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Chess with the Doomsday Machine

Translated from the Persian by Paul Sprachman

Series: Bibliotheca Iranica: Persian Fiction in Translation 9
Availability: In stock
Published: 2008
Page #: xviii + 268
Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: ISBN 13: 978-1-56859-215-2, 1-56859-215-9

 
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Quick Overview

Chess with the Doomsday Machine (Shatranj ba Mashin-e Qiamat) is a novel by Habib Ahmadzadeh (b. 1964) about the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). It is set in Ahmadzadeh’s native Abadan, a city located on an island near the Persian Gulf. Because of its importance to the Iranian petroleum industry, Abadan was the target of heavy bombardments during the early stages of the conflict. Using an advanced radar system developed in Europe, Iraqi forces were able to hone in on Iranian artillery emplacements almost as soon as they fired. It is the task of the narrator, a young Basiji (volunteer paramilitary) spotter, to locate the radar so it can be destroyed. The novel paints a striking tableau of a city under siege, not only inhabited—as one would expect—by a variety of soldiers, but also by two Armenian priests, a retired oil refinery engineer, and a prostitute and her young daughter. Chess with the Doomsday Machine avoids the kind formulaic patriotism and hagiography found in much of “Holy Defense” (defa’-e moqaddas: an official Iranian term for the conflict) fiction in two ways. First, it indulges a type of black humor used in such war satires as Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and, second—and more profoundly—it examines how wartime conditions throw the ephemeral nature of human existence into high relief. As the novel progresses, the narrator’s journey evolves from a simple search-and-destroy mission into a quest for meaning among the surreal sights of the besieged city: an improvised “shark aquarium”; a ravaged farmer’s market; rows of bombed-out homes; an ice cream freezer that doubles as a morgue; and an incomplete seven-story building that miraculously survives the Iraqi shelling to become the stage for the novel’s chief theme.

author

Habib Ahmadzadeh

Habib Ahmadzadeh is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, whose military career began when he served as a teenage Basiji and ended after he attained the rank of Captain in the regular army. He has studied theatre arts and is an accomplished scenarist. Ahmadzadeh is also the author of a prize-winning collection of short stories called The War Involved City Stories (Dastan-ha-ye Shahr-e Jangi), one of which became the basis for the film “Night Bus” (Autobus-e Shabaneh; directed in 2007 by the well-known film and television artist Kiumars Poorahmad). Ahmadzadeh also provided the research for Conversation with the Shadow (Goft-o Goo ba Sayeh (directed in 2006 by Khosrow Sinai), a study of one of Iran’s greatest writers Sadeq Hedayat (d. 1951). Part biography, part literary criticism, the film is an original contribution to the voluminous literature on Hedayat’s most important work of fiction The Blind Owl (Buf-e Kur).

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