Gholamhossein Saedi


SA’EDI, Gholam-Hosayn (غلامحسین ساعدی, Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, b. Tabriz, 13 Dey 1314 Š./5 January 1936; d. Paris, 2 Āḏar 1364 Š./23 November 1985; Figure 1), psychiatrist, amateur ethnographer, editor, noted engagé dramatist (under the pen name Gowhar-e Morād), fiction writer, and influential figure in popularizing the theater as an art form, as well as a medium of political and social expression in contemporary Iran.

Sa’edi was born to a middle-class family and was raised in the city of Tabriz (Sa’edi, 1985, p. 253), where he inaugurated his literary career as he pursued his education, culminating in a medical degree from Tabriz University in 1961. In his senior year in high school he wrote a short story, Morḡ-e anjir (The fig hen, 1956), which was published in Soḵan (13, 1956), a prestigious literary publication in Tehran. It was followed by the publication of two novellas in Tabriz, Pygmalion (1956), and Ḵānahā-ye šahr-e Ray (The houses of Ray City, 1957). Later, he moved to the capital and, after completing the mandatory military service, he embarked in the fall of 1963 on a five-year internship at Ruzbeh Hospital, a major medical institution in Tehran, to specialize in psychiatry. Meanwhile, he and his brother, also a physician, continued to work in the clinic they had set up in a working-class neighborhood in South Tehran, charging patients nothing or whatever they could afford (Heshmat Moayyad, p. 261; Mojābi, pp.7-8). It was during these years that Sa’edi came to critical notice by publishing a series of short fiction and dramatic sketches highlighted by a collection of twelve interconnected short stories titled Šabnešini-e bāšokuh (The grand soirée, 1960, Figure 2), exposing the frustrations of the educated classes and urban civil servants with a mixture of humor and tragedy (Yāḥaqqi, 1996, p. 213). Despite the rigors of internship and the demands of a medical practice, Sa’edi continued to focus on writing and collaborating with leading literary magazines and publishers in the country. By all accounts, these were formative years in the development of Sa’edi’s literary skills and the establishment of his reputation as a writer and an intellectual.

From early on, Sa’edi was involved with the period’s politics of dissent, and much of his work displays the hallmarks of left-leaning liberal thought. In this regard, he was very much aligned with the modernist spirit in the literary history of an era in Iranian cultural life that had its beginning in the early years after the Second World War and was in various degrees marked by opposition to what was conceived as the oppressive nature of the Pahlavi regime, a resurgence of nationalism combined with cultural self-analysis, and a running battle with Western imperialism. The climate in which Sa’edi lived and worked was fraught with a distrust of Western influence, both in cultural and political terms, coupled with a desire to understand the West and forge a communion with its intellectual tradition while resisting its political and cultural domination (Yarshater, 1988, pp. 291-318; Hillmann, 1982, pp. 7-29; Ricks, pp. 346-61).

While still in Tabriz, Sa’edi joined the underground Youth Organization of the Democratic Faction. The membership brought him into frequent conflict with the authorities and led to his first arrest for ‘subversive activities’ in the summer of 1953, when he was still an adolescent. In an interview in Paris in 1984, where Sa’edi lived in exile after the revolution of 1979, he spoke of these years of disillusionment and his involvements in anti-Mosaddeq demonstrations, organized by leftist groups, with a sense of remorse and guilt, culminating in his decision to write the “Introduction” to a collection of Mosaddeq’s speeches, released in 1978. (Mojābi, p. 174).

Throughout the rest of his years in Iran Sa’edi remained a vocal opponent of what he considered to be a dictatorial regime and the ersatz Western culture that it promulgated and imposed upon the populace. He was repeatedly investigated, arrested, and incarcerated by the security police (SAVAK) and subjected to both physical and psychological abuse (Hillmann, 1987, p. 84; Ricks, p. 360; Mojābi, pp. 193-4), although he was never formally charged with any offence or put on trial.

Notwithstanding such distractions, Sa’edi compiled a body of dramatic works from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, picturing individuals trapped in painfully absurd situations, impotent against a merciless fate (Yarshater, 1988, p. 393). Eminent among these works are Kārbāfakhā dar sangar (1960, tr. M. R. Ghanoonparvar  as “Workaholics in Trenches,” 1989), Dah lāl-bāzi (Ten pantomimes, 1963), praised by a commentator as Sa’edi’s “innovative wordless poems” (Mirʿābedini, p. 508), Čub be-dasthā-ye Varazil (The club-wielders of Varazil, 1965), and a collection of five short plays involving the events during the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11, almost all subsequently staged, mostly by students in Tehran and other cities. Čub be-dasthā-ye Varazil, called by Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad the best play of the period (Mojābi, p.484), was staged by Jaʿfar Vāli, a highly regarded theatrical director, and featured some of the most popular actors of the time in Tehran. The play, in which the boundaries between real and surreal are blurred and almost every character, scene, and dialogue has multiple meanings (Kiānuš, p. 130), takes place in Varazil, a nondescript village where hordes of wild boars have been running rampant, ruining crops and threatening the meager livelihood of the inhabitants. In desperation the villagers seek “technical assistance” from an outsider, who dispatches two hunters armed with rifles to kill the boars. The hunters lounge around the village and impudently impose on the hospitality of its denizens. The villagers once again resort to the outsider, who sends in some more armed men, this time to dispose of the hunters. The two groups of armed men find it to their mutual advantage to turn their guns on the helpless villagers. “The symbolism,” of the play, as contended by Gisele Kapuscinski, “is clear: the hunters represent government officials who take their directives from a foreign power, the villagers are the people of Iran struggling against natural hardships and government exploitation” (Yarshater, 1988, p. 394). Najaf Daryābandari praises the realistic progression of the events in the first act, that, as he further writes, is substituted in the next act by exaggerated allegorical imageries which compromise the realistic acuity, a quality central to the effectiveness of the play (Mojābi, p. 491).

Another play of critical note, staged in Tehran by Ezzat-Allāh Enteẓāmi in the fall season of 1965, was Behtarin bābā-ye donyā (The world’s best Dad, 1965), a psychological drama that explores the nature of filial relationships and the way social conditioning influences children and their perception of their parents. Sa’edi adopts a linear dramatic pattern and weaves an intricate web of social and political issues into its structure along allegorical lines and creates an outstanding play (Kiānuš, pp.116-127).

Sa’edi’s plays are characterized by his “interest in the common people, rural and urban, and in the psychological probing of characters, combined with a rich, realistic texture, often with a dramatic point of view” (Yarshater, 1988, p. 304; also Mojābi, p. 192; Dastḡeyb, pp. 36-42). Several of his plays and short sketches in the late 1960s sharply depict these phenomena and bemoan the consequences thereof. Notable among them is his satirical drama, Ā-ye bi kolāh, ā-ye bā kolāh (lit. Short A, long A, tr. Giselle Kapuscinski as “O Fool, O Fooled,” 1987), staged by Jaʿfar Vāli in March 1967 in Tehran; it became an overnight success. An old man appears at the stage and alerts the residents to the presence of burglars hiding in the abandoned house. The people are unable to take action to ensure collective security. At the end of the first act they learn that the robber is a vagrant old woman who is carrying a rug puppet. They return to their homes and turn off all the lights. At the opening of the second act, a replica of the first with some variations, the old man once again raises the alarm, bringing the neighbors out of their houses. The residents convince themselves that the old man is paranoid, whereupon a doctor in the group distributes an opiate among them, which they take, turning off the lights and falling asleep. The play ends with a touch of surrealism when, as soon as the lights go off, the thieves, clad in black and carrying machetes, come out of the old house in an endless procession, gradually filling the stage and ultimately obscuring the view of the entire neighborhood. “At a symbolic level, however, the thieves are interpreted as representing the West that would take all that is valuable from Iranians” (Hillmann, 1982, p. 14). Audiences by and large responded warmly to the mordant humor and the subversive message of the play, interacting emotionally and intellectually with it. However, not all commentators found the symbolism of the play and the “hallucinatory” pall it casts over the entire play satisfactory (Daryābandari, 1968, p. 27).

Sa’edi’s collection of five interconnected one-act plays, Panj nemāyešnāma az enqelāb-e mašruṭiyat (Five plays on the Constitutional Revolution, 1966), set in Tabriz in the early years of the 20th century, is yet another study of human nature under duress. In the first play, “Az pā nayoftādahā” (The unyielding), a fiery constitutionalist cleric is sentenced to death but manages to escape from the clutches of the executioner and to seek asylum in the shrine of a saint in downtown Tabriz. Similarly, other plays in this collection display the range of characters from heroes to villains in situations that bring out the ironies inherent in the human condition. The last in the series, Bāmhā va zir-e bāmhā (Roofs and under the roofs), is generally viewed as the most fully developed of all and has been more popular than the rest (Sepānlu, 1992, p. 221; for a detailed account of these plays, see E. Naby, “Gowhar-e Murad: A Persian Playwright,” pp. 32-66).

From the mid-1960s, Persian theater received considerable encouragement from the government. Before that, there was no strong secular dramatic tradition in Iran (Yarshater, 1988, p. 35; Hāj Sayyed Javādi, p. 134). Although some playhouses had existed in Tehran and other population centers, they were mostly venues for staging melodrama and burlesque types of entertainment generally for the benefit of lower-class audiences. Sa’edi’s plays were at first produced and viewed by small groups of university students as “theatrical experiments” and attracted wide audiences. The dialogues are designed to lend themselves to modification by local accents and dialects, a quality that has made the plays accessible and appealing to audiences of different ethnicity and varying levels of intellectual sophistication. By casting familiar themes from Persian literature and folklore into modern dramatic form, creating characters readily identifiable by Iranian audiences, and placing them in a wide variety of dramatic situations, Sa’edi, along with ʿAli Naṣiriān, Akbar Rādi, Bahrām Bayżāʾi, ʿAbbās Naʿlbandiān, and few others, played an eminent role in popularizing the theater as an art form in 1960s Iran (Ḥoquqi, p. 40-1; Sepānlu, 1992, p. 215-30; Yarshater, 1988, p. 384).

By the end of the 1960s Sa’edi’s standing as a prolific dramatist and fiction writer had been well established in the circle of literary figures, that included such dissident writers as Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad,  Ṣamad Behrangi, Reżā Barāheni, Javād Mojābi, Sirus Ṭāhbāz, and Ebrāhim Golestān, among others.

Sa’edi, however, did not limit himself to literary activities. Based on his travels in 1965 to the villages and tribal areas on the littoral plains of the Persian Gulf and again in 1968 to the mountain communities of Azerbaijan in northern Iran, he produced a series of monographs with anthropological underpinnings. Technically, these works are more in the travelogue genre than anthropological treatises (Mojābi, p. 501-5). In them Sa’edi notes in detail such matters as the cultural history, ethnic background, modes of production, and religious beliefs of the local inhabitants. However, there are passages in the books in which the ethnographer is somehow subsumed by the fiction writer (Behnām, p. 9). They include Ilaḵči (1963), Ḵiāv yā Meškin Šahr (1965), and Ahl-e havā (People of the wind, 1966, Figure 3), all published by Moʾassasa-ye moṭāleʿāt va taḥqiqāt-e ejtemāʿi (Institute of Social Studies), in addition to some essays in the same vein. The importance of these studies is that in a variety of ways they became useful sources for many of Sa’edi’s later works. He extracted from them not only material for character and plot development, but also speech patterns and idiomatic specificities to enrich and variegate dialogues in his plays and stories. Commentators have found direct links connecting Ilaḵči and Ḵiāv yā Meškin Šahr to ʿAzādārān-e Bayal, and Ahl-e havā, people possessed by evil spirits, to at least one of Sa’edi’s major works, a collection of six interconnected short-stories titled Tars-o larz (1968, tr. Minoo Southgate as Fear and Trembling, 1984), in which Sa’edi depicts the living condition in the fishing villages of Southern Iran where life is dominated by the sea and its changes and the villagers live in fear of hunger and tremble at the threat of drowning (ʿMirābedini, p. 510; Barāheni, p. 317; Dastḡeyb, p. 15).

Sa’edi’s chronicles of the brutalities of the conflict between man, nature, and history often attain a symbolic significance with fantastic and dreamlike elements and transcend the boundaries of realism (Mirʿābedini, p. 508; Sepānlu, 1989, p. 117). His sharply edged criticism of the mismanagement of the economy and his vivid portrayal of the dilapidated villages leaves little room for the depiction of the potentially beautiful or joyous aspects of life in rural areas and distinguishes him, along with Aḥmad Maḥmud (also known as Eʿṭāʾ), Ṣādeq Čubak, Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad, and some others, as pioneers of a distinct type of regional literature, colored by politics and ideology. His macabre portrayal of abandoned villages and ill-fated towns develops into a recurrent motif in Persian fiction, contributing largely to the re-emergence of the village as a popular topos in the works of many writers. The village topos, however, as manifested in Sa’edi’s narratives, does not resemble the idyllic pastorals of the Constitutional period as depicted by writers and poets such as ʿEšqi and Ḥejāzi. In Sa’edi’s monographic sketches and fictional narratives the village and the city are both inhabited by the same anxiety-ridden people, tormented by the same problems (Yavari, p. 582). Sa’edi’s blend of the hallucinative and the concrete, and the grotesque juxtaposition of the two with implied irony and downright black humor, have inspired some critics to identify in his narratives early traces of magical realism, a mode of writing popularized in post-revolutionary Persian literature (Šāmlu, p. 23; Sepānlu, 1992, p. 117; ʿAbdollāhiān, p. 105; Mirʿābedini, p. 510).

It is important to note that while Sa’edi came to be regarded primarily as a dramatist, he remained active in writing fiction. He wrote many short stories for journals and literary magazines during the 1960s. Most of them were collected and published in ʿAzādārān-e Bayal (The mourners of Bayal, 1964), Vāhemahā-ye bi nām o nešān (1967, tr. by Roger Campbell as Nameless and Elusive Apprehensions, 1981, Figure 4), and Dandil (1966, tr. Hasan Javadi et al. as Dandil: Stories from Iranian Life, 1981; Figure 5). In ʿAz̄ādārān-e Bayal, a collection of eight allegorical stories, in which all the stories revolve around the theme of hunger and disease (Bahārlu, p. 297; Dastḡeyb, p. 36), Sa’edi draws parallel lines between the plagued outside world and the troubled inner world of his characters (Mirṣādeqi, 1986, p. 653; Barāheni, p. 317; Mirʿābedini, p. 510). Moreover, Sa’edi’s peculiarly dark and disturbed world, in spite of its implied rejection of realistic techniques, has a strong inner logic of its own which translates well from the medium of the short story to that of a film-script (Fischer, pp. 223-28). The collection included a story titled “Gāv” (The Cow) which Sa’edi later converted to a film script. The film, produced in 1968, was directed by Dāriuš Mehrjuʾi and featured many leading actors in the fledgling Iranian cinema, including Ezzatollāh Enteẓāmi. It became a huge box-office success both in Iran and abroad. Although Sa’edi had received substantial recognition in the artistic and intellectual circles by then, it was not until the release of “The Cow” in 1969 that he achieved something of a celebrity status in the Persian society of the time. The story deals with a villager whose cow, the only source of his livelihood and a status symbol in the impoverished village, dies. The trauma ushers the villager into a psychotic state of personality disorder in which he imagines himself to be the cow, forcing the villagers to take him, cow-like, to the city in hopes of assistance. The play ends when the villager, like his cow, dies. ’The identification of the cow with its owner and the brief appearance of three strangers from a neighboring village is an allusion to Iran and its citizens whose riches have been constantly exploited by foreign powers’ (ʿAlavi, p. 240).

Sa’edi and Mehrjuʾi collaborated once again in the making of Dāyera-ye minā (Azure Sky), based on a story titled “Āšḡālduni” (Garbage can) from the collection Gur o gahvāra (The grave and The cradle, 1977). It was premiered in Tehran in 1978 and was shown in the United States as “The cycle” in the same year. Likewise, one of the stories in Vāhemahā-ye bi nām o nešān, entitled “Ārāmeš dar ḥożur-e digarān” (Calm in the presence of others), a story in which the tormented mind of an army officer resembles the bombastic hollowness of the military edifice in Persia and prefigures its rapid disintegration (Mirṣādeqi, p. 595, Ḵāksār, p. 216), was rewritten into a screenplay. It was directed by Nāṣer Taqvāʾi and opened in Tehran in 1973 to great critical acclaim. The plot revolves around the life of a retired army officer, who is left in the care of his two daughters after his wife dies unexpectedly. He gradually descends into a state of despondency due to diminished status and a loss of authority. Most of Sa’edi’s fictions, with un-heroic, occasionally perverse personages, participate in the fatalistic and pessimistic end of modern fiction writing in Iran. His familiarity with the dynamic organization of the psyche is clearly visible in characterization, plot, and theme of some of his fictions, and converts his stories of outer actions into the dramas of the life of the mind (Yāḥaqqi, 2000, p. 274). It opens up ranges of metaphoric suggestiveness unachievable by purely narrative means.

By the early 1970s, in addition to his short stories, he had published a short novel, Tup (1970, tr. Faridoun Farrokh as The Cannon, Bethesda, Md., 2010; Figure 6), and completed the manuscripts of Tātār-e ḵandān (The grinning Tartar) while he was in prison for the last time in 1975, and Ḡariba dar šahr (Stranger in the town, 1976). But due to the explicit criticism that the last two plays leveled at the regime, they were not published until 1994 and 1990 respectively. Tup (The Cannon), set in the tribal region of northwestern Iran during the Russian occupation of the area to ward off the advances of the Constitutionalists, became a popular success. In a variety of ways, it reflects Sa’edi’s dramatic style in characterization and sequencing of events. As is the case in his plays, Sa’edi tends to insulate each scene from another by ancillary passages that bear the symbolic and impressionistic weight of the story. This feature in the novel has been found problematic by some critics, who have argued that the practice, effectual in Sa’edi’s plays and short stories, has been counterproductive in Tup, slowing down the action and causing contradictions in the plot and inconsistencies in character development (Mirʿābedini, pp. 512-13; Kiānuš, pp. 134-50).

Sa’edi composed some poems, only a few of them published (Mojābi, pp.43-60). He also collaborated in the translation of some works, including two medical texts and Elia Kazan’s America, America (with Moḥammad Naqi Barāheni, 1964).

In the early years of the 1970s Sa’edi was increasingly involved in political activities and intensified his participation in the events sponsored by Kānun-e Nevisandagān-e Irān (The Writers Association of Iran). This organization, of which Sa’edi was a charter member when it was formed in 1968 by a handful of liberal-minded writers and intellectuals of diverse background and persuasion, “was in many ways a unique experience… [and w]hile it could not transcend the factionalism that has historically plagued the Iranian elite, it nevertheless made an inedible impact on the intellectual community and on Iranian society at large” (Karimi-Hakkak, 1985, p. 189). The activities of the Association resulted in an increased level of harassment by the security police and an official injunction in 1972, prohibiting Sa’edi and some other authors from writing and publishing their work (Yarshater, p. 314). In May 1974 Sa’edi was arrested and given a thirteen-year prison sentence, but was released in 1975 (Le Monde, 9-10 February 1975, p. 4). His release and his trip to the United States at the invitation of the American Pen Club in 1978, and from there to England for a short-lived cooperation with Aḥmad Šāmlu in the publication of Irānšahr, came about largely as a result of the efforts of international organizations and literary figures (Yarshater, p. 393; Hillmann, 1976, p. 144; Fathi, p. 277). In its issue of 19 June 1975 (pp. 35-7), Kayhān, a daily newspaper of Tehran, published an article based on an interview with Sa’edi, in which he had followed the usual formulaic recantation of his conduct and repudiated his former writings and stands (Ricks, p. 361). In an interview in Paris on 5 April 1984, Sa’edi spoke of the article as an absolute fabrication, made up by the authorities for the occasion (Mojābi, pp. 195-6).

In the remaining years of the 1970s Sa’edi turned to more specific political issues. The plays and stories that he penned in this period are peopled by characters less archetypal and more typical of lower- and middle-class city dwellers. A representative sample is Māh-e ʿasal (Honeymoon, 1977), a play set against an urban background, that is, an apartment, perhaps in Tehran. The inhabitants, a newly wed couple, are very much in love, but their moments of privacy are interrupted by the arrival of an old woman who has been placed in their apartment by a government order. Young and psychologically immature, the couple fall victim to the woman’s evil intentions and turn into zombie-like irrational beings concerned only with gratifying their physical needs and appetites.

During this period Sa’edi, at the expense of his literary works (Mojābi, p. 28), extended his collaboration with a variety of magazines and journals. In 1973, at the behest of the management of Amir Kabir, a major publishing house, Sa’edi accepted the editorship of a newly instituted quarterly called Alefbā, which soon became a highly regarded and influential journal, publishing articles of scholarship and works of fiction and poetry by leading authors in Iran and abroad. Sa’edi was very attached to this periodical and on many occasions expressed his pride in being associated with it. However, due to obstacles created by the regime, Alefbā ceased operation after publishing six issues within nearly two years (Nāṭeq, p.47).

Like many other politically committed literary figures, Sa’edi welcomed the regime change in Iran. He was among the group of writers, poets, playwrights, critics, and translators who spoke of censorship, freedom of thought, the responsibilities of intellectuals, and oppression at the German Cultural Institute’s nights of lectures and poetry readings, held between 10 and 19 October 1977 and known, later, as Dah šab (Ten Nights, see GOETHE INSTITUTE). The lectures and poetry readings, as part of the political liberalization carried out during Jamšid Āmuzegār’s premiership, turned a literary event into a political one (Karimi-Hakkak, 1985, pp. 209-11). Sa’edi was among those who spoke on the fourth night of the event (Moʾaḏḏen, pp. 201-5). The tapes made of the Ten Nights were copied and sold in thousands both in Iran and abroad. The speeches and poems were later edited by Nāṣer Moʾaḏḏen and published as a book entitled Dah Šab in 1978.

The optimism and hopeful attitude, however, did not last very long,  and Sa’edi soon found himself at odds with the new rulers, who restricted free speech and political activity even more severely, to a degree, than the previous regime. Faced with a clear threat of physical harm and incarceration, he first went into hiding in Tehran and then was driven to exile in early 1981 (Fathi, p. 258; Mojābi, p. 14).

In January of 1981 Sa’edi married Badri Lankarani in Paris and resumed the publication of the journal Alefbā, in which he published some of his exilic works, mostly treatises dealing with his disillusionment with a revolution he had wholeheartedly supported and the debilitating effects of his life in exile. In Alefbā (new series, no. 1, Winter 1361 Š./1983) he also published his Parisian Seh-gāna (Trilogy) consisting of “Jārukeš-e saqf-e āsmān” (The sweeper of the celestial ceiling), “ Sofra-ye gostarda-ye rosum-e nahofta” (The set table of hidden customs), and “Talḵāba” (Bitterns). Sa’edi’s exilic narratives suffer from an overindulgence in social and political commentary at the expense of plausibility and aesthetic considerations (Mirʿāedini, p. 791). His Parisian Trilogy is a “series of more or less disjointed episodes within each story which are held together by no more than the writer’s ever-present obsession with the depiction of unbridled brutality (Karimi-Hakkak, 1991, p. 258). The prose in these works is often tortured and breathless, sometimes even incoherent, not at all like the flowing and eloquent style of his earlier years. He also wrote several film scripts, including Mulus Corpus (with Dāriuš Mehrjuʾi) and two plays, Pardadārān-e āʾina afruz and Otello dar sarzamin-e ʿajāyeb (Othello in Wonderland), published in Paris in 1986. Othello in Wonderland is a tragic-comic play reflecting on the calamity and absurdity of trying to Islamicize Shakespeare’s Othello. The play, translated by Michael Philips and directed by Elane Denny, was performed at Ohio Wesleyan University as a component of the 2005 Sagan National Colloquium on “The United States and the Islamic World: Challenges and Prospects.” (Mahdi).

Separation from Iran turned out to be more devastating than expected. The condition of exile affected Sa’edi not only intellectually but also emotionally (Hillmann, 1987, p. 84; Karimi Hakkak, p. 523-24). He deliberately refused to learn French. A number of essays and interviews bear witness to the fact that he had difficulty in adjusting to life away from his native land and felt the constant threat of incapacitation as a result of isolation. (For Sa’edi’s exilic interviews, see Mojābi, pp. 172-221.) This led to bouts of heavy drinking, incessant smoking, and long hours of sleeplessness, which in turn undermined his already fragile health. Early in the morning of 23 November 1985, Sa’edi suffered a stroke. Hours later he died in a hospital in Paris; he was buried next to Sadeq Hedayat in Père Lachaise cemetery. “Hedayat had fled Iran to commit suicide in Paris in despair of what was happening in his homeland. Sa’edi died of exile. His country forced him to leave, and he could not survive without it.” (Hillmann, 1987, p. 84).

See also: FICTION.



Selected works.

Short-story collections.

ʿAzādārān-e Bayal (The Mourners of Bayal, eight stories, Tehran, 1964). The fifth tale in the collection, entitled “Gāv” was rewritten by Sa’edi into a screenplay in 1969, and the film was directed by Dāriuš Mehrjuʾi. It was translated by Mohsen Ghadessy as “The Cow,” Iranian Studies 18, 1985.

Dandil (four stories), Tehran, 1966; tr. Hasan Javadi et al. as Dandil: Stories from Iranian Life, New York, 1981.

Gur o gahvāra (The Cradle and the Grave, three stories), Tehran, 1977. The first story of the collection, entitled “ʿArusi,” was translated as “Wedding” by Jerome Clinton, Iranian Studies, Winter-Spring 1975, nos. 1-2, pp. 2-47). Another story in the collection, entitled “Āšgālduni” (tr. Julie S. Meisami as “The Rubbish Heap,” in Hasan Javadi et al., trs., Dandil: Stories from Iranian Life, New York, 1981) was made into a movie entitled Dāyera-ye minā (Azure sky), directed by Dāriuš Mehrjui, 1978.

Šabnešini-e bāšokuh (The Grand Soirée, twelve stories), Tehran, 1960.

Tars o larz (six stories), Tehran, 1968; tr. Minoo Southgate as Fear and Trembling, Washington, D.C., 1984.

Vāhemahā-ye binām o nešān (four stories), Tehran, 1967; tr. R. Campbell as Nameless and Elusive Apprehensions, New York, 1981. One of the stories of the collection, entitled “Ārāmeš dar ḥożur-e digarān” (tr. Roger Campbell et al. as “Calm in the Presence of Others” in Dandil: Stories from Iranian Life, New York, 1981) was rewritten into a screenplay. The film was directed by Nāṣer Taqvāʾi in 1973.

Sa’edi also wrote many short stories for journals and literary magazines, e.g., Soḵan, Āraš, Kelk, and Alefbā. Notable among them is “Bāzi tamām šod” (Alefbā 1, 1973), tr. Minoo Southgate as “The Game is Up, in idem, tr., Modern Persian Short Stories, Washington, D.C., 1980, and as the “Game is Over” by Robert Campbell, in New Writing from the Middle East, ed. Leo Hamalian and John D. Yohannan, New York, 1978. His “Vāgon-e siāh” (Ketāb-e Jomʿa, no. 1, 1979), tr. Mehdi Marashi as “Black Boxcar,” was published in Iranian Studies 18/2-3, Spring-Summer 1984, pp. 279-94. “Čatr” and “Gedā” are translated as “Umbrella” and “Beggar,” by Mary Nicholas and Manoochehr Moosavi, in Literature East & West 20, 1980, pp. 144-61.


ʿĀqebat-e ḡalamfarsāʾi (An end to endless writing), Tehran, 1975.

Ā-ye bi kolāh, ā-ye bā kolāh (lit. Long A, short A), Tehran, directed by Jaʿfar Vāli, 1967; tr. Giselle Kapuscinski as “O Fool, O Fooled,” in idem, Modern Persian Drama, New York, 1987.

Behtarin bābā-ye donyā (The world’s best Dad), Tehran, staged by Ezzatollāh Enteẓāmi, 1965.

Časm dar barābar-e časm (An eye for an eye), Tehran, 1971; staged by Hormoz Hedāyat, 1972.

Čub bedasthā-ye Varazil (Club wielders of Varazil), Tehran, 1965; staged by Jaʿfar Vāli, 1965.

Dikta va zāvia (Dictation and angle), Tehran, staged by Dāvud Rašidi, 1969.

Jānešin, (The successor), Tehran, 1970.

Kalāta gol (The flower hamlet), Tehran, 1961.

Ḵāna rowšani (Housewarming), Tehran, 1967; staged by ʿAli Naṣiriān, 1967.

Kārbāfakhā dar sangar, Tehran, 1960; tr. David Chambers et al. as “Workaholics in Trenches”, in M. R. Ghanoonparvar, ed., Iranian Drama, Costa Mesa, 1989, pp. 1-63.

Māh-e ʿasal, Tehran, 1978, tr. James Clark et al. as “Honeymoon,” in M. R. Ghanoonparvar, ed., Iranian Drama: an Anthology, Costa Mesa, 1989, pp.63-132.

Mar dar maʿbad (A snake in the temple), Tehran, 1993.

Otello dar sarzamin-e ʿajāyeb (Paris, 1986), tr. as Othello in Wonderland, by Michael Phillips and M.R. Ghanoonparvar, Calif. 1996.

Panj nemāyešnāma az enqelāb-e mašruṭiyat (Five plays on the Constitutional Revolution), Tehran, 1966.

Pardadārān-e āʾina afruz, Paris, 1986; tr. Michael Phillips and M.R. Ghanoonparvar as Mirror-polishing storytellers, Calif. 1996.

Parvārbandān (The fattened lot, Figure 7), Tehran, 1969.

Pigmalion, a free translation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Tabriz, 1956.

Vāy bar maḡlub (Woe to the vanquished), Tehran, 1970; staged by Dāvud Rašidi, 1970.


Lālbāzihā (Pantomimes), Tehran, 1963.


Tup, Tehran, 1969; tr. Faridoun Farrokh as The Cannon, Bethesda, Md., 2010.

Ḡariba dar šahr (Stranger in the town) Tehran, 1990.

Tātār-e ḵandān, (The grinning Tartar), Tehran, 1994.

Film scripts.

ʿĀfiatgāh (Haven), Tehran, 1989.

Gāv (The Cow), Tehran, 1971.

Faṣl-e gostāḵi, (Season of rebellion, Figure 8), Tehran, 1969.

Mā nemišenavim (We do not hear), Tehran, 1970.

Mulus Corpus, with Dāriuš Mehrjuʾi, based on an unpublished story, entitled “Ḵāna bāyad tamiz bāšad” (The house should be clean), 1986.

Anthropological Monographs.

Ilaḵči, Tehran, 1963.

Ḵiāv yā Meškin Šahr, Tehran, 1965.

Ahl-e havā (People of the wind), Tehran, 1966.

Sa’edi also collaborated in the translation of several works, including two medical texts and Elia Kazan’s America, America (with Moḥammad Naqi Barāheni, 1964).

For the list of Sa’edi’s unpublished works, see Javād Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 2000.


Ḥamid ʿAbdollāhiān, Kārnāma-ye naṯr-e moʿāṣer (Contemporary prose: an overview), Tehran, 1990.

Bozorg ʿAlavi, “Modern Storytellers of the World-Iran,” Iranian Studies 15, 1982, pp. 238-41.

Dāriuš Āšuri,“Ahl-e hawā,” in J. Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 1999.

Moḥammad Bahārlu, ed., Dāstān-e kutāh-e Irān (The short story in Iran), Tehran, 2nd ed., 1994.

Reżā Barāheni, Qeṣṣa-nevisi (Story writing), Tehran, 1969.

Jamšid Behnām, Intr. Ahl-e Havāʾ, Tehran, 1966, pp. 501-5.

Najaf Daryābandari, “Čub bedasthā-ye Varazil,” in J. Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 1999.

Idem, “Darbāra-ye qovvat va żaʿf-e nemāyešnāma-ye Ā-ye bi kolāh, ā-ye bā kolāh,” Negin 35/3, March 1968, repr. in J. Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 1999.

ʿAbd-al ʿAli Dastḡeyb, Naqd-e āṯār-e Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi (A critique of Sa’edi’s work), Tehran, 1975.

Maḥmud ʿEbādiān, Darāmadi bar adabiyāt-e moʿāṣer-e Irān (Persian contemporary literature: an overview),Tehran, 1992.

Asghar Fathi, ed., Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1991.

Michael J. Fischer, “Towards a Third World Poetics: Seeing through Short Stories and Films in the Iranian Culture Area,” Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture, Past and Present 5, 1984.

Mohammad Reza Ghanoonparvar, ed., Iranian Drama, Calif. 1989.

Ḥasan Hāj Sayyed Javādi, Barresi va taḥqiq dar adabiyāt-e moʿāṣer-e Irān (A survey on Persian Contemporary Literature), Tehran, 2003.

Mansur Heshmat Moayyad, ed., Stories from Iran: A Chicago Anthology 1921-1991, Washington D.C., 1991.

Michael C. Hillmann, “The Modernist Trend in Persian Literature and Its Social Impact,” Iranian Studies 15, 1982, pp. 7-29.

Idem “ Persian Prose Fiction: An Iranian Mirror and Conscience,” in E. Yarshater, ed., Persian Literature, New York, 1988, pp. 291-317.

Idem, “Iranian Nationalism and Modernist Persian Literature,” in idem, ed., Essays on Nationalism and Asian Literatures, Literature East and West 23, Austin, Tex., 1987, pp. 69-89.

Idem, ed., Major Voices in Contemporary Persian Literature, in Literature East and West 20, Austin, Texas, l976.

Moḥammad Ḥoquqi, Moruri bar tāriḵ-e adab va adabiyāt-e emruz-e Irān (Persian literature today: an historical overview), Tehran, 1998.

Nasim Ḵāksār, Mā va jahān-e tabʿid (We and the world of exile), Sweden, 1999.

Giselle Kapuscinski, Modern Persian Drama, New York, 1987.

Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, “Up from the Underground: The Meaning of Exile in Gholamhosayn Sa’edi’s Last short Stories,” Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini, Asghar Fathi, ed., Costa Mesa, Calif., 1991, pp. 257-75.

Idem, “Protest and Perish: A History of the Writer’s Association of Iran,” Iranian Studies 18, 1985, pp. 189-229.

Idem, “Revolutionary Posturing: Iranian Writers and the Iranian Revolution of 1979,” IMJES 23, 1991, pp. 507-31.

Maḥmud Kiānuš, Barresi-e šeʿr va naṯr-e fārsi (On Persian prose and poetry), Tehran, 1972.

Ali Akbar Mahdi, “Shakespeare in the Islamic Republic and Sa’edi in Ohio,” 23 November 2005, available online at

Ḥasan Mirʿabedini, Ṣad sāl dāstān-nevisi dar Irān (A hundred years of fiction writing in Iran), 3 vols., Tehran, 1987-98 (Sa’edi ’s life and work and his significance in the emergence and development of regional literature are treated extensively in several chapters of the book).

Jamāl Mirṣādeqi, “FICTION ii(c). THE SHORT STORY,” Encyclopaedia Iranica IX, pp. 592-97.

Idem, Adabiyāt-e dāstāni (Persian fiction), Tehran, 2nd ed., 1986.

Nāṣer Moʾaḏḏen, Dah šab (Ten Nights), Tehran, 1978.

Javād Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 2000.

Eden Naby, “Gowhar-e Murad: A Persian Playwright,” M.A. thesis (Columbia University), 1971, pp. 32-66.

Homā Nāṭeq, “Qeṣṣa-ye alefbā,” Zamān-e now 11, Tehran, 1985.

Thomas M. Ricks, ed., Critical Perspectives on Modern Persian Literature, Washington, D.C., 1984.

Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, ed., Alefbā, new series, no. 1, 1982, pp. 116-46.

Idem, “Šarḥ-e ḥāl” (Autobiography), Iranian Studies 18, 1985, pp. 189-229, repr. as “Zendegi-ye man” (My Life), in Javād Mojābi, ed., Šenāḵtnāma-ye Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Tehran, 1999, pp. 449-52.

Moḥammad ʿAli Sepānlu, Bāzāfarini-e wāqeʿiyat (Represetation of reality in literary texts), 8th print, Tehran, 1989.

Idem, Nevisandegān-e pišrow-ye Iran (Pioneers of fiction writing in Iran), 4th print, Tehran, 1992.

Moḥammad Jaʿfar Yāḥaqqi, Čun sabu-ye tašna (Like a thirsty jar),Tehran, 1996.

Idem, Juybār-e laḥẓahā (The Rivulet of Moments), Tehran, 1999.

Ehsan Yarshater, ed., Persian Literature, New York, 1988.

Idem, “Persian Letters in the Last Fifty Years,” Middle Eastern Affairs 11, 1960, pp. 297-306.

Idem, “The Modern Literary Idiom,” in idem, ed., Iran Faces the Seventies, New York, 1971, pp. 284-320; repr. in Ricks, ed., 1984, pp. 42-62.

Houra Yavari, “FICTION ii (b). THE NOVEL,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica IX/6, 1999, pp. 580-92.


Yaʿqub Āžand, Adabiyāt-e novin-e Irān az enqelāb-e mašruṭiyat tā enqelāb-e eslāmi, Tehran, 1984.

M. Falaki, “ʿAnāṣer-e reʾālism-e jāduʾi dar romān-e modern,” Barresi-e ketāb 3/1, 1992, pp. 895-99.

Hušang Golširi, “Si sāl romān-nevisi” Jong-e Eṣfahān 5, 1967, pp. 187-229.

Moḥammad M. Ḵorrami, “Qeṣṣa wa qeṣṣa-nevisi dar tabʿid: tāriḵča-ye esteqlāl-e adabi,” Irānšenāsi 5/1, 1993, pp. 183-94.

Houra Yavari, “FICTION ii (e). POST-REVOLUTIONARY FICTION ABROAD,” Encyclopaedia Iranica IX, pp. 599-602.

Yādnāma-ye doktor Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Sāʿedi, Hamburg, 1996.

(Faridoun Farrokh and Houra Yavari)

Originally Published: July 15, 2009

Last Updated: December 6, 2012

Cite this entry:

Faridoun Farrokh and Houra Yavari, “SA’EDI, Gholam-Hosayn,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 19 May 2016).

  • Birthday: 5 Jan 1936
  • Death: 23 Nov 1985
  • Birthplace: Tabriz, East Azerbaijan, Iran

Writer and Doctor

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