Gyula Krúdy: The Adventures of Sindbad

Having sensed, perhaps, that I am loving the Hungarian bend of my Silk Route Reading Project, a bookseller inserted this surprise as a thoughtful gift along with my book-mail.

With a protagonist named after a character from The Thousand and One Nights, one can immediately sense the literary flavors that meet and fuse along these cultural routes.

Readers would be dissatisfied if they treated this like a novel, however. Although often related, the brief chapters should be read as a collection of stories, each one capable of standing on its own like any story from a Chekhov anthology.

These “adventures” are primarily amorous, and I would have easily dropped this book had I overlooked the sad irony masked behind the comic caprice.

Sindbad speaks beyond the grave, literally. More often than not, he is the ghost of a womanizer who committed suicide and returns to visit the women with whom he has had affairs, whether in his memories or through his phantasmic imaginings. Some of these women, victims of his philandering ways, some seductresses themselves.

“Bearing all this in mind it is understandable that the unhappy young man should have taken his own life. His desires were incapable of fulfillment. It was of no consolation to him that one hundred and seven women had reciprocated his love.”

But having died, Sindbad is described to have grown wise in death. On one occasion, he even laments how the dead see no change in the living.

Even so, it is too late to start again.

“Why can’t you find peace in the other world?” one woman asks Sindbad.

It would seem that peace and love are things you can strive for only in the world of the living.

Farnoosh Moshiri: At the Wall of the Almighty

“What did I do with my hands as a free man?” he asks himself.


A bearded guard leads him from his solitary confinement to another cell. He is on a leash, and he knows that he is in the central prison of the Holy Republic. This is all he knows. Severe torture has made him forget everything else, including his name.

With such a dismal opening, one can excuse why I shelved this, the heaviest volume on my Iran book stack, for over a year despite my deep fascination for the region and its extremely underrated writers.

My personal reading prompt for September was to go through an NYRB editions reading spree. But is there a more pressing reading prompt than the ongoing protests in Iran? I realize that we — as readers, and through our reading choices — have the power to call attention to things happening across the world and to rally with those who need a voice.

I instantly felt it was time to meet this unnamed character who is forced to admit guilt to an unknown sin that, along with his name, he cannot recall. Through daily episodes of psychological and physical torture, he slips in and out of consciousness, reality and dreams. Fragments of his childhood and of his life tease his sanity, the key players of society whose ideologies and actions lead to the revolution take shape in his mind, and the story unfolds. He begins to remember Sahar, a twin sister whom he loved deeply; and by and by his desire to die begins to be replaced by the desire to know what happened to her.

‘Sahar is dawn,’ I say, ‘the end of darkness, when the sun comes out. Daylight trapped in night.’

Categorized as a work of magic realism, I find that the magic realism is, at first, subdued, but one which crescendoes into an anarchy. Readers who are not enthusiasts of the genre should not be dissuaded, however, because we eventually recognize that it is merely our tortured character’s memories and hallucinations merging with reality, metaphors, and childhood fantasies.

This is Farnoosh Moshiri’s first novel, but its depth and calibre surpass many works by more established writers. I have not read a more harrowing ending, but I also have not read a more excellent Iranian novel.

Here is an apt literary device condemning oppressive governments that incapacitate people to distinguish nightmare from reality, and condemning regimes that engender systemic mind-conditioning that edge a nation into losing its identity — those tyrannies that ultimately coerce you into forgetting who you are.


What are we doing with our hands as free men and women; what are we doing with freedom? I ask myself.

First of all, we defend it.