Sofia is the center of the literary universe in a novel by Farid Ghadami

Sofia is the center of the literary universe in a novel by Farid Ghadami

София (снимка: Pixabay, CC0)

“Commune of the Dead or an Elegy to Sophia’s Bloody Shirt” is a novel that heavily builds on Western and Eastern, Christian and Islamic Shia, Communist and Capitalist heritage in order to cure the wounds of division between people and cultures that date back to the myth of the Babylon tower

Mohammad Asiabani, Mehr News Agency

This article was published on 9 January 2021 at the site of Mehr News Agency. The blog “The Persian Bridge of Friendship” republishes it with minor editions and with its own title and subtitle. Farid Ghadami visited Bulgaria in the summer of 2019, when he gave this interview to the Barricade and to this blog. Later the blog published an excerpt from this very book, which refers to Farid’s impressions from Rousse and is called “St. Coca-Cola and the Socialist Angel”. Farid also gave an interview about his experience with translation of Bulgarian literature and future intentions.

The novel “Commune of the Dead or an Elegy to Sophia’s Bloody Shirt” by Farid Ghadami is a novel that was published in Iran in the summer of 2020 in 1100 copies, 200 pages length and a price of 39,000 tomans by Nimaj Publishing. Even though it has a classic structure, it is “unique” because of the literary plot and games that take place in it.

The main and secondary narratives of “The Commune of the Dead”

The main narrative of this novel is related to the adventures of the Iranian writer (Farid Ghadami) in Bulgaria at the invitation of the cultural institutions of this country. Perhaps this narrative can be considered autobiographical. The second narration deals with the Nizaris of Alamut Mountain during the leadership of Hassan Whose Name is Holy. The third narration deals with the story of the resurrection of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

We know that Farid Ghadami was the guest author of the Sofia Literature and Translation House (Next page Foundation) in 2019 and also gave lectures at the Elias Canetti Foundation in Rousse and to the Burgas Book Fair in Bulgaria. We also know that Farid Ghadami is a serious believer in the development of the theory of “literary communism”, coined by Maurice Blanchot, a concept which applies in practice in the novel “The Commune of the Dead”.

The first chapter coincides with the first day of the author’s arrival in Sofia. The bilingual part of the book starts both in Persian and Bulgarian, which shows that we are going to face challenges as we read it, like in the story of the Tower of Babel in the Holy Bible.

The second chapter, however, deals with the second narration of the story: the story of the Nizarians. This chapter begins with the announcement of the Day of Judgment by Hassan Whose Name is Holy, and this is a real event. Hassan Whose Name is Holy, who was the fourth Imam or God of Alamut, announced The Resurrection on the 17th day of Ramadan on August 8, 1164.

The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis is the story of a people who all speak the same language and all have one goal and one greed: to build a tall tower to reach heaven and that this tower will prevent them from scattering. But God changed their languages so that they would not understand each other’s words, and they got scattered.

But the resurrection is a place where everyone is reborn, regardless of his worldly belonging and sins. This idea of ​​life is followed again in the third narrative, which is the story of the novel with the death of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky is alive in this narrative. His suicide story happens to be staged. A student from Alamut (the author himself has an Alamut root) who is in Moscow, replaces Mayakovsky and provides the conditions for Mayakovsky to leave Moscow and live in Berlin. Mayakovsky starts again under a new name. His new life is associated with two names: James Joyce and Sofia. Joyce is a literary communist in Ghadami’s theoretical books.

Sofia who died / Sophia who gave life

But the second narration seems to be more important than the main narration and the builder of causal relations of the main narration and the third narration. In the second narration, we encounter a storyteller named Sofia who happens to travel from the geographical west (the west, which of course becomes part of the future east) with one of the Nizarians to Alamut and takes a mandate from Hassan Whose Name is Holy to assassinate the ruler of Jerusalem. This Sofia calls her colleague a “comrade” and this is not a coincidence at all.

Sofia fails in the assassination plot, would be hanged in a Jerusalem prison, and dies in a painful death from her menstrual blood. This is why we understand the second title of this novel: “An elegy to Sophia’s bloody shirt”. But this death is reproductive. In the city named after her, everyone comes together and gathers now: from the Bulgarian poet Vaptsarov to Mayakovsky, the Iranian writer, even in this gathering of writers and thinkers, the name of Imam Musa Sadr is not forgotten. The novel ends with a chapter called “Library of Paradise” and in the last night is the author’s farewell party in Bulgaria.

On this night, everyone gathers together. By his presence in Bulgaria, the author had brought together Bulgarian writers and poets, and this is also mentioned in the novel in the language of the character of Velina Minkoff, one of the most prominent Bulgarian writers. This gathering also includes the dead, and the commune of the dead forms the author’s residence. This may be an allegory of literary communism and an allegory of heaven. What the Babylonians wanted to achieve by building a tower, happens in Sofia. All this power has been given to the author by Sofia to build the Tower again. His descriptions of this city in the novel are evidence of this claim. Of course, this glory of the city of Sofia (representing the whole of Bulgaria) is intertwined with the glory of some of the cultural components of the Bulgarian nation.

In Sofia the blessings of truth have been extended and the Lord has been generous to this city. Sofia in the eyes of the author can be called the vast House of God. 

Critical thought and pastiche

“Commune of the Dead” is a biting novel, and the author, regardless of his intellectual interest in communism, criticizes all currents, and this is his ultimate goal. On page 56 of the novel, we read in the author’s words: “Cruel and sharp criticism of communist governments is necessary, but capitalist criticism must not be neglected… Capitalism today wants to make communism an absolute evil that hides its filth and protects itself from any criticism: the filth it produced in Vietnam, on 9/11, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Indonesia and Cyprus.”

In his critique of communist governments and capitalism, the author’s approach is unique. Let us examine this: The author himself strongly hates the capitalist system which its manifestation during these years was Trump. Farid Ghadami never drink Coca.

But while in Sofia, he sometimes has to put his mouth to the poison, Coca Cola, which has taken on a divine nature in Bulgaria, and it is in Velina’s house. Velina, who happens to live in the West (but does not drink alcohol at all), is a Bulgarian immigrant writer. The author is so hungry at Velina’s house that he has to drink this American poison to compensate for his blood sugar. Then something amazing happens. The author dreams of Trump that night, holding a Coca-Cola bottle and a McDonald’s hamburger. He raises the bottle of coke and says, “This is my blood, drink it.” Then he shows his hamburger and says, ‘but this is not my meat, it is your meat.’ This is a humorous rewriting of the art of “Bible” storytelling. (Another aspect of his pastiche can be seen in the chapter “Tornado in Skirt,” which is a pastiche of Mayakovsky’s “Cloud in Pants.”)

When the author wakes up, he remembers a dream he had two years ago: when the Pop sent someone to Iran to take a signiture from the author in his book “Parisian Pieces”, Farid signs for Pop that this book is my blood, drink it. The pop sends a message after receiving the book that we have drunk your blood and are waiting for your meat. He also writes in reply that your highness Pop meat is so expensive in Iran.

A step later, with the critique of Coca as one of the religions of pop culture, it goes back to the critique of the West. It seems that there is a perception among Bulgarians that coca is good for health. Ghadami sarcastically mentions Coca on page 80 as “the only black saint in the world” who heals. The author, of course, does not leave the Americans’ drink so easily. Everywhere in this novel there is an irony phrase about the United States that “attacking” other countries has always been one of its most important exports.

Photo: Farid Ghadami (source: Vladimir Mitev)

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