Fiction: criticism of the blind owl by Sadeq Hedayat

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The concept of a “minor classic” is increasingly popular in the book world, following the model of NYRB Classics and similar reprint series of lesser-known works. The strength of the category is its elasticity, as it allows publishers to affix classic status to a wide range of titles based on diverse criteria while circumventing onerous and politically tense canon debates. The focus is particularly notable in the case of Penguin Classics, whose original mission to make great literature accessible to mass readers has evolved to make mass readers aware of a broader definition of great literature.

A fascinating recent example of this endeavor is the 1936 novel “Blind Owl”, by Sadeq Hedayat, described by translator Sassan Tabatabai as “the father of modernist Persian literature”. Born into an aristocratic family in Tehran in 1903, Hedayat escaped the repressive regime of the Shah by living in France and India, where he wrote prolifically until his suicide in 1951. Edgar Allan Poe and French surrealists such as the Comte de Lautréamont and André Breton, who upset the venerable traditions of Persian literature and who interest most researchers today.

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