The Book

This is a collection of true short stories about Iranian men, based on in-depth interviews. Beginning with the innocence of childhood to the tumultuous period of adulthood, stories explore intimate family relationships in a society that itself was going through dramatic revolutionary turmoil. Love is the dominant theme. The men range in age from fourteen–the youngest lover–to the middle age. The reader will become familiar with the Iran of the 1970’s through 90’s when the Revolution drastically changed the culture. To the dramas of family relationships, revolutionary edicts were added that handcuffed the youth and frustrated them for a couple of decades. The collection uncovers the lost hopes of a generation. The reader will discover that life goes on in spite of extraordinary circumstances, that no one was untouched by the Revolution, that tremendous sacrifices were made by both men and women in order to live a life that was not of their own choosing.

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Based on her interviews with men who lived through the Iranian Revolution, the author delivers eight short stories that examine the human condition. These evocative stories artfully explore every facet of humanity… an impressive collection about relationships in a turbulent Iran that offers powerful insights.

—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

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In ‘Tales of Love and Despair’, sociologist Mahnaz Kousha draws from extensive interviews to craft eight short stories that capture the spirit of an era … Set between the 1970s and 1990s, these clear accounts from seldom-heard voices explore relationships at different stages. From teenage devotion to courtship, from midlife resignation to the pain experienced by couples with conflicting ideals, marriages illuminate the strengths and flaws in every heart … ‘Tales of Love and Despair’ offers moving examples of personal struggles. With its multifaceted approach to love, the book transcends culture to speak to wider human experiences.

—Clarion Reviews (Four Star Review)

 Kousha is talented writer and storyteller. Her characters, grinding through a world they did not create and cannot escape, are believable and sympathetic. Ultimately, she demonstrates that there’s much more to Iranian life than politicians and the media would have us believe. Students of contemporary history and politics—and anyone who appreciates nuanced writing—will enjoy reading Kousha’s stories.

—BlueInk Review

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Mahnaz Kousha’s new book, Tales of Love and Despair: Men in Love in Revolutionary Iran, presents eight compelling narratives of Iranian men struggling to find love and matrimonial happiness during the 1980s and 1990s. Based on extensive interviews the author conducted with the men, the very different experiences of each man falling in—and sometimes out of –love complicate our understanding of male gender attitudes and roles in one of the largest Muslim countries. This book is a highly satisfying read. These stories are real, not fiction, and collectively they contribute, albeit unintentionally, to the demolition of many stereotypes about Iran.

—Eric Hooglund, editor of ‘Middle East Critique’

“For decades now, Americans have seen mostly the public and political face of Iran, through the news media. Now, in these subtle and deeply moving short stories by Mahnaz Kousha, we are brought into the private spaces of Iranians during the period on either side of the revolution. The characters Kousha creates allow us to feel the lives of Iranians intimately. Through her steady voice and keen eye for detail, she helps us to understand a society that is quite different from our own, while also allowing us to feel the men and women who inhabit it are very much like ourselves, with similar needs, desires, and, yes, ordinary tragedies.”

—Greg Hewett, author of Blindsight

“These sensitive portraits of not necessarily sensitive men provide a glimpse inside a forbidden city. Mahnaz Kousha’s short stories explore the minds of people living in modern Tehran, and demonstrate the effects that regime changes and wars have on contemporary society. We see life doggedly carrying on after the revolution in Iran. We see resilience as well as sacrifices. We also see an admirable sense of duty and altruism among men and women. From a ground’s eye-view, these stories reaffirm the indomitable human spirit.”

—James Cihlar, author of The Shadowgraph


Farsi Translation

The book, “Tales of Love and Despair,” is written in English. I am, however, currently working on a Farsi (Persian) language translation of the book. Bellow are links to Farsi versions of several of the stories: “Two Women” (دو زن), “Paris of the Middle East” (پاریس خاورمیانه), “Where Are We? We Are Here” (ما کجاییم؟ ما همین جاییم), and “Father” (پدر), along with an excerpt from the first story.

دو زن

دو زن
دل در ھوس تو چون ربابست، رباب
ھر پاره ز سوز تو کبابست، کباب
دلدار ز درد اگر خاموش ھست
در خاموشی دو صد جوابست، جواب

“چطور حمام نکردی این ھفتھ؟” اسماعیل از مادرش پرسید وقتی از سفر برگشت. “دلم نمی خواد کسی منو بشوره” فاطمھ با دلخوری جواب داد.

اسماعیل سوالی نکرد ولی با ملایمت پرسید، “اجازه میدی من حمومت کنم؟”

فاطمھ سرش را آھستھ با رضایت تکان داد و بھ این ترتیب برای دوازده سال اسماعیل کھ بزرگترین پسر فاطمھ بود ھر جمعھ بھ

کمک خالھ پروین او را حمام کردند. لباسھایش را در می آوردند، موھایش را می شستند، ماھی یک باربھ موھای فرفری سفیدش حنا می زدند، بدن سنگین لخت او را صابون می زدند و او را بلند می کردند کھ بدنش را خشک کنند. اسماعیل مادرش را در بازوھای قوی خود نگھ می داشت. خالھ پروین لباس تازه و تمیزی کھ عطر گل سرخ می داد تن فاطمھ می کرد. اسماعیل با ملایمت مادرش را بلند می کرد و بھ آھستگی روی تشک اطاق نشیمن می گذاشت و خودش ھم کنار او می نشست کھ یک شربت سکنجبین کھ ھمسرش درست کرده بود بنوشند. فقط در آن لحظھ بود کھ لبخند ملایمی روی صورت فاطمھ نقش می بست.

نیمھ خیس و خستھ انھا خدا را شکر می کردند کھ یک بار دیگر فاطمھ را حمام کرده بودند و ھیچ خدا و پیغمبری خشمگین نشده بود از این کھ پسری بدن برھنھ مادرش را شستھ بود و او را مانند یک کودک بغل کرده بود در حالی کھ چشمانش را بھ زمین دوختھ بود.

“این کار صحیحی نیست” فک و فامیل می گفتند. “پسر کھ نباید مادرش رو حمام کنھ و یا بھ تن برھنھ او دست بزنھ.”

“حمام کردن مادرم ھیچ ربطی بھ این کھ چی درستھ و غلطھ نداره. و یا خدا و پیغمبرچی دیکتھ کردن” اسماعیل جواب می داد.

“من اون کاری را می کنم کھ مادرم می خواد و این تنھا چیزی ھست کھ برای من مھم ھست. “

ولی جواب اسماعیل صدای معترض معتقدین را ساکت نمی کرد.

بعد از سکتھ ای کھ نصف بدن فاطمھ را فلج کرده بود خانواده اش از عھده استخدام پرستار برنمی امدند. اسماعیل با رضایت کامل حمام کردن مادرش را بھ عھده گرفت چون برای او ھیچ عشقی پاک تر و معصوم تر از عشق پسر بھ مادر و یا مادر بھ پسر نبود. روزی کھ اسماعیل بدن فاطمھ را روی دوش درتابوت آھنی حمل می کرد، عموی اسماعیل زیرلب بھ خالھ پروین گفت: “اسماعیل اصلاً احساس گناه نمی کند، ھمھ گریھ و شیون راه انداختھ اند و تو سر خودشون می زنند بھ خاطر اینکھ احساس گناه می کنند. آنھا می دانند کھ فاطمھ را تک و تنھا ول کردند. حتی نخواستند این زن را یک حمام درست و حسابی ببرند. ولی اسماعیل نھ. ھیچ پسری برای مادرش انقدر زحمت نکشیده است.”


Or, read more of Mahnaz’s short stories:

Author Bio

Mahnaz Kousha is a professor of sociology at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She focuses on the intersection of gender, race, class and family relationships in her teaching and research. She is the aut­hor of Voices from Iran: Changing Lives of Iranian Women. She has co-translated the novel, My Bird, by Fariba Vafi. As a co-founder of Critique: Journal for Critical Studies of the Middle East, she has served on its board of directors.

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