Obituary: Houshang Golshiri
By Justin Huggler
The Independent (London)
June 7, 2000
HOUSHANG GOLSHIRI was a dissident all his life. He was a writer who
eschewed the ivory towers and dared to challenge Iran's political leaders:
as a result he was persecuted both under the Shah and under the Islamic
Republic. Yet he never stopped insisting on the right to freedom of expression.
The Iranian novelist Mahmoud Dowlatabadi called Golshiri a "master
of the short novel". His best-known works include The Story of Genies,
The Fifth Innocent, My Small Prayer House and A Man with a Red Tie. His
most famous book, Prince Ehtejab, published in 1986, brought him international
acclaim yet much of his work is little known in his homeland, where most
of his novels have been banned since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He
continued to publish abroad, and his last work, The Ghost Letter, was published
The preoccupations of his work were in many ways the dilemmas of his
own life. He wrote about the difficulties faced by Iran's large urban intellectual
class in daily life under the Islamic Republic, and about the contradictions
thrown up by their place in Islamic society.
But he was also a modernist who challenged Iranian traditions. Nothing
was sacrosanct from his pen, and he wrote freely about the religious and
cultural symbols of Iran. His work was at times sexually explicit in a
way that could never have made it past the Islamic censors, but it was
his insistence on writing freely about politics, and challenging the prevailing
orthodoxy that made him an enemy of both the regimes that ruled Iran in
He will be remembered for his courage in challenging the Iranian establishment
as well as for his writing. He was a leading member of a generation of
Iranian intellectuals of extraordinary courage, who were prepared to sacrifice
their comfortable position in society and risk everything to stand up for
the basic freedoms they believed in. Twice jailed under the Shah, and often
reviled by post -revolution Iran's Islamic hardliners, Golshiri lived much
of his life in very real danger. Before the revolution, he was one of
the founding members of Iran's independent Writers' Association, an organisation
he would continue to serve for the remaining 30 years of his life, though
it was driven underground under the Islamic Republic.
His appetite for challenging Iran's rulers was not blunted by his time
in the Shah's prisons, where he was an inmate alongside many who were to
become heroes of the revolution. Yet Golshiri, an iconoclast to the end,
was as critical of the Islamic rulers who emerged after 1979 as he was
of the Shah, and he became a leading opponent of the hardliners who dominated
the Islamic Republic. They, in their turn, frequently attacked Golshiri,
accusing him of links with anti-revolutionaries and hostile Western governments:
accusations that put him in considerable danger.
Although most of his fictional work was banned after 1979, he was one
of Iran's leading literary critics and continued to publish essays and
articles in various Iranian literary journals, including the literary weekly
Karnameh, of which Golshiri was editor-in-chief.
In 1994, he was one of 134 writers and intellectuals who signed an open
letter demanding more freedom of thought and expression. In the last years
of Golshiri's life, those freedoms finally began to emerge, under the reform
movement of Mohamed Khatami, and, a little over a year ago, Golshiri was
able to "resurrect" the officially defunct Writers' Association,
winning it recognition from the state. He also began to publish his essays
and criticism more freely.
But he continued to act with great moral and physical courage. In 1998,
when three well-known writers were the first to be murdered in a string
of "unsolved" killings that has been linked to the Iranian Intelligence
Ministry, and very senior hardline figures in Iran's establishment, Golshiri
publicly condemned the murders in the strongest of terms.
It was an act of exceptional bravery, which put him directly in the
hardliners' line of fire. In the end though, he succumbed not to his political
persecutors, but to a brain infection. But the Writers' Association he
helped to found insisted, "Death is not the end of Golshiri",
and that his work would live on - both as a writer, and as a defender of
Houshang Golshiri, writer: born Isfahan, Iran 1936; married (one son,
one daughter); died Tehran 5 June 2000.