Ali Salami

Bozorg Alavi: The Portmanteau (Chamedan)

Bozorg Alavi was a leftist writer and one of the most noted Iranian novelists of the 20th century, whose works were banned in Iran from 1953 to 1979. Alavi is known for his novel Her Eyes and collected stories The Portmanteau (Chamedan).

Biography of Bozorg Alavi

Born in Tehran on February 2, 1904, Bozorg Alavi received his early studies in his hometown. In 1923, he went to Berlin with his father where he learned German. In 1927, his father Seyyed Abolhassan Alavi committed suicide in Berlin.

Upon returning to Iran in 1928, he started teaching German at the Industrial College of Shiraz. In 1929, he returned to Tehran and embarked on a Persian rendition of Noldeke’s The National Epic of Persia.

In 1931, he came in contact with Sadeq Hedayat, the prominent Iranian writer and became involved in a group known as The Four including Sadeq Hedayat, Mojataba Minovi and Masoud Farzad.

Bozorg Alavi

His collected short stories The Portmanteau, deeply influenced by Hedayat and Freud, were published in 1934.


In 1937, he was detained and imprisoned together with53 people on grounds of having Communist leanings. He remained in prison for seven years.

While in jail he wrote Fifty-Three People, describing the members of the socialist group and their ordeal in prison, and the short-story collection Notes from Prison which detailed the plight of the intellectuals under Reza Shah. He was also one of the founders of the Tudeh Party of Iran.

With the fall of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1954, Alavi left Iran and took a teaching post at the Humboldt University of Berlin in East Germany. Alavi is best known for his novel Her Eyes (1952) in which he details the love between a painter and a woman of the upper class. Maestro Makan is an intellectual who is opposed to the tyrannical rule of Reza Shah.

About Her Eyes

Farangis, an upper class girl, gets painting lessons from the maestro. She is coldly treated by him; therefore, she leaves for Europe. She believes that she has caused the death of the maestro. She also believes that she has sacrificed her life for him.

While in Paris, she enrolls in the painting classes where she becomes acquainted with Khodadad who draws her attention to the social woes.

Khodadad asks her to return to Iran and live with Maestro Makan. Farangis returns to Iran to either express her passionate live to him and take revenge on him. Upon her return to Iran, she becomes involved in political activities. All she does is meant to win the love of Maestro Makan. To achieve this end, she takes on the most precarious tasks.

An introverted type, Maestro Makan does not express his secret love to her nor does he take her seriously. Finally, love triumphs over social commitment and he finally embarks on a passionate love affair with Farangis.

One day he invites her over to his house. Farangis accepts the invitation with doubts in her heart. Due to this feeling of suspicion, the maestro jilts her. Farangis claims that the maestro has then begun painting her eyes.

The maestro is arrested and Farangis marries Colonel Aram in order to have the maestro liberated. The maestro is exiled and Farangis returns to Europe. Many years afterwards she learns about the death of the maestro and sees his last painting “Her Eyes”.

The picture shows a pair of lustful and unfeeling eyes. Farangis is deeply saddened for the maestro has never managed to realize what a supreme sacrifice she has made for him.

In this novel, Alavi deals with the struggles of the Iranian intellectuals and artists against the despotic rule of Reza Shah. However, the love between the maestro and Farangis overshadows the struggles.

In analyzing this love affair, the writer reinforces the repressed desires and aspirations of the intellectuals who rarely find an outlet for their psychological needs.

Farangis is among the early female characters in Persian literature who have been depicted as having sublime feelings and great devotion to an ideal.

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