Welcome to my new blog, Persian is Sugar! The name of the blog comes from the title of one of the most famous short stories in Persian, written by Muhammad Ali Jamalzadeh in 1921. My goal in creating this blog is to post working translations from Persian into English of some of my favorite untranslated works of both Modern and Classical Persian Literature. Of course, being a PhD student, who knows how much I’ll get done (maybe a lot for procrastination’s sake!), but I’ll try to aim for one short story per month. Shorter things like classical ghazals (sonnet-like poems) may appear on a more consistent basis. I may also on a whim include translations from my other two languages, Arabic and French.
So, back to the blog’s namesake. In his revolutionary first collection of short stories, Jamalzadeh introduced the European form of the short story to Persian literature for the first time, and helped to solidify prose as a legitimate form in Persian. Before Jamalzadeh’s collection Yeki Boud, Yeki Naboud (Once Upon a Time), poetry was king in Iran and prose occupied a secondary significance. With this collection, all that began to change.
Jamalzadeh was revolutionary not just for the form of his tales, but also their content. He rejected the idea of a “proper” vocabulary for literature and instead supported the idea of “literary democracy.” He believed in the power of the language of the masses and used his tales as a means to catalog the colorful idioms of regular Iranian people. These sorts of idioms date Jamalzadeh’s work, but they also give it a strong flavor and sense of authenticity. The first story in the collection, Persian in Sugar, tells the story of a child who speaks more or less “standard” Persian and runs across a young Iranian intellectual, a sheikh, and the narrator, an Iranian student from Bushehr who has been studying in Europe. These characters speak comically exaggerated and wildly different Persian from the child: the intellectual uses French Communist language, while the sheikh’s vocabulary consists of mainly Arabic phrases and religious doctrine. These unfamiliar and alien-sounding Persian “dialects” frighten the young boy, and the narrator is unable to convince him of the ultimate take-away of the story: that no matter how different the local or cultivated idioms are, all of the characters in the story are in fact speaking Persian, the fascinating and sometimes idiosyncratic language that Jamalzadeh does his best to record in all its diversity.
More info can be found at Encyclopaedia Iranica, the brilliant reference work edited by Ehsan Yarshater: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/yeki-bud-yeki-nabud