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“Newly hatched chickens”. Bozorg ‘Alavi on the young literary scene of the 1930s

Roja Dekdarian

In 1973 the literary scholar Don Shojai (Donne Raffat, pseud.) travelled from the United States to the German Democratic Republic to meet the Iranian writer and, in the meantime, scholar of Iranian studies, Bozorg ‘Alavi. Aiming to write a “portrait of the writer in his twentieth year in exile” he held a series of interviews with ‘Alavi.1 In reply to Shojai’s question about which period he regarded as the most important, the most memorable of his life, ‘Alavi answered:

I think it must have been those years with Hedayat, Farzad, and Minovi. Those years were very rich - for all of us. That stretch of time before Hedayat went to India, Minovi went to London ... and I went to prison. ... Yes, that was the best period, I think. Every day we would get together for several hours, from about four-thirty or five in the afternoon till about nine or ten in the evening.2

But it is not only with regard to his personal life that ‘Alavi highlights the years between 1930 and 1936 as one of the richest periods; he also emphasizes these years as highly fruitful, even revolutionary, for the development of modern Persian literature.3 The writer Sadeq Hedayat, for example, later considered as “the best and most celebrated Iranian writer of the twentieth century,”4 wrote and published some of his best-known works during this time.5

This chapter will attempt to paint a picture of the cultural life of this period from the young literati’s point of view, that is the circle6 around Sadeq Hedayat and Bozorg ‘Alavi, later known as Rab‘ek or “group of four.” Analyzing the memoirs, interviews and scholarly writings of Bozorg ‘Alavi, I shall ask how this group of modern-minded young intellectuals conceived themselves within the Iranian cultural sphere of the 1930s. Their relationship to Iranian society, the governmental and state-controlled cultural policy and their positions in the predominant cultural discourse of Iranian nationalism and modernity of the time will be taken into consideration. I will argue that the young writers - like the majority of the Iranian intelligentsia of the time - contributed actively to this cultural discourse. Despite their highly critical attitude towards the policy of the Reza Shah government they were amongst the main actors promoting a new Iranian national identity.

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