In nearly all the books of Amir Cheheltan the reader finds a connection between history and storytelling. Does writing mean archiving or what stands behind the timed localization of the novels?
Every story is a personal history of some ordinary people as the characters. But what impresses me most is this fact that the people are so impotent when they encounter with the historical moments, with the big social happenings such as war or revolution. I would like to explore the human being confrontation with this critical moments, trying to define his sentiments, to guess his reaction to all of this. Although we should notice that despite the historical background, the characters and the plots of my novels are predominantly the product of my imagination, based on eternal issues such as love or death.
In your last novel „The calligraph of Isfahan“ we read about the confrontation of Sunnis and Shiites, but even more about the oppression of Sufism by the orthodoxy. The taky characters in the novel are the Sufi-scholars, because they prefer the God of love to the God of anger. This seems to be quiet a contemporary relevant statement.
Perhaps I should made it clear in my answer to your previous question that in my opinion a writer goes back to the history only if he wants to clarify or to understand some contemporary issues. This novel might be referred to the reality on the ground in the middle east, hard liner extremism, the combination of state and the religion and also, as far as the situation in Iran is concerned, the economic sanction and the risk of the eminent military attack. It is also true that I talk about the clashes of religious cultures in this novel but this novel is simply a triangle love story, this is the story of survival, forbidden love and scape, of war and hunger. The time setting is just a sort of instrument that makes it possible or provides me good excuses to narrate my story, my very own story. Nowadays in Iran and perhaps in the entire world the past is mixed with the contemporary time, it is mixed even with the future.
In this context calligraphy plays a major role, because calligraphy, at least in your novel, incorporates what people are not allowed to do. This beautiful writing stands for dancing and even erotic, sex.
That is right! In my opinion even you can find all of these forbidden issues such as music and dance in the drawings and patterns of Persian carpets. The human feelings and sentiments and also the human desire for beauty can be suppressed but it can’t be uprooted. The creation of beauty is one of the main instincts of the human being. At the same time I wanted to admire, to pay my tribute and my homage to the Persian calligraphy which illustrates the love when the letters(of alphabet) hug each other as though they are making love.
The grandfather only copies verses of Rumi. What importance have Sufi-Authors like Rumi or Ibn al-Arbai in Iran today. Are their books accepted by the regime or are they censored?
Rumi is too huge to be censored or ignored, he is so involved in Iranian mentality and so mixed with the Iranian spirituality that regime doesn’t dare to do anything against his poetry. Five classical Persian poets has a mythical position in Iranian mindset: Ferdowsi, Rumi, Khayam, Hafez and Sa’di. They are not just some names belong to the history, They are present in our daily life. They are so heavy that we have not been able to bring them to the present time, instead we have been kept attached to them in the past. It is though true that in some periods of time in our history some of these poets had been boycotted by the rulers in Iran. At the moment non of them are censored(except Sa’di in some very erotic part) but regarding Rumi the regime only focuses on the scholastic aspects of his poetry, not the erotic ones and by a different interpretation tries to change him to a part of their belongings. In fact Rumi’s poetry addresses the whole human being, in a prophetic sense that we should forget our differences and should focuses on our common values. His lesson is peace and tolerance that is against violent religious extremism.
Another important issue of your novel seems to be human abysses. Confronted with a period of starvation, people rear their ugly head. Cannibalism gets normal and those people, who have enough to eat, are exploiting their neighbors unscrupulously. You don’t seem to have much hope for a world of peace.
No, I don’t. In the past human being has never experienced a world of peace, why should I hope it happens in the future, at least there is no perspective for it. The wisdom and humanity are only some terms in the books. Look at the Middle East. Look at Syria or Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq,… We are experiencing the war of the end of the world (endzeit). We Iranian have a very long history in the back, Only those who have studied it carefully understand what I mean. But please also notice that I have shown a very brilliant aspect of human being life in this novel which is the power of love, I have shown that in the circumstances like what I have described in the novel, the only things that might be helpful is art and love.
A lot of your books can’t be published in Iran. And if they are, then they are censored. You are criticizing the religious government, you are not afraid dealing with taboos, you write socio-critical articles in German papers. How safe is your life as an author in Teheran. Because there are always writers who are arrested in Iran like in January Hila Sedighi.
The perils of writing in Iran is not only one or two. It is like dancing on a narrow rope, without any safety net underneath. Imagine now how difficult and even impossible it is. But we make it possible by insisting on writing and continuity of doing that. At the same time to be touched by the authorities depends also to how famous you are or how much you are connected to the international community.
My latest three novels have not been able to be published in my country, in the very language that they are written in. It is very much disappointing but I have to continue and it is not because I am a courageous person it is because writing is an absolute necessity for me which makes my existence balanced spiritually. It is something much more than a professional job, I have some knowledge about some issues and I have to point it out although it is considered out of line by the authorities in my country.