Walking into a bookshop in Paris
December 10, 2003
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
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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