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Travel Diary of Ebrahim Beg

Translated from the Persian by James D. Clark.

Series: Bibliotheca Iranica: Persian Fiction in Translation 6
Availability: In stock
Published: 2006
Page #: xxiv + 297
Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: 1-56859-188-8
bibliography, glossary

 
$35.00

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Quick Overview

Siyahatnameh-ye Ebrahim Beg [Travel Diary of Ebrahim Beg] is not an actual travel memoir; it is fiction; it is a novel; it is in fact the first modern Persian novel. It is a literary account of social, cultural, and political life in Iran by Zayn ol-Abedin Maraghe’i that was published anonymously between 1895 and 1902 in Cairo. The novel tells the story of an Iranian, Ebrahim, who was born and reared in Egypt. His father, a merchant from Tabriz, instilled in his son a love for Iran, a country that the father described to his son as paradise on earth. He also instilled a strong sense of patriotism in his son regarding that country. In his will, the father instructs his son to travel to his ancestral homeland, which Ebrahim does, accompanied by his teacher. But once in Iran, his dreams of the land his father had described as paradise are shattered. Instead, he finds a hell rampant with poverty, misery, wretchedness, religious hypocrisy, official and bureaucratic corruption, and political oppression. He describes Iran as a backward country with nothing but disease, opium addiction, torture, and injustice, with no law and order. Government officials and religious leaders alike extort money from the people, and bribery and corruption are as prevalent as the lack of education and health services. Because of the novel’s frank assessment of the social conditions in Iran during the Qajar dynasty rule, many scholars regard it as one of the factors contributing to the upheavals that resulted in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911.

But the importance of this book, particularly in literary terms, goes beyond its impact as a social and historical document. The dominant genre in Persian literature in the 19th century was undoubtedly travel memoirs, the account of the travels of often high-ranking government officials which were prepared to be presented to the king, many of them about their travels to the West with detailed descriptions about life, customs, social conditions, and technological advancements in Europe and the United States. Inevitably, many Iranian intellectuals used their understanding of the West as a yardstick with which to assess and criticize their own society and its political, religious, and other conditions. The travel diaries, therefore, may have served as a vehicle for these Iranians to express their dissatisfaction with the existing conditions in Iran at the time. In this context, Maraghe’i’s fictional use of the genre was a clever device with which he took advantage of the popularity of the genre of travel memoirs to write his novel, perhaps unaware of the fact that his approach in this novel would determine and influence the course of the content of Persian literature in the 20th century, which by and large consists of criticism of social conditions and political oppression by the Pahlavi dynasty, albeit less frankly than what Maraghe’i had accomplished in his novel, and more in rather symbolic terms, because of the strict censorship that existed.
The present translation makes available not only to literary scholars but historians and political scholars as well an important novel and social document of the late 19th and early 20th century in English.

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