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The Blind Owl (1937)

by Sadegh Hedayat

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8052718,908 (3.9)1 / 125
Written in Persian The Blind Owl is predominantly a love story, an unconventional love story that elicits visions and nightmare reveries from the depths of the reader' s subconscious. A young man, an old man and a beautiful young girl perform, as if framed within a Persian miniature, a ritual of destruction as gradually the narrator, and the reader, discover the meaning hidden within the dreams. This unforgettable story contains a unique blend of the mystery of the Arabian Nights and an acutely contemporary sense of panic and hallucination. The Blind Owl was written during the oppressive latter years of Reza Shah's rule (1925-1941). It was originally published in a limited edition in Bombay, during Hedayat's year-long stay there in 1937, stamped with not for sale or publication in Iran. It first appeared in Tehran in 1941 (as a serial in the daily Iran), after Erza Shah's abdication, and had an immediate and forceful effect.… (more)

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English (24)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
(Original Review, 1981-04-20)

“I was growing inward incessantly; like an animal that hibernates during the wintertime, I could hear other peoples' voices with my ears; my own voice, however, I could hear only in my throat. The loneliness and the solitude that lurked behind me were like a condensed, thick, eternal night, like one of those nights with a dense, persistent, sticky darkness which waits to pounce on unpopulated cities filled with lustful and vengeful dreams.”

In “The Blind Owl” by Sadegh Hedayat

“My one fear is that tomorrow I may die without having come to know myself.”

In “The Blind Owl” by Sadegh Hedayat

Unforgettable is "The Blind Owl", the masterpiece of Sadegh Hedayat, who with this novel inaugurated modern Persian literature. The reader is seduced into entering the dangerous terrain of psychic disintegration, experiencing in the company of the protagonist a vicarious nightmare of hallucinations where the boundaries between reality and dreams dissolve and we are left lost in a labyrinth of terror, to struggle in vain against the sinister apparitions emanating from the shadows beyond the reach of rationality. The reading experience is akin to the existential panic suffered during sleep paralysis when the ego feels overwhelmed by the threat of extinction by an unseen presence. Oh the horror! Reading this tale while stoned enhances the fear and mystery, but can be recommended only to those possessing steady nerves. “I finally learned that I must remain silent as much as possible. I must always keep my thoughts to myself.” Heinlein couldn’t have said it better himself… ( )
  antao | Dec 9, 2018 |
"I thought to myself, 'If it is true that everyone has his own star in the sky mine must be remote, dark and meaningless. Perhaps I never had a star at all'" (pg. 91).

"What comforted me was the prospect of oblivion after death. The thought of an after-life frightened and fatigued me. I had never been able to adapt myself to the world in which I was now living. Of what use would another world be to me?" (pg. 99).

I enjoyed this novel, it was like reading a nightmare. The narrator is a tortured man and witnessing his descent is captivating. The passage on masks in the second half of the novel reminded me of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke.

This novel is unique compared to other works I have read relating to madness like Hunger by Knut Hamsun or The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima. In some ways the protagonist of The Blind Owl is like the main character of Stefan Grabinski's short story The Area in which the character is haunted by himself, the phantoms originate inside him. Stefan Grabinski is another author like Sadegh Hedayat that has been compared to Edgar Allan Poe.

Here are some other passages I liked:

"I had become like a madman and I derived an exquisite pleasure from the pain I felt. It was a pleasure which transcended human experience, a pleasure which only I was capable of feeling and which the gods themselves, if they existed, could not have experienced to such a degree" (pg. 112).

"My face had a natural talent for comical and horrible expressions. I felt that they enabled me to see with my own eyes all the weird shapes, all the comical, horrible, unbelievable images which lurked in the recess of my mind" (pg. 114). ( )
  Matthew_Nelson | Dec 6, 2018 |

A friend once told me Sadegh Hedayat wanted the book itself to be the experience and not a book about an experience. I couldn’t agree more. So what was my Blind Owl experience? With every page I felt as if I was spiraling down through my subconscious and unconscious until I plunged into the collective unconscious. A female figure in a black cloak and a meeting of eyes, shinny, alluring, sensuous eyes – the anima? Another turn and there's an ancient old man with white hair and long white beard with the index finger of his left hand pressed against his lips – the wisdom archetype? And yet another turn and I was walking in a fantastic landscape of trees and hills of geometrical shapes: cylinders, perfect cones, truncated cones – a dream or hallucination? And there are the eyes again and the ancient old man with his index finger pressed against his lips – a dream or hallucination or a reading of The Blind Owl? I put the book down and walk outside and the landscape is fantastic: all the trees and hills are cylinders, perfect cones and truncated cones and I see up ahead a female figure in a cloak. I was warned by Porochista Khakpour in his preface to The Blind Owl. And now you’ve been warned.

( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
a very special novel, dark, gloomy, depressing. The author, not the most joyful person it seems, uses opium but the reader only needs his writing to reach a trance. Don't kill yourself after reading this, seems to be the recommendation to give. ( )
  Lunarreader | Mar 3, 2018 |
This is an extremely important work of Iranian fiction, written in the 1930s. It was chosen by someone in one of the book clubs I participate in. According to the introduction, it is so shocking that there are rumors that it led to people dying by suicide.

The book tells two versions of the same story – both told from the main character’s perspective. He is an artist who is either solitary or lives with his wife (depending on the telling). One version is a bit more supernatural-feeling than the other, both heavily feature sadness, loneliness, and darkness.

I missed something in this book. I didn’t get it, and that is why I didn’t give it a ranking. I feel like it’s just not something I can wrap my head around, because I can’t wrap my head around the book. It obviously is full of symbolism that I don’t get because I don’t have the shared culture that might be necessary to truly pick up on the nuance of the storytelling. I’m not even entirely clear on the purpose of the book. Perhaps is an allegory of death? I don’t know.

The author’s style keeps me from really getting into the book – the writing is fine, but it’s also a translation to English, so it comes across as fairly plain and also repetitive. There is (according to Wikipedia, which I visited immediately upon completion) a reason for this, and an art to it, but again I think a whole lot has been lost in translation.

Mostly reading this book made me angry that I a) can’t read all the languages and b) don’t understand or even have a basic understanding of the vast majority of cultures in the world.

So yay for that? ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
A tale of one man’s isolation, the novel contains a maze of symbols, recurring images, social commentary, allusions to opium-induced states, contemplations of the human condition, interjections on art, and references to literary and religious texts—all of which have, for decades, made it fertile ground for critical interpretation.

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hedayat, Sadeghprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hamelink, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Gert J.J. deAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Gert J.J. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In life there are certain sores that, like a canker, gnaw at the soul in solitude and diminish it.
(trans. Iraj Bashiri)
There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.
(trans. D. P. Costello)
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