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Travelers

Rue des Hedayat
Walking into a bookshop in Paris

By Hormoz
December 10, 2003
The Iranian

Parvin Khanum, our Farsi teacher in Los Angeles, adored the writings of Sadegh Hedayat and used every opportunity to encourage us to read this author's works. She repeatedly and with much nostalgia recounted to us her old souvenir that many, many years ago there was a colorful street in the center of Tehran called "Istanbul", where there was a café like the ones in Western Europe. This café had become a center for that period's intellectuals, poets and writers.

According to Parvin Khanum, personalities like Hedayat, Jalal Ale-Ahmad and their friends and followers used to patronize the café, drink hot tea and cookies and discuss a great deal. I remember the ecstasy with which Parvin used to tell us about Hedayat, his genius and his eccentricities.

§§§§

Twenty years later, I went back to France and settled down in Paris. One balmy afternoon in June, I was strolling in a narrow street not far from Rue des Archives. There a tiny bookshop caught my attention. Through its window, I looked inside.

All the walls were covered by old portraits of the more or less famous or unknown authors from South America, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Southeast Asia. On the wall near the small showcase, I saw two old photos with the names Arthur Miller and "Zadig" Hedayat written under them.

That made me remember not only the passion of our late Parvin Khanum, but I was impressed to see Miller and Hedayat side by side. I went inside the bookshop. A young woman came to me.

"May I help you?" she said.

"Please, would you tell me, where did you find all these old photos? Are they for sale?"

"No, they are not. These portraits are from old authors. Some remained unknown and finished their life in poverty, some became international celebrities. When they were young and nobody cared to publish their work, they came to us. With our small budget, we published their work and helped them as far as we could. If you look at the photos carefully, you'll see they are signed and dedicated to us."

"But you yourself, you're a young lady. How could you possibly know these old timers?"

"My father and grandfather knew these guys. Our small bookshop was founded by my grand grandfather about 150 years ago, just to help young and unknown authors. You're so curious about these photos. Do you know any of them?"

"Yes, I'm Persian. The man on the side of Arthur Miller, I mean Hedayat, was one of the most famous Iranian authors."

"Oh, Hedayat! After the Second World War some of his works, translated in French and published by us, made a sensation in the literary circles of Paris. But I'm sorry, we have nothing from him right now."

§§§§

I looked again at the photo of Hedayat, I remembered the words of our late Parvin Khanum, felt the same nostalgia as hers, and said goodbye to the bookshop lady and resumed my afternoon stroll.

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