QAZI, Mohammad

(1913-1998), noted translator.


QAZI, Mohammad (Moḥammad Qāżi, b. Mahābād, Kurdistan, 3 August 1913; d. Tehran, 14 January 1998), noted translator.

Qazi’s childhood was fraught with tragic events. His father, ʿAbd-al-Ḵāleq, died when he was five years old. A year later his mother, Āmena, remarried and Qazi was sent to live with his paternal grandparents. After their death, he lived for a short time with Mirzā Saʿid, his uncle, who was assassinated a few months later. Being left without a guardian, Mohammad went to live with his mother in a village near Mahābād, where he was taught reading and writing in a traditional elementary school (maktab; see EDUCATION iii).

After a few months, however, his younger uncle, Javād Qāżi, who was working with Oskar Mann (1867-1917), German scholar of Kurdish dialects and folk tales and the author of Kurdische-Persische Forschungen die Mundarten der Mukri-Kurden (Berlin, 1909), among others, invited Qazi to live with him in Germany. Qazi set off for Mahābād, where he planned to join a Persian merchant on his way to Germany, but missed him by a few days. He settled in Mahābād, where he finished his elementary education in 1928, under the patronage of Qāżi ʿAli, the father of Qāżi Moḥammad (1893-1947), founder of the Kurdish Democratic Party and head of the Republic of Mahābād, who was executed by hanging in 1947.

A year later, since Mahābād did not have a high school, Qazi went to live in Tehran with his brother Javād, who had returned from Germany. Qazi enrolled in the Dār-al-fonun where he developed a lasting love for literature and became proficient in the French language, which he had already started to study in Mahābād (Qāneʿi-Fard, p. 33). He began to earn his living in 1939 by translating works from French (Qāẓi, 1992, pp. 149-52). He first translated the famous picaresque novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), through its French translation; and this was followed by Victor Hugo’s (1802-1885) short story, Claude Gueux, in 1939, entitled Kelod-e velgard (Qāẓi, 1994, p. 1).

Qazi graduated from Tehran University’s Faculty of Law in 1939. After completing the mandatory military service, he began working for the Ministry of Finance, serving mainly in the Ministry’s Legal Division. Throughout these years he also worked as a freelance translator for foreign companies operating in Iran (Qāẓi, 1992, pp. 134-42, 330).

A decade later, Qazi completed the translations of L’île des Pingouins, by Anatole France (1844-1924), and The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (1876-1916). As he was relatively unknown, his several attempts to find a publisher proved unsuccessful. Mošfeq Hamadāni, a translator himself, undertook the task of publishing Qazi’s translations, which appeared, respectively, as Jazira-ye panguanhā, and Āvā-ye vaḥš in 1949 (Qāneʿi-Fard, p. 55). In his observations on the art of translation, Najaf Daryābandari, noted translator and critic, has referred to the 50s and 60s as remarkable decades in the history of translation in contemporary Iran, and to Qazi’s translation of L’île des Pingouins as one of its landmarks (Qāneʿi-Fard, p. 230).

The publication of these books earned Qazi great recognition. His translation of Pearl S. Buck’s (1892-1973) highly acclaimed novel, Mother, was published in 1966 and went through twenty reprints in less than a decade (Mirʿābedini, p. 412). Thereafter, Qazi translated many masterpieces of world literature into Persian. His translations were instrumental in introducing outstanding Western literary figures to the Iranian public. His appreciation of classical Persian literature and his deliberate strategy to remain loyal to the original text and to convey, as far as possible, the author’s original narrative style in a clear and flowing language, earned him high critical acclaim. He is praised, in particular, for his skillful rendition of texts with a satirical bent, such as Don Quixote and Zorba the Greek (Żiāʾi, p. 236).

Although Qazi was familiar enough with English, French remained his language of choice. Considering himself “unfit” for scientific and philosophical translations, he concentrated on translating works of fiction (Qāneʿi-Fard p. 152).

After retiring from the Ministry of Finance in 1976, Qazi worked for a couple of years with the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (Kānun-e parvareš-e fekri-e kudakān va nowjavānān), where he translated into Persian, among others, The Young Adventurer, by Jacque Cervon, as Mājarāju-ye javān (1973), and a collection of short stories, entitled Panj qeṣṣa az Andersen (1979), by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1885), Danish author and poet who is most famous for his fairy tales.

Qazi also wrote poems, of which a few were published in Ḵāṯerāt-e yek motarjem (The memoirs of a translator, pp. 157-94), and in Selsela-ye nur o nastaran (A chain of light and sweetbrier, pp. 121-47). He was also the author of Zārā (Tehran, 1940), a love story, inspired by the Kurdish lore. The revised version of the novella, which had been expanded from the original 50 pages of the first edition to 130 pages, was published in 1991, and went through five reprints in two years. It was also translated, in 1977, by Maḥmud Raʾuf Morādi into the Sorāni Kurdish dialect.

Qazi’s autobiographical account of his experiences as a translator, with explanatory notes on some of his translations, appeared in 1992, entitled Ḵāṭerāt-e yek motarjem. In Sargoḏašt-e tarjomahā-ye man (The story of my translations, 1994), he provides introductory notes, as well as excerpts from 68 of his published translations. A selection of his interviews on Persian prose and poetry, as well as his experiments in translation techniques are published in Selsela-ye nur o nastaran (pp. 149-251), and Dami bā Qāżi va tarjoma (A moment with Qazi and translation, pp. 127-228).

Several members of Qazi’s immediate family were involved with Kurdish autonomy movements and lost their lives in the struggle. His formative years were thus fraught with a distrust of the central government in Tehran. The rhetoric of dissent in Iran’s political landscape in the 1950s was marked to a considerable degree by association with left leaning causes. Qazi, too, partook of left-leaning political discourse, to a certain extent, but unlike most of his contemporaries, his sympathy with leftist ideals did not translate into political action. He refrained from political activity and did not join any political party (Żiāʾi, p. 241). Although imbued with Kurdish pride, he did not espouse Kurdish separatist ideologies (ʿĀbedi, p. 23).

In 1943 Qazi married Irān Simči, and had two children: a daughter Maryam and a son Farhād. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1976 and remained dependent on a voice synthesizer for the rest of his life. His loss was widely reflected upon in literary circles. He was remembered as a “distinguished man of letters” (Navāʾi, p. 274) and as a translator, “irreplaceable for many years to come” (Żiāʾi, p. 234).

(For a comprehensive list of Qazi’s translations and works see Rahāvard 12/47, 1998, pp. 279-81).


Selected Translations.

Pearl Buck, Mother, 1966.

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1937.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, 1962.

Anatole France L’île des Pingouins, as Jazira-ye panguanhā, 1951.

Victor Hugo, Claude Gueux, as Kelod-e velgard, 1939.

Jack London, The Call of the Wild, as Āvā-ye vaḥš, 1952.

Romain Rolland, Mahatma Gandhi, 1964.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, as Šāzdakučulu, 1954.

Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, as Nān o šarāb, 1966.

Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper, as Šāhzāda o gedā, 1954.

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), L’Ingénu, as Sāda-del, 1954.


Kamyār ʿĀbedi, “Kordhā: del-e Irānšahr; Moḥammad Qāżi: šamʿ-e kordhā,” Šawkarān 22/4, Esfand 1384/2006, pp. 16-7.

Ḥasan Mirʿābedini, Ṣad sāl dāstān nevisi dar Irān (A hundred years of fiction writing in Iran), 3 vols., Tehran, 1987-98.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Parviz-Navāʾi, “Moḥammad Qāżi, Zorbā-ye Irāni,” Rahāvard 12/ 47, Summer 1998, pp. 274-9.

ʿErfān Qāneʿi-Fard, Dami bā Qāżi va tarjoma (A moment with Qazi and translation), Sanandaj, 1997.

Moḥammad Qāẓi, Ḵāṭerāt-e yek motarjem (The memoirs of a translator), Tehran, 1992.

Idem, Sargoḏašt-e tarjomahā-ye man (The story of my translations), Tehran, 1994.

Sayyed ʿAli Ṣālehi, Moḥammad Qāżi ke bud o če kard (Mohammad Qazi, his life and work), Tehran, 1989.

Idem, Selsela-ye nur o nastaran (A chain of light and sweetbrier), Tehran, 1991.

Noṣrat-Allāh Żiāʾi, “Yādi az Moḥammad Qāżi,” Rahāvard 20/62, Winter 2002, pp. 230-43.

(Noṣrat-Allāh Żiāʾi)

Originally Published: July 15, 2009

Last Updated: July 15, 2009