Excerpts from THE HOUSE OF THE EDRISIS /Translated & prefaced by Rosa Jamali
Ghazaleh Alizadeh was born in Mashhad, the central city of Northeastern province of khorasan , Khorasan province with a long history of literature has been noted for a number of prominent poets and a literary school featured for its high range of archaic vocabulary, diction and poetic aspects which has left a great influence on Alizadeh’s style of writing.
Alizadeh studied law, politics, illumination philosophy and mysticism both at Tehran University and Paris. She became a prolific writer in the 70s, 80s and 90s, quite an influential figure in Iranian association of writers.
The House of the Edrisis, her main work is best known for its rich and poetical language, surrealistic aspects, powerful characterisation, narrative techniques, wealth of descriptions and discourse analysis through different classes of society.Moreover, quite a number of current slangs and colloquial expressions have been adopted parallel to some layers of intertextuality with the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.
Although the novel doesn’t infer a certain time or place, still it has seemingly taken place in Ashkabad, a city built on the ruins of Nisa, the capital city of Ashkanid dynasty.
The novel depicts a group of learned people living with an old culture and literary treasury invaded by commoners and military people.
The house is the metaphor of the land taken by others, it could refer to 1979 revolution of Iran and larger properties confiscated by the government.
Through the narrative techniques applied by the writer we get to know about the life of the generation past. People lived in the house many years before and how they are attached in a mysterious network of relationships. Also some mystical and mythological aspects of codes and symbols can be traced in the novel.
THE HOUSE OF THE EDRISIS and Alizadeh’s portrait have been partly pictured in Daruish Mehrjoei’s film “Banoo”.
Alizadeh committed suicide in 1996, her body was found hanging on a tree in a green spot in Northern Iran which has been researched and cited as the temple of Anahita in ancient Persia.
Her death was widely reflected in the 90s poetry; among the elegies written on her death is Reza Baraheni’s elegy in which he describes her as the bride of Iran’s literature.
Season 1: Ashkhabad
The turn-out of a misfortune in a household is not all of a sudden , in the wooden cracks, on the sheets , throughout the hatchways and in the pleats of curtains, the dust covers everything longing for the wind to release the scattered constituents of a lurking-place.
In the house of Edrisis , life was going on; the engraved wall clock with the covered pinnacles of birds and flowers, a piece of work by the carpenters of Bokhara struck 10.
Legha looked at her wrist-watch, she set it forward and stood up, she walked away from the breakfast table and took the bread crumbs for the fish.
Vahhab , the son of household, gulped down the last sip of tea after pouring some from that azure Serve tea-cup and stopped yawning, turned to Mrs Edrisi:”she is better today.” The old lady moved the glasses on her nose, her eyes behind the glasses were dark blue:” It’s not clear what she does.”
The fog descended down to the arcade, fretted the windows, turned around and faced pine and poplar trees. Down at the end, from the corridor, there came the sound of washing the dishes. The tap-water popped and turned around and then there was the bubbling of semavar.
From time to time, Yavar coughed in the kitchen, sluggishly pulled his feet on the floor.
The lady crossed her eyebrows:”Poor man, growing old, lost his lung by smoking...!” Vahhab leaned against the margins of table, stood up.”I should go to the library, I read an article about the ruins of a city “Nisa”, it was a magnificent place once, buried now.”
Mrs Edrisi sighed:”Plenty of them have been buried and one day our city is going to be buried.” Vahhab closed his eyes, turned back and walked away.
The household were a kind of quiet in eating, drinking, walking and talking.
Vahhab was thirty but looked much older, thin and hunchback, a pale face, solemn and lightless eyes. He had studied at British boarding schools, for any word or movement, he felt the lashes of punishment on his back. He ate a little and took a shower before the noon, clipped his nails every week and filed them. Below his eyes was bloated for the shortage of sleep. He stood across from the mirror, counted the strands of grey hair in a pile of soft and black hair. The other day he had twelve of them, all white. He didn’t go out, always residing in a shelter, twice a month he dropped in “Ashena Bookshop”, the man put aside some new books for him, Vahhab knitted his eyebrows and with a tight mouth paid for them, straightly came back home.
In the afternoon if the weather was good , he would sit by the pool, opened the fountain and looked at the patterns and the flow of water, he remembered the past, his childhood was far away.
Gradually when it was getting dark, the dreams faded away. Birds flew in the garden. In the hot weather female feeding cows at the end of alfalfa field were mooing. On the second floor, his elder aunt, Legha sat behind the hatchway with her hand under a cheek, stared at the mulberry trees, clay-roofs and faded attics till the time they would turn on the lamps around and drew the curtains. She didn't turn on the lamp but closed her eyes. Behind the dark dreamy drowned eye-lids, sometimes a blue and yellow pattern like flowers and silica glass expanded and amused her.
On the rocking chair grannie leaned against the mahogany furniture of walnut trees, rubbed the perfume on the back-ears. The acrid extract of jasmine spread in the house. Once in a while, she would see the dreadful figure of her late husband, in a summer suit, with a white bow and salt and pepper whiskers, in a hoarse and throaty voice caused by tobacco and opium he whispered:” Such a nice smell!”
The time she stared into the dark, the white phantom had gone, then she heard the creaking hinges of the doors on the first storey, Yavar was walking in the corridor. He turned on the candelabra in the vault, it glared on the plaster moulding, the leaves of vine trees, lotus flowers and clusters of grapes. The wind moved the candelabra and the chains squeaked .The rainbow prism glowed on the images of the carpet, the bifurcated winding stairs and bending balustrade all leaped around.
The first storey had three corridors, a big anteroom, a library and four bedrooms. On the second storey, around the balustrade there were ten attached bedrooms, all except three were locked.
In the morning, when Vahhab was tired of reading, leaning against the velvet cushion in the drawing room , half asleep and behind the flower pots,he listened to the creaking of the springs, there were some pillows with the patterns of peacocks and parrots. He put them under his elbow, then he drank a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette.
Staring at the waterdrops, he yawned. There was a slight pain in his bones. shaking his legs he pondered into the past. He was dreaming Rahila, his aunt who had died young of a strange fever.After her death, Mrs Edrisi’s hair had grown white overnight, Vahhab was ten at that time.
She was engaged to a broad-shouldered stout man with big eyes and a Moorish face. A widower who was a grand landowner called Moayyed. People said that he lived in a mansion and had a lot of horses in the stable, in pomp and circumstance he came. They wanted to buy his chestnut horse for 3000 roubles, he came in hurry with three servants, the sound of his shoes on the pavement. Rahila would sit by the bed, didn’t move, her hands on the white satin weary and proud, pouted her lips like roses, grinned. Her head uplifted, her almond eyes half open. The shade of her eyelashes on her moonlit cheeks and with a dreamy glance, tall, airy, introverted and aloof, nothing made her happy.In the end of spring , she would sit in the courtyard. Sipping her tea on a straw chair under the trellis of lilacs, white pigeons surrounded her feet while hovering in the trellis. The rain started then she walked in the garden and her garments were wet. She looked at the clocks as if she were waiting for somebody, she didn’t have a friend. Never answered the letters, visits or messages.
Vahhab used to look at her through the hatches. Rahila tucked up her skirt, skipping over the brook , soft and agile, pranced and tiptoed on the wet lawn, picked up a rose-bud, smelled and pinned it to her hair, she closed her eyes and opened them once more, wandered in the garden for hours, when she became tired, she went to the shade of that big elm tree then made a house with the rubble stones. She rooted up the grass and squeezed it with her teeth.At the end while standing up, she ruined the built-up house with the rubble stones tossing over one another on the steep lawn.
The memory of Rahila was deeply moving, Rahila’s room at the end of the corridor, in the north frontline had two big windows, one to the garden and the other one to the courtyard and the arbour.The lace curtains had the smell of dust and the perfume of autumn crocuses, when he went to the mirror, his face looked as a stranger. He closed his eyes and wanted Rahila to be alive, her straight hair spreading around, loose on her shoulders , the strands slipped over one another like a flash of silk. Now Vahhab turned to a small boy, pulling her skirt naughtily, the young girl with her very charming eyes would send him off.
He opened the drawers, arranged the perfumes on the dressing table, nineteen hundred from Paris and Moscow, Italian, Chinese, Indian, the longlasting perfumes of far oceans : musk and birch and myrtle and black ambergris. In cosmetics she had nothing but perfume, there were several bottles in each drawer. He bent down the table, took a deep breath. He opened the closet, his face was lost in the white garments, muddy stains, flower buttons, dry grass and thorn and beads. In the dark, it turned up a crack of mouth-worn wood, he tilted his head and closed the door. He put the perfume bottles in the right place, arranged the pleats of curtains, spread the bed-spread to the pillows of lace and embroidery . He left the room, locked the door . In the dark corridor, walked on the polished parquet and went to the library.
They were some magazines in a drawer , he took them out and turned the pages over, he looked at the biography and pictures of Roxana Yashvili, she was a stage actress, starring in plays such as “Small Bourgeois”, “One Month in the Village”, “The Blue Bird” and “Chaika”, they called her a wild flower, the glimmering of a creative will-power in her eyes.
Critics believed she could show the spiritual images and transfer them to the audience, seemingly resembled Rahila , Vahhab looked at her pictures in the costumes of Normandy women, in a black velvet dress with a fan in one hand , beneath an arbour or at the breakfast table while playing with an actor. Painters had painted her on several canvases, poets had written many poems for her. Since six years before, she had been living with “Marenko”; the noted poet.
There was no picture of Rahila in the house. When Vahhab looked at Roxana’s almond and black and glimmering eyes and slim figure remembered Rahila. She came from Tbilisi with a different nature noted for her upheavels. Vahhab didn’t like her complacency, didn’t read the interviews, just looked at her pictures.
Just at twelve Legha climbed down the winding stairs, stepped in the hall, knitted her eyebrows, cross, broad-shouldered and tall, pale with big lips and a sharp chin and hooked nose, grey eyes, rummaging but lightless, fumbled around , wiggling, her backbones pricking in hatred , she was sensitive to heel-relief stone, even disliked the shape and the name.Naked and screaming she ran away and fainted on the floor. Mrs Edrisi sneered and covered her hanging boobs by a sheet.
The smell of men revolted Legha, when the workers came for some days to dig the garden or trim the trees or cut the weeds, she locked herself in the room and didn’t come down. A strike of smell made her sick. She opened all the windows , the candelabra moved, in the arcade the wind blew and howled, for two times a day she took a shower. She had the smell of soap and foam with herself. At nights, right after the dinner she used to brew sour orange blossoms, she stirred it with a little teaspoon, the leaves soaked and spread out, the steam on the cup had a smell of moss and bare moors , she sipped the root beer slowly, in decency and dignity, her lips were not wet. She stood up and very cold said good night, in a flower patterned gown and with plait hair, a hand on the banister, she climbed up the stairs and her pale countenance lost in the dark landing.
THE HOUSE OF THE EDRISIS