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Lasting impressions
Roshangar's Baressi-Ketab covers the most vital and interesting writing in Persian today

January 21, 2004
The Iranian

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Majid Roshangar, the editor of Baressi-Ketab. He struck me as a man of extraordinary gentleness, patience, and erudition-a walking encyclopedia of Iranian literature, blessed with a keen critical insight that could situate this knowledge in the larger context of world literature. I was just beginning to read Persian then, and eager for guidance that would point me toward worthwhile authors.

Majid kindly sent me a copy of his journal, but I was out of my depth. I struggled with a few pages and left it on the shelf. Every few months a new issue would arrive, and I would add it, with a pang of guilt, to the growing stack that sat there inscrutably waiting for my Farsi reading skills to improve.

One day, my uncle Ahmad came to visit and spotted the pile. He leafed through a few pages and was soon lost to the world. I went to the kitchen to fix dinner. I was working on the salad when a loud shout made me jump suddenly. Ahmad stood in the doorway, waving a copy of Baressi-Ketab, shouting at me, "This is a gold mine! Have you read it?" I shook my head and he pounded fiercely on the counter: "You're a fool! Read it! Read every issue, cover to cover!" When it comes to ideas and literature, passion tends to push aside politeness in Ahmad's expressive style, but I have come to cherish his rough advice.

Over the years my Farsi improved and the stack of soft-covered volumes, now grown to fill a long shelf, has indeed proved to be a gold mine-a reliable source both of intelligent critical opinion and literary gems of poetry and short stories from the giants of contemporary Iranian literature as well as new authors.

Originally conceived in 1963 when Majid Roshangar was still publishing in Tehran, Baressi-Ketab has been based in Los Angeles since 1990. It was modeled on the New York Review of Books, with short stories later added to the original mix of book reviews and poetry. The literature of migrancy, from Iranian authors scattered around the world, has become an important feature of the journal but has not displaced the main emphasis on book reviews that cover the most vital and interesting writing in Persian today, whether published in Iran or abroad.

I asked Majid what excites him most about the work he does. His answer was the discovery of new or unknown talent. A case in point is Shahram Rahimian's Dr. Noon Zanesh-ra Bishtar as Mossadeq Dust Darad, which originally appeared in Germany in a private edition of nine copies only. Baressi-Ketab published the complete text, which went on to publication in Tehran last year and then to win the Golshiri second prize. Works by Sassan Ghahreman, Mahasti Shahrokhi, and Reza Ghassemi also received their first reviews in Baressi-Ketab before being recognized with both critical and popular success in Iran. Another source of pride is the fact that all major universities in the US and Japan that have Middle Eastern studies programs have subscribed to the journal since it began publication in the US.

With a bare minimum of advertising and no grant funding, Baressi-Ketab is a labor of love, supported entirely by subscription and subscribers' donations, and by Majid's tireless effort. He alone is responsible for every step of the journal's production, from editorial decisions and the nursing of long-term relationships with writers, to printing, binding, and mailing each issue-though his wife Mahnaz helps out in many ways. That dedication is matched by his readers' loyalty and enthusiasm. When I mentioned to my uncle Ahmad that I wanted to share the gold mine of Baressi-Ketab with readers of iranian.com, he sent me this email:

"It must have been my older brother who introduced me as a teenager to the monthly journal Sokhan, and then my wonderful math teacher who recommended a subscription to Sokhane Elmi. Both were read from cover to cover with an ardor and excitement that matched talking to a girl or even thinking of talking to a girl during those formative years. Much later, during the historical events of late 1970s in Iran, a number of literary and political publications that featured popular poets, playwrights and writers followed the trend, creating lasting impressions and engraved feelings.

"The excitement of opening the package and flipping through the pages of The Persian Book Review (Baressi-Ketab) is reminiscent of those feelings of years past. It is definitely the only one that comes in and is read regularly in this distant land. The hectic life of an Iranian-American running to keep up with the fast-paced life and its mundane responsibilities has not yet allowed me to discover better Farsi literary publications, if such things do exist. It is through the pages of Baressi-Ketab that I regularly refresh my important memory of the giants of contemporary Persian literature, read poetry and short stories of the poets and writers I knew and loved, or of those I never knew but now have grown fond of. It is my only connection to the Persian literary language. Baressi-Ketab is solely responsible with my falling in love with Tony Morrison, and reading all her books, when they reviewed her work on the occasion of her winning the Nobel prize for Literature.

"This invaluable 'jong' comes in a few times a year, but each time it connects me to my emotional and intellectual foundations, and is truly a breath of fresh air. The first thing I do when I get it is to carefully search the list of contributors for beloved and familiar names. Then over the next week or two, and sometimes month or two as life exigencies and responsibilities dictate, all the pages are devoured from cover to cover. Majid Roshangar's work in single-handedly publishing it ranks alongside the literary works of the giants he publishes." -- Ahmad Houshmand

You can find subscription information and details on the latest issue of Baressi-Ketab at persianbookreview.com.

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