Teheran's Literary Garden

Teheran’s cultural magazine „Golestaneh“ – that is: little garden – is among the most popular and acclaimed writers’ publications in Iran. Golestaneh, however, is not only a forum for Iranian, but also for Western cultural activists in particular. Arian Fariborz visited the editorial office in Iran’s capital for Qantara.de.

Golestaneh’s offices are situated in the heart of Teheran, less than 500 yards away from busy Ferdousi Square. And yet the premises of this celebrated Iranian cultural journal convey a feeling of peace and wellbeing amidst the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and its 12 million inhabitants. The décor is stylish, with yellow-painted walls bearing posters for exhibitions, readings and films of recent years. Palms and bamboo plants adorn the office of Massoud Shahamipour, the magazine’s publisher. Golestaneh – “The Little Garden” – takes its name from a poem by the eminent Persian writer, Sohrab Sepehri. And indeed, Shahamipour’s magazine sees itself as a kind of literary garden, in which the seeds of culture from around the globe can take root in a hospitable environment.

This monthly magazine has now been in existence for four years, and it has firmly established its place on the newspaper stands of the Iranian capital. “Golestaneh enjoys growing popularity because it’s the only periodical in Iran that reports on current developments in the arts and literature of the West”, says Shahamipour – and not without satisfaction; for the journalist had long devoted his energies to working for reformist newspapers such as “Tous”, before these were closed down by the forces of conservatism in 1998. Launching a magazine like Golestaneh, then, signified both a fresh start and a change of direction: “Our main aim is to allow Iranian readers to get to know writers and artists from Europe and America. There’s still a gulf between Iran and the West, and – unfortunately – a great deal of ignorance about Western literature.” For these reasons, he sees it as his editorial task to act as a go-between, and to fill these gaps in his readers’ knowledge.

Golestaneh covers a broad literary spectrum. It includes theatre-, film- and book reviews, as well as short stories, portraits, interviews and fiction by (mainly) Western writers. Among those whose works are regularly translated into Persian are John Updike, Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa, Virginia Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Christiane Brückner, Heiner Müller and Susan Sontag. But, as Shahamipour emphasises, prominent Iranian writers are also represented in the pages of Golestaneh: “In every edition, there is a special report on well-known Persian authors, whose novellas and poems we also carry.” These have included Ahmad Reza Ahmadi, Sadeq Hedayat and Mahmoud Doulatabadi. And as if that weren’t enough, Golestaneh also offers insights into the worlds of Iranian and American music: reports on classical concerts, Grammy Awards and rising stars of the pop and rock scene stand side-by-side with in-depth critical articles on – for example – music and protest in the United States during the Vietnam War.

With its unique range of offerings, Golestaneh has won many readers and contributors in Iran itself; nonetheless, Shahamipour complains of limited contact to Iranian writers in exile: “The second generation of Iranian exiles in particular – those who have grown up in America, Canada or Europe – feel hardly any connection at all to the generation of their parents, who are themselves living in exile. As a consequence, these young people are even more distanced from events here in Iran.” Thus, he finds it impossible to discern any specific attachment to Iranian culture per se amongst these Iranian “exiles“; and language barriers, says Shahamipour, also make it more difficult to establish a cross-generational process of cultural exchange with Iranian artists and writers living abroad.

Arian Fariborz, © 2003 Qantara.de

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