In the first English-language story collection from Iranian writer Shahriar Mandanipour, tales of tender desire and collective violence unfold alongside those of the boredom and brutality of war and the clash of modern urban life and rural traditions.
Seasons of Purgatory unites storytelling subtlety with scenes of visceral emotional impact—those moments when the serpent bares its fangs. Sara Khalili’s finely voiced translations know how, and when, to shift from close-grained intimacy to a more formal, even epic, tone. Mr. Mandanipour has recalled how, as Iraqi mortar shells rained down on his trench as he tried to write, he 'grasped the weight and value of words' in the three seconds between discharge and detonation. Ms. Khalili’s first-rate versions convey all the compressed heft of a literature pitched between memory and myth—and, equally, between the powers of life and death.
Each story is told with an intimacy that makes every loss and tragedy feel closer, more real. Occasional dips into speculative fiction enhance the sense that the characters are dominated by unseen forces far larger and more powerful than they are. They are forever shackled to the past, as helpless and as hopeless as the dead. Seasons of Purgatory is a stunning collection of stories about Iran’s traditions, its violent recent history, and how the memory of both influences daily life.
Because Mandanipour’s characters perceive (animal or metaphoric) danger all around them, the stories feel tightly-wound, driven by paranoia, suspense, and half-glimpsed hints of the climactic events to come. This ubiquitous awareness of a hovering danger contributes to the dark atmosphere Mandanipour sustains across these nine stories. While each of the stories stands alone, unconnected to the others in plot or characters, they all share a predilection for the macabre. Descriptions of decay, rot, and filth are so abundant in these writings that the collection could even sit within the category of gothic ... the short stories in Seasons of Purgatory feel refreshingly untethered from a 'Western' audience, and the elements of socio-political criticism they contain are much more subtle ... Mandanipour does not guide the reader to a clear-cut narrative closure in Seasons of Purgatory. Instead, Mandanipour, in Khalili’s translation, cultivates an unsettling sort of ambiguity, an open-endedness that makes these stories rich with enigma, asking to be read, then read again.