MARSHA MEHRANINTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER AUTHOR
A Polish Radio Program on Marsha Mehran
Listen to a Polish Radio Program on Marsha Mehran
And here is the English translation of the program by Jolanta Kozak, as a complimentary and exclusive contribution to this website:
POLSKIE RADIO 1
PROGRAM: MY BOOKS
Presenter: Magdalena Mikołajczuk, journalist
Guest: Jolanta Kozak, translator
MM: You May remember the novel called Pomegranate Soup, full of tastes and aromas – a delightful book which became a bestseller in many countries and was translated into a number of languages. The author is Marsha Mehran, an Iranian writing in English, who died last year at the age of 37, in mysterious circumstances. Recently, her last book, The Saturday School of Beauty, was published in Polish translation. About Marsha Mehran and her books I shall talk with Jolanta Kozak, Polish translator of Marsha Mehran’s prose.
Let’s first discuss Pomegranate Soup. How do you explain such a big success of this book all over the world?
JK: – The book is extremely girlish. I think it is liked especially by women. It has that girlish freshness of narration and lots of happy spirit, optimism. Pomegranate Soup was Marsha Mehran’s debut, The Saturday School of Beauty is her last book, and there was only one novel in between – this is the entire literary corpus of Marsha Mehran who, being such a gifted writer, was given no time to leave us more.
MM: The Saturday School of Beauty was not finished either: it was put together from notes by Marsha’s father. But let us talk about Marsha’s premature death: not even 37, she was found in her home –
J.K. – A week after her death. From what her father writes in the Afterword of The Saturday School of Beauty, Marsha got involved in some strange psychological experiments with herself.
MM: – Namely?
JK: – Sufi practices, strange diets, rituals. In Saturday School of Beauty we get a description of the ritual whirling around that allegedly leads to enlightenment. The ritual is practiced bo one of School… protagonists. We have to main characters in this novel: young Zadi with her little daughter and the elderly Haji Khanoum. I think – strangely – that it is Haji Khanoum, rather than Zadi, who represents the figure of the Author. She, and the little girl, Zadi’s daughter – an exceptionally clever little philosopher, making astonishing observations. The little one spends all her time with grown-ups –
MM: – And very accurately participates in their discussions.
JK: – I believe that Marsha Mehran herself is a synthesis of the girl and Haji Khanoum.
MM: – So there are only three books that we got from Marsha Mehran.
JK: – Yes, that’s too little, and yet enough to make the author distinct for us.
MM: – Her literary debut, Pomegranate Soup, is a highly sensuous book that has been compared to Chocolate or Quills in Rose Petals. All these novels tell how much can be done and expressed by lovingly preparing food for somebody. However, The Saturday School of Beauty by Marsha Mehran is – be prepared for it! – quite a different story. And yet, the Oriental-type sensuality is represented here as well, but not so much in the guise of food, as in perfume aromas – after all, the story is located in a beauty parlor in Buenos Aires where Iranian immigrants meet to either get their skin depilated by the traditional method of threading, or to discuss Persian poetry. Poetry is one of the heroes of this book: the love of poetry unites the characters and allows them to preserve their own culture in a foreign country.
J.K.: – The characters of The Saturday School of Beauty are abstracted from the real world: they live in a tall building in Buenos Aires –
MM: – Called Anna Karenin –
J.K.: – At the fifth floor under a glass roof. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a fish bowl, and there is a constant patter of pigeon’s feet on the roof panels. They never leave the place, never go outside.
MM: – The main character, who founded the beauty parlor, is called Zadi, but her true name – which she got after her beloved grandmother – is Sheherezade. And why she changed her name to Zadi, we shall not explain, since it involves a complicated and dramatic love story.
J.K.: – Sheherezade is the legendary storyteller. The telling of stories is of extreme importance, judging by Marsha Mehran’s books. They are the stories of Iran’s past, love stories, family dramas.
MM:- Telling stories is crucial to Oriental culture, marked by a constant presence of the Persian poets who were revered for maintaining the culture and the language against the destructive foreign forces. The Iranians are brought up on recitatives and heated discussions about the meaning of poems.
But we must also mention the Iranian Studies consultant of the Polish translation, Ivonna Nowicka.
JK: – Miss Nowicka is passionate about her field of study, that is Iranian culture. She helped me reach the few translation of Persian poets into Polish, and polished the transcription of the Iranian terms that The Saturday school of Beauty abounds in, as it does in poetic quotation, which, while reading the book, creates in the reader a sense of getting in contact with another world.
MM: – The original title of the book is The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty, while the Polish one is The Saturday School of Beauty. Could you explain why? Margaret Thatcher is, after all, a marked figure in the book: she is a symbol of strong womanhood, and then she starts the war with Argentina.
JK: – Together with the editor, we came to the conclusion that Margaret Thatcher is not so very important in the book, and the title sounds somewhat clumsy, especially in Polish which has a different syntax.
MM: – But isn’t that endearing?
JK: I’m not sure that it is.
MM: – Intriguing, at least.
JK: – Perhaps. The Falkland War is definitely an important element, being the only one that can help us locate the story in time, since otherwise it is progressing outside real time and space, in the glass bubble of the top floor of that building in Buenos Aires.
About the title, again: the first version of the book which I had got was called The Saturday School of Beauty – so we simply went back to the first original title.
MM: We have 4 copies of The Saturday School of Beauty by Marsha Mehran for our listeners. But I am not going to give them away for nothing. I would like you to write which book was the most sensual for you, and briefly justify your choice.