He is us
In defense of "Dardedel"
By Rob Levandoski
July 28, 2003
Over the past few days I've had the opportunity
to ponder Fereshteh Davaran's review
Hafez Rumi] of Manoucher Parvin's new novel,
Rumi, Hafez & Love in New York. And while reviewers
-- and readers -- are certainly free to judge a book as they wish,
and must be
for their views, I do feel that a number of Ms Davaran's observationsare
grossly unfair to Dr. Parvin and his important work.
Let me begin by confessing that I know Dr. Parvin.
I had the pleasure of reading and discussing the chapters of his
brave and beautiful
novel as they were being written. You will see in his novel's acknowledgments
that he thanked me for my friendship, just as I thanked him for
his in the dedication of my second novel, Serendipity Green. Over
the years Dr. Parvin and I have shared many wonderful dardedels together, that's for sure.
One of Ms Davaran's main assertions is that Dr.
Parvin's protagonist, Professor Pirooz, does not show enough respect
to the great Persian
poets Rumi and Hafez when their reincarnated souls visit him in
New York City. That assertion is simply absurd. Quoting from page
113 of Dardedel:
"By the time Rumi finishes (reading his poems) Hafez is already
So Pirooz pulls off the old poets shoes
And covers him with an afghan
And blows out the candle.
He offers Rumi his own bed and,
Taking a blanket and pillow for himself,
Curls up on the floor, at the master's feet.
Although the floor boards are hard,
Pirooz nevertheless sleeps soundly
As if in his boyhood home in Iran
On a soft bed of belongingness."
Additionallly, she criticizes
Dr. Parvin for having Rumi and Hafez call Pirooz "professor" while
he calls them "Rumi
Jaan" and "Hafez Jaan." She clearly makes too
much of this. Rumi and Hafez may be showing respect to their
they are not being forced by the author into some sort of literary
subservience as Ms Davaran would have readers believe. In keeping
with her argument, should Pirooz repeatedly address Rumi as "the
great poet Rumi Jaan"? How silly would that sound?
In the novel, Rumi and Hafez have returned to life
for two reasons: One is to learn first-hand about the modern world,
does his best to show them the good, bad and ugly of our society.
second reason for returning is to save the beleagured, alientated
Pirooz from self-destruction. Through their wisdom and friendship--and
the power of their poetry--they succeed. Given the enormous popularity
of Rumi and Hafez today, I'd say they are helping to mend the
broken souls of many modern Americans. Which is exactly what
his love and reverence for Rumi and Hafez--is trying to say.
And believe me, Dr. Parvin does love and revere
the poets of his homeland, both the old and the new. And he does
want to share
with Americans of every ethnicity. I can't tell you how many
volumes of Persian poetry he has given me!
Ms Davaran also claims falsely that "Dr. Parvin seems unconcerned
with the authenticity of his characters." She quotes Henry
James' critera that in order to be realistic, the author can
only emply his or her narrator's inner voice. So James claims
Davaran confirms) that the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski are
therefore inauthentic. Wouldn't this same test of authenticity
also have to be applied to the wonderful stories of Ferdowsi,
Saadi, Rumi, Attar and Nezami? Who would stand for that?
James and apparently Davaran are unaware of modern
psychological theories that suggest the authentic inner voice is
not so authentic
after all. The subconscious and unconscious are far more dominate
factors than consciousness.Self deception and rationalizations
rule human behavior and human thought. The concept of the "authentic
inner voice" is fuzzy at best, untestable and dangerously
deceptive. (Ironically, Dr. Parvin explores this very subject
Even the narratives in physics and the other experimental
sciences lack absolute authenticity. What is the ultimate truth
Who is the ultimate judge? Even if we hold the truth in our hands
in our hands we cannot be absolutely certain we are holding the
truth, except of course in the most trivial cases. As a novelist,
let me say that the art of fiction would die a quick death if
academicians and books reviewers were allowed to set boundaries
Let's look at how Dr. Parvin's Dardedel deals
In the first part of his novel, the words of Rumi
and Hafez are virtually all from their poems. Later in the novel,
and Hafez magically materialize in New York City, their words
fictional. Who can say what Rumi would say about electricity?
Or what Hafez would make of an airplane? Still, I think Dr. Parvin
comes close to having them ask the questions a reincarnated ancient
would ask about the advantages and disadvantages of modernity.
Publisher's Weekly says this about the debates between
and Pirooz: "... the well-balanced chemistry between the three
men carries the narrative. Parvin's dialogues are entertaining." Perhaps
Ms Davran wishes Dr. Parvin to consult with the dead about who
can say what.
In any event, she seems to have difficulty with
the two great poets asking Pirooz questions about the modern world--as
be somehow beneath them to do so. Certainly one of Dr. Parvin's
goals in writing Dardedel was to raise some important
questions about modernity. By bringing Rumi and Hafez into the
he is able to raise these questions in a thoughtful yet magical
Without apology he lets modernity butt its dizzy head against
the beliefs, traditions, fears, superstitions, and yes, wisdom,
So, of course Dr. Parvin as the author has chosen
which questions to address and what answers to give. But will anyone
who reads this novel doubt that these questions are on the minds
and lips of many people today? Both scholars quenching their
intellectual thirsts and everyday people just trying to get by?
Kirkus Reviews calls Dardedel "A witty, insightful
clash of cultural perspectives." And that it is.
Does Ms DAvaran believe that Rumi and Hafez were
all-knowing gods? For examply, did they know about genetic engineering,
artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, the inflationary universe,
modern philosophy, linguistics, modern poetry? Let us remember
that today even the great Avicenna could learn a thing or two
medicine from a first-year medical student. Wouldn't all great
thinkers from a great civilization, transported far into the
future, bring with them the very thing that made both them and
great, their unquenchable inquisitiveness? Of course they would.
Ms Davaran does offer Dr. Parvin a compliment. "His facility
with scientific ideas and thoughts are quite impressive," she
writes.Then she hides behind the deceased Ernest Hemingway, ordering
Dr. Parvin to stick to what he knows. But notice it is not Hemingway
who decides what Dr. Parvin knows, or does not know, but Ms Davaran
herself! Yet she admits she has read none of his work--neither
his scholarly nor literary works--escept for Dardedel.
How is it then that she knows what Dr. Parvin knows or doesn;t
are her credentials for credibly judging his credentials?
Ms Davaran ridiculously suggests that poets should
not be used as characters, that the reason playwrights and movie
(and presumably novelists) don't "bring them to the stage" is
because "they recognize the impossibility of capturing a
poet's language. I have not had the time this week to check the
libraries to see if this assertion is true, but it seems to me
that historic figures whose fame is based on the power and beauty
of their words have long been the successful grist for novels
and plays and movies, and even poems. And even if her assertion
true, that no writer has previously dared to use a poet as a
character, shouldn't Dr. Parvin deserve some credit for doing
Ms Davaran further suggests that Dr. Parvin should
have had Rumi and Hafez speak classical English like Shakespeare
and that "if God were to speak to the current generation,
would he not do so through a voice with at least the same poetic
of Zoroaster, Solomon, or Muhammad?" Well, how unimaginative
is that? When those five great historical figures were writing
or speaking, weren't they doing so in the vernacular of their
time? To excite and inspire the people of their time? To be understood?
And who is Ms Davaran to say that "God, like Hafez and Rumi" wouldn't
admire free verse? She seems oblivious to the fact that writers
regularly cross the boundaries of tradition and convention. It
is what keeps literature, and humanity, moving ahead. And I'm
betting God approves.
Dr. Parvin writes brilliantly of the writer's mission
in chapter ten (Slam at the Sad Ghazal) when one poet laments,
"We must navigate alone to inadmissible futures,
Without signs, guides, landmarks, or wisdom provided,
By our genes, or the gods, or the magic of our times."
Ms Davaran particularly makes disparaging remarks
about Dr. Parvin's translations of Rumi and Hafez. She cites not
one line for the
reader to judge, suggests no improvement, nor presents any
theory of translation to sunstantiate her assertion. I cannot make
evaluation of Dr. Parvin's translations myself, but I think
it is important to point out that Professors Jerry Clinton of Princeton
University, a noted expert on Ferdowsi, and Frank Lewis of
University, and expert on Rumi, were among those who reviewed Dardedel before
Dr. Parvin himself has stated in both print and
ih his lectures that it is impossible to truly translate the works
of any poet
or writer. And from what i;ve read on the subject, I gather
that Hafez is particularly difficult. But what are we readers and
scholars to do? Stop translating? Let the words and ideas of
die? Or should we make a best attempt to get as close as we
to their thoughts and ideas and spirit? Wouldn't they want
us to do do that?
In another mystifying criticism, Ms Davaran declares
that Professor Pirooz is really Dr. Parvin himself in literary
is not much of a revelation. All writers put themselves into
their characters. I have created dozens of fictional characters
the years, and all of them are me. Yet none of them are me.
While Pirooz is clearly drawn from Dr. Parvin's own experiences,
is not Parvin. It is my honor to know both men well, and believe
while I, too, see some similarities, I never get them mixed up.
Perhaps it is because she had the recent opportunity
to meet Dr. Parvin in person that she sees him so indelibly as
venture to say that if she were to meet me someday after reading
my novels, she could easily see me as Will Randle in Going
to Chicago or Hugh Harbinger in Serendipity Green or even the little
Rhea in Fresh Eggs. When we writers put ourselves in someone
else's shoes, for beter or worse we are still walking on our
As I said at the beginning, every reviewer and every
reader has the right to judge a book as they wish, just as every
has the right to write it as he or she wishes. Manoucher
written the novel he wanted to write. And it is a marvelous
It is provocative, serious, sensuous, magical, and at times
very funny. It poses many important questions, and contrary
Davaran's view, does not tell Rumi or Hafez, or anyone else
what to think.
The Professor Pirooz she so callously derides as as know-it-all,
is in reality (fictional reality I should say) a sweet and
humble soul. Yes, he rants and raves and tells you what he
then he easily admits his own shortcomings and hypocrisies.
He is a lovable character. And he is us.
I so love Pirooz that when writing my second novel,
Serendipity Green, I asked Dr. Parvin for permission to borrow
him. I turned
him into a playful psychiatrist who helps a whole commnity
of modern Americans see their personal foibles. He was received
so well in
reviews, including the New York Times, that I brought him back
in my current novel, Fresh Eggs, where, with the help of Attar's
Conference of the Birds, he helps a troubled young girl find
Dardedel is a heartfelt
conversation between two great civilizations, between the past
and the present. It is also, in my estimation,
an important beacon to the future.
Rob Levandoski is the author of three novels,
Going to Chicago, Serendipity Green and Fresh Eggs.
An expose of factory
Fresh Eggs was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a
book reviewer, creative writing instructor, and a recipient of
Artist Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council.
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