ZEMESTĀN-E 62 (Winter of 62), a novel published in 1987 by the well-known and prolific Persian novelist Esma’il Fasih (Esmāʿil Faṣiḥ, b. Tehran, 1935-2009).
This title of the novel refers to the winter of 1362 Š. (1987), the third year of the Iran-Iraq war (see IRAQ vii. IRAN-IRAQ WAR). The story is narrated by one of the familiar protagonists of Fasih’s novels, Jalal Arian (Jalāl Āriān), who is also the narrator of the majority of his novels and many of his short stories (Badiʿ, p. 14; Mirʿābedini, p. 928; Yarshater, p. 272).
Jalal Arian makes three trips to the war-torn city of Ahvāz in that winter. On the first trip, he and his incidental companion, Dr. Manṣur Farjām, drive from Tehran to Ahvāz; Arian in search of Edris Āl-e Maṭrud, the war-maimed son of his ex-gardener Maṭrud Āl-e Maṭrud, and Farjām, a thirty-year old engineer who had returned from the United States after an absence of eleven years to develop a computer science center for the National Iranian Oil Company (Šerkat-e melli-e naft-e Irān), and to give himself a respite to overcome the memory of the tragic death of his fiancée.
Farjām’s computer center project never takes off. Instead, he becomes increasingly intrigued by the ordinary people’s willingness to sacrifice their lives for the cause of the “sacred defense” (defāʿ-e moqaddas) of their homeland. Meanwhile he becomes acquainted with Lāla Jahānšāhi, who reminds Farjām of his lost fiancée, and he finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. She is, however, deeply in love with Faršad Kiānzād. Much to the young lovers’ grief, Faršād is drafted for military service. Arian has to return to Tehran before finding Edris, while provisionally teaching at Abadan Institute of Technology, a college affiliated to the Oil Company.
On his second trip to Ahvāz to fulfill his teaching consignment, Arian realizes that Frajām’s love for Lāla has intensified, and that, with his project going nowhere, he is spending agonizing nights with his eyes glued to the war footage on the television, having placed a single tulip (Lāla) in a small crystal vase on the set. In his search for Edris, Arian comes into contact with Maryam Jazāyeri, a middle-aged widow whose husband was executed by hanging in the early days of the Islamic Revolution, probably as a counter-revolutionary. She is banned from leaving the country. Later in the story, Arian agrees to assist her in her plan to leave the country and is finally forced to consent to a paper marriage with her so that she can acquire a passport. Arian’s attempts to locate Edris eventually pays off, and he finds out that the young man, who has lost an arm and a leg, has voluntarily returned to the battlefield.
After a short trip to Tehran, Arian returns for the third time to Ahvāz. Lāla’s mother dies of cancer. Her mother’s death and Faršād’s posting to the killing fields of Majnun Island drive Lāla to the point of suicide. Here, Arian intervenes and sends her along with Maryam to Tehran, so that the two of them can fly to Europe later. Meanwhile, Farjām’s mental anguish grows, as does his love for Lāla, and, in the same proportion, his identification with the ordinary people, who look the war squarely in the face. The story reaches its momentum when Farjām, who bears some resemblance with Faršād, exchanges his passport, his permanent U.S. residency card, and an air ticket for Faršād’s uniform and military pass. Faršād joins Lāla and Maryam in Tehran, and Farjām goes to the front, where he is killed a few days later. As his body, charred beyond recognition, is placed in the tomb as that of Faršād, Arian knowingly looks at his watch as the hour heralds the flight of Maryam Jazāyeri, Lāla Jahānšāhi, Faršād Kiānzād and, ironically, Manṣur Farjām, to freedom. Shortly afterwards, Jalal Arian takes the road from Ahvāz to Tehran with the maimed Edris in tow.
There is little ambiguity in the symbolic significance of the names in Zemestān-e 62 (Ferdowsi, p. 25, Badiʿ, 15-16). Jalal Arian (Aryan Splendor; see ARYA and FARR[AH]) is widely recognized as including a somewhat ironic, yet sympathetic, allusion to the splendor of ancient Iranian culture and civilization (Ferdowsi, p. 30, ff. 12; Mohājerāni, p. 245). Manṣur Farjām’s name and death in a military operation with its inherent pun on Majnun (lit. madman, lunatic), is reminiscent of that of his namesake, Manṣur-e Ḥallāj and his ultimate end at the scaffolds. Other names; e.g. Āl-e Maṭrud (Clan of the Outcasts), and Lāla, the symbolic flower of martyrdom in contemporary Persian literature, also acquire rich metaphoric implications within the novel’s context.
While dismissive comments (Ḵorramšāhi, p. 249) are rare exceptions the reviews of the novel have been mostly favorable. In his multifaceted review on Fasih’s literary trajectory, Ehsan Yarshater, noting a number of idiosyncratic aspects of the use of language in Fasih’s works, praises the Winter of 62 as an outstanding post-revolutionary fiction (Yarshater, p. 272: see also FICTION ii/b. THE NOVEL).
The novel has also drawn wide critical interest as a distinct type of war literature, unprecedented in modern Persian fiction (Yarshater, p. 273). Zemestān-e 62 does not opt to glorify the military heroism in the battlefields. It recounts, instead, the tale of a panoply of displaced characters of different classes and political convictions, all grappling with the death of loved ones or contemplating the possibility of their own death (Yavari, 1999, p. 588), and mourns the human condition in a world thrown into turbulence by war (Yarshater, p. 271; Haag-Higuchi, pp. 257-61).
The existential, sociological, and autobiographical aspects of the novel have also been studied by several critics (Ferdowsi, p. Farmānārā, p. 224). The Winter of 62, like most of Fasih’s stories is inspired by or linked to the interrelated tales of the members of a single family, most probably his own (Yavari, 1990, p. 62). The existential transformation of the same fictional characters, particularly Jalal Arian, from Šarāb-e ḵām (The raw wine, 1968), with which Fasih begins his literary debut (Fasih, 1994, p. 211), to Zemetān-e 62 highlights the landmarks of the Fasih’s journey from a chronicler of the tragic outcomes of love, drug abuse and murder, to a novelist with deep commitment to his people in their turbulent condition (Yarshater, p. 274).
Pulling various strands of reading, one may see in Jalal Arian’s character a merger of Fasih’s usual protagonist with the author himself. “I know what made me write Zemaestān-e 62. It was the loss of my life in Ābādān…, the life of Ābādān, and the life of children of Ābādān...They are my own children.” (Fasih, p. 218) In other words, the literary, the autobiographical, the historical and the existential unify in the identity of Jalal Arian. The unity informs all of Fasih’s creative work and establishes him as a major chronicler of the present predicaments of his nation.
ʿEmād Badiʿ, Aṣl-e Āṯār-e Faṣiḥ, Tehran, 2000.
R. Haag-Higuchi, “The Theme of War in Esma’il Fasih’s Novel Zemestān-e šaṣt-o-do,” Proceedings of the Second European Conference of Iranian Studies, Bamberg, 30th September-4th October, 1991, eds., B. G. Fragner, G. Gnoli, R. Haag-Higuchi, M. Maggi and P. Orsatti, 1995, pp. 255-62.
Bāhaʾ-al-Din Ḵorramšāhi, “Bāda-ye kohan,” Kelk 55-56, pp. 249-53.
Aṭā-Allāh Mohājerāni, “Vaqti Ṯorayya midaraḵšad,” Kelk 55-56, pp. 243-48.
Esmāʿil Faṣiḥ, Zemestān-e 62, Tehran, 1987.
Idem, Ṯorayyā dar eḡmā, 1983; tr. by the author, as Sorayya in a Coma, London, 1985.
Idem, “Goft-o-gu bā Esmāʿil Faṣiḥ,” Kelk 55-56, 1994, pp. 208-41.
ʿAli Ferdowsi, “Āšiāni dar tufān: padida-šenāsi-e ejtemāʿi-e yek matn” Barresi-e ketāb, 3rd. Series, 1, 1990, pp. 5-30. (Abridged versions of the article are reprinted in Ādina 43-44, 1990, pp. 90-93, and Kelk 55-56, 1994, pp. 254-267).
Ehsan Yarshater “Šarāb-e ḵām va bāda-ye kohan,” Irānšenāsi, repr., Kelk 55-56, 1994, pp. 268-76.
Houra Yavari, “FICTION ii (b). THE NOVEL,” in EIr. IX/6, 1999, pp. 580-92.
Idem, “Tāriḵ dar dāstān,” Kankāš 6, Spring 1990, p. 65.
Originally Published: July 15, 2009
Last Updated: May 21, 2012