, the beautiful princess rejects all who wooed her only to be captured and abducted by the  “wizened” old Vizier” in the guise of the Islamic Republic.

Firouz, the pragmatic civil servant, who had so many idealistic plans for the modernization of this ancient country goes to England where he regretfully lives on in exile.  Nur ed Din, the grower of roses and maker of rose water, is imprisoned by the Revolutionary government.  The symbolic reference of the rose, said to have blossomed at the drop of Prophet Muhammad’s sweat, held captive by the Islamic government, is an inescapable depiction of the incarceration of the spiritual essence of Islam for self-serving aspirations of power.

Unlike many books on Iran and the Revolution of  ’79, Samii offers no pedantic analysis of the hows and the whys.  Yet he encapsulates a compelling view of the motley moods and the events that were destined to lead to the revolution.  His depiction of the black-shirted young men lacerating themselves in the Passion Plays paints a startling contrast to the elegantly and scantily dressed party-goers in North Tehran, and is but one of the many contradictions he so soulfully presents.

Told in a haunting female voice, “The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness” is a human drama of trial and error; of hope and failure and eternal soul-searching, played against their superhuman counterparts of idealism, chivalry and of the indomitable human spirit. Laced with intimate memories the novel is disarming in its profoundness.   It is the story of dreams, both personal and political, and their price.  Of that which we unwittingly lose in their quest: be it ideals, democracy or ourselves.

Full of fleeting impressions and rich detail, the language is at times overwhelming in its complexity.  Yet the elusive threads that confound the reader are essential to the appreciation of the infinite “arabesque” that is Iran, which like her fairytale counterpart Irandokht, cannot be fathomed, much less possessed.

For those who witnessed the events in Iran during the second half of the last century, this book is an album of nostalgia.  They will relive the sounds, sights and smells of this captivating yet mercurial land; street vendors with their blackened hands, the fresh mountain air and the taste of fruits picked from the orchards.  The fancy cafes on Pahlavi Avenue where young lovers wooed, and Western movies where Persian dubbing injected its own brand of deliciously incongruous one-liners will come to life as if it has all been but a blink of an eye. For others, it is a wonderfully rich universal tale of a nation going through dizzying change still clinging on to, while witnessing the inescapable loss of, ancient traditions.  A window into a lost time, it is a story of, and for, all those who love their country, yet cannot win her love in return.  It is a tale of eternal devotion to an ever-transforming beloved.  It is a love story without an ending.

Zahra Faridany-Akhavan

December 2011

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