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A Novel Born in Prison

‘Ahou Khanom’s Husband’, a voluminous novel published in the early 1960s, took the literary circles of Iran by storm. It was hailed as a milestone and the dawn of a new kind of novel in Persian, the genre of the full-scale social novel with a woman as the central character. One literary critic even compared it to the works of Balzac, and another to Tolstoy. The book was also a huge success with the public, reprinted over and over again and turned into a film.

Its writer, Mohammad Ali Afghani, was a young unknown former army officer, recently released from prison after serving five years of his original life sentence. He was accused of being a member of an officers’ organisation which was affiliated to the Iranian communist party, the Tudeh. Having become interested in fiction during an earlier stay in America, he took the opportunity of his imprisonment to start writing. Ahou Khanom’s Husband, dealing with the life of vulnerable Iranian women in the earlier Pahlavi period, initially started as a short story for a woman’s magazine. It was never sent to the magazine but kept growing steadily until turning into a novel of nearly one thousand pages.

On his release from prison, Afghani tried to find a publisher for it, but nobody would risk investing in such a massive novel by an unknown writer. Consequently, he decided to publish it personally at his own expense - a sign of his conviction in its merits and potential success. After its rapid and extraordinary popularity, however, a renowned publishing house happily took it over. He has written many other books over the years but none has ever enjoyed the same level of fame and success. At the age of 85, he is still working, currently translating Ahou Khanom’s Husband into English. He is also hoping soon to publish his latest work, ‘Memoirs of Prison’.

Afghani is a reclusive writer, hardly giving any interviews. In this multimedia report, however, we have the privilege of hearing the fascinating account of his life and the circumstances leading to the creation of his masterpiece.

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