Copyright Mage Publishers
Shades of Memory
of Old Iran
6 x 9
Terence O'Donnell lived in Iran from 1957-71
operating a farm from 1963-70 before returning to America, where he wrote
Garden of the
Brave in War, a memoir praised by critics as "a gem" and "a
literary classic on a level with Out of Africa." Seven Shades of Memory
is his first collection of short stories. The stories share the theme of
cultural collision, either as East meets West, or as members of different
Iran tentatively interact. These stories show his prescient understanding
of the multifaceted nuances of Persian culture and the Westerners who attempt
to navigate through it.
In "The Tree and The Pool" an American Consul's desire for a swimming
pool sets off a chain reaction of cross-cultural misunderstanding.
The title characters in "The Prince and The Baker" live next
to one another and yet inhabit separate social strata. The elderly prince
his mansion surrounded by the memorabilia of his life, alone save an elderly
servant. The baker works from dawn to dusk so that he is able to host weekly
gatherings of poets and musicians in attempt to find the path of the Sufi.
One day the prince and the baker are brought together and a subtle friendship
" The Women and The Ladies" is a short vignette about two American women
tourists. Their conversation with a waiter reveals the cultural milieus
in which each side lives.
" The Holy Men of Isfahan" brings together the representatives of Isfahan's
Muslims, Jews, and Christians in a conversation, sorrowfully underscoring
how religion separates, despite the best of intentions.
A wealthy Norwegian family vacations in an unfashionable part of Iran
Duck Hunt" in a story reminiscent of what Ingmar Bergman might
have filmed had he visited Iran.
In "The Stone of Love" a man takes his holiday in a hotel
on the shores of the Caspian Sea. In the hotel courtyard one evening,
he has a surreal
vision in which six travellers arrive. One of them, a jeweler, displays
a unique diamond to the others who later approach him one by one, attempting
And finally, "Mrs. Cahn" is an elderly American philanthropist
on a museum tour of Iran. Weary of life, she prefers to rest outside a rural
while her group visits a nearby site. From a bench she takes small pleasures
in her surroundings and the local tribespeople who gather around her. Touched
by their hospitality and respect, she is able to find peace at last.
Praise for Terence O'Donnell's Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran
O'Donnell explains more about the cultural context in which we must understand
Iran than any other modern writer about the Middle East."
––Donna Shalala in The
New York Times
" ...a book of recollections that is a
work of art. The book is a gem that could become a small classic of its kind."
--Edmund Fuller in The
Wall Street Journal
" Enchanting glimpses of life in the countryside of southwestern Iran...
an improbable combination of Turgenev, Steinbeck and Isak Dinesen."
" A book of sensibility and beauty, mad all
the more striking just now by the insight it gives into Iranian culture and
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The Tree and The Pool
The Prince and The Baker
The Women and The Ladies
The Holy Men of Isfahan
The Duck Hunt
The Stone of Love
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From "The Duck Hunt" (pages 97-99)
They looked so out of place, standing there on the quay by the sluggish, brown
waters of the estuary. Their eyes so blue, the fine blond hair, the white skin
and pink cheeks, something cold, clear, and shining about them, like ice in
sunlight. One could imagine them sailing in the salty cold waters of the Baltic,
bound for a wooded island, not here in the drowsy warmth and heaviness of the
Caspian coast and bound for a place the locals called the Morghab, the dead
The Osbergs were Norwegian: Count Maximilian Osberg (he used his title when
abroad); his wife, Ingar; their three children, Anna, Pehr, and Lena; and the
children's tutor, Johan-Erik. Every other year the Osbergs wintered in places
that were hot and bright; Sicily, Greece, Spain, but this year for a change
they had come to Persia, thinking the Caspian coast, in addition to the heat
and light, would be an exotic, unspoiled place. They were wrong. There were
villas here too and even uglier than those in Europe. And it was not so much
hot as muggy. Nor, for that matter, was there much brightness, for the sky
was often overcast.
Other things, too, had gone wrong. Anna, the elder daughter, 15, and Johan-Erik,
the tutor, appeared to be having an affair. The Count did not approve. Affairs
were permissible for men-he had had his own-but not for women, for an affair
could distract a woman from her familiar duties. "But Anna is not a mother!" his
wife had said with exasperation. In any event, Ingar did not disapprove of
affairs for women. Then Pehr, the ten year old boy, had been unwell since they
had come, nothing they could pin down, headaches, a general malaise. The Count
worried-unreasonably he knew-that his own father's chronic neurasthenia had
passed on to the grandson. Finally, six year old Lena had fits of quiet sobbing
with no apparent cause. The Count loved Lena more than anyone.
The place the Osbergs had chosen for their sojourn was called Ghaziun-the place
of the geese. They had chosen the region because it was unfashionable, unlike
the resorts down the coast with their casinos, European-style hotels and royal
palaces. Across the estuary from Ghaziun-a mere village-there was indeed a
resort, but it was a down-at-the-heels sort of place patronized by small tradesmen,
tailors, clerks, the kinds of people who could afford no more than the reed
cabanas which lined the beach.
They were also the kinds of people whose ladies kept their chadors, their veils
about them when wading in the sea-unlike the resorts down the coast where the
ladies of the rich wore the briefest bikinis they could find. In the beginning,
the Osbergs' greatest amusement was to walk the beach and watch the veiled
ladies in the sea, so hilariously grotesque to see them clutching at their
veils in the slap of the wind and hear their squeals when a wave swept up their
Poor creatures," Ingar would say of the veiled women, at the same time
irked that she was not free to wear her own bikini. As it was, the Osbergs
were stared at enough, for the people were fascinated by their whiteness and
blondness and the strange color of their eyes. As time passed this staring-and
sometimes laughter-had inclined the Osbergs, without their quite realizing
it, to remain more and more at home.
This in part was the reason for the excursion to the Morghab; there would be
fewer staring eyes. Also they had been told of the gigantic tulips growing
in the waters of the Morghab and now in bloom. Finally, there was the locals'
curious manner of netting ducks at night with gongs and torches. The Count
was an ardent hunter-especially hunting ducks in the reedy lakes of his estate-but
he had never heard of netting and wished to see it done. Because it was to
be a nocturnal hunt, the Osbergs had packed a picnic supper which they planned
to take at some country teahouse when night fell.
The punt the Osbergs had hired finally drew up to the quay. The boatman stood
barefoot in the stern, a stocky, strong-looking young man in sky-blue pajamas-locally
worn outdoors as well as in-and a sleeveless undershirt, so white against the
brownness of his body. He held a punting pole in one hand while with the other
he gave the Osbergs a playful, almost mocking, salute. Like all the local men,
he was shaven-headed and had an oval face with eyes which made the Count think
of the eyes in Byzantine icons, so black and cold, so staring they seemed unseeing
and yet the Count sensed they saw everything, down to the tiny, purple birthmark
that blotched his cheek.
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Terence O’Donnell was born in Portland, Oregon in 1924. In addition to farming during his years in Iran, he received three Fulbright lectureships at Iranian universities. In 1972 he returned to Portland and became active in the Oregon Historical Society. He is the author of several books about Oregon, and Seven Shades of Memory, a collection of short fiction about Iran. Terence O’Donnell died in March 2001.
Dick Davis is Professor of Persian at Ohio State University, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lived in Iran for eight years, from 1970 to 1978.
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