Abstinence of Sloganeering


An interview with Akbar Sahraee, author of war stories

Written by: Sayyed Ghasem Yahoseini
Translated by: A. Abutorabi

Akbar Sahraee has gained the fluency in his writing and style from many ups and downs of his life, his youth and adolescence, and interest in football, studying and classic stories. After the order of Imam Khomeini considering the Kurdistan   disturbances he left the camp of football to the camp of war and joined   the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. He witnessed the martyrdom of Dr. Chamran in Dehlavieh region. He prides himself upon his 35 months presence in war fronts and 6 operations. He was born in the city of literature and poem, Shiraz, in 1960(1339)."Ana is still laughing", “The case 312", and the story collection of "The channel and the moonlight" are some of his works. Here is an interview with him:

Q: Why did you start writing after war?

I had a strange feeling after the war ended. The memory of my friends, whom I lost twelve of them just in one night because of Cyanogens gas in Majnoon Island, didn't abandon me. As if I owed them. Writing of war- men was the only thing occurred to me and I could do. War changed the route of my life and led me toward writing. Apart from filthy, destructive and disgusting nature of war, some pure human happenings and moments occur in it. Keeping aloof from   war, created an opportunity   for me to have a deeper look at war and its effects and survivors from above.

Many of the greatest story writers were from Shiraz. The city was filled with a literary smell and I didn't lose my own portion of that. A new window of storytelling was opened to me.  I could channel to written and oral remembrances I had hunted during the eight years of war. Is it not true, according to an opinion, that in literary point of view the most importance of a catastrophe like war, are the different, unfamiliar and obsolete human situations that occur in it and the value of this situations are only in the bed brought about for literary creation, especially story. I was caught in a limbo how to use the affecting potentials of story to create human and obsolete situations, so that to have maximum influence on the professional and even amateur reader. I thought about this a long time. The story collection of “The channel and the moonlight" was written and printed in 1999(1378).The story collection of "1009" was written the next year. The satiric story collection of "Sleepy Mortar" was the next work published in 2003(1382) and was reprinted many times. The same year  I  won  the story writing prize of Fars Culture Festival and  the second story writing prize of Guards of Penmanship in 2006(1385). My first novel," The Case 312", was published in 2005(1384) by Shahed Publications and my last work, the short short-story collection of “Ana is still laughing”, was published in 2007(1386) by Sooreh Mehr Publications.

 Q: Do you see any relationship between literature of war and its oral history?

If by war oral history you mean the part that has oral and written remembrances in it, not the part that relates to indeterminate numbers and digits of war, then I can go further and say even if you remove the word war from the expression "literature of war”, then still my answer will be yes. 

Q: In this case what is the relationship?

I am obliged to limit the circle of war oral history to remembrances and, in the same relationship, the circle of literature of war to stories of war, so that I can be able to clarify the subject. In this case the two general expression of the oral history of war and literature of war change into more professional expression of war remembrances and war story .Now  these two topics and their relationship can be studied more thoroughly. Oral history is the valuable and intact source of literature. If we suppose the oral history as a diamond mine, the writer is the one who should explore and choose the pure and appropriate ledge of diamond, and then by his innovation and mind and the related tools, cut it and shape it, and finally turn it into a brilliant.

Q: How much do you think the war oral history can help the war literature?

Undoubtedly the source and inspiration of war literature is oral history, although its affectability depends on the imagination and innovation of the artist. In short, the oral history of war is headspring of war literature. War literature is indebted to oral history of war and cannot survive without it.

Q: What is the difference of a war remembrance and a war short story?

In war remembrances the writer, for using the story elements, is limited   and cannot change the nature and essence of the memory or in a simple word to do whatever he wants. Since in a memory, you are writing the documented history of war. But when it is called story, the author, inspired by one or some war remembrances, is free to create a different and new story. The memory is history and what is important in history is correctness and exactness of the information. But in story or novel, creation of an appropriate atmosphere is of the prime importance. As you know this atmosphere in story is just created by proper details and the use of special techniques. The oral memories of war can be used as the idea or plan of the story, but essentially all stories should not have such characteristics. There are many war remembrances which have a good potential to be turned into story without changing the nature of them. The writer turns these memories into a story by the use of elements and techniques of story writing such as dialogue, form, language, and even monologue. The writer cannot distort the real content of the memory or use his imagination in that. He can only use the story tools to recreates the memoir and write in a proper form which is called memorial story. The mind and imagination of the writer in war remembrances are very limited. In here he should remain loyal to the war oral history.

Q: How much do think the literature of the story of war is indebted to war oral history? Can we imagine a limitation for it? And finally how can one writes war story?

I think I have answered the first part of this question before in the discussion about the relationship between the war story and memoir. But the answer to the second part is negative. I believe we can not define certain limitations or models for a war writer. One writer may have the talent to write imaginative stories and the other real ones.

 Q: Let me return to the previous question Mr. Sahraee, what are the gives and takes of war story and oral remembrances?

I do not believe in gives and takes in the overall sense of that. The war story writer to create a story has no choice but use of the men of war. He should go over the oral history and the memoires of the war men. He cannot breathe without the memoires.

Q: Can story elements be used in writing the oral remembrances?

Ignoring the story elements in writing the oral remembrances is as though a painter uses only the three main colors for painting and does not use the technique of color combination. He has really deprived himself from secondary colors which are sometimes more beautiful than the main ones. The story elements are able to give form, beauty and a certain meaning to oral remembrances.

Q: Let us go over your last work, the story collection of "Ana is still laughing", as it is understood from its contents, has originated from your memoirs. Are these memories yours or you have heard them from others? How much of these stories are imaginative?

I am accustomed to the war remembrances. I have been in the middle of them, no matter they are mine or of my friends or I have heard them. A great part of my daily study is dedicated to remembrances and investigating them. I should say that the initial idea and inspiration of many of the stories of “Ana is still laughing” collection is remembrances.

The ideas that turned into a plan first, then mixed with my mind and imagination and at the end were expanded and cut. Finally when the story was written I could not find any similarity between it and the sources of inspiration. I feel just when my memories are turned into a story they have got a shape in my mind. Despite the initial idea of the story, most parts of the story, even the physical and mental features of the characters are built in my mind and imagination.

Q: Why this collection was called the short short-story?

Many human situations and moments occurred in war (both in fronts and cities) despite their influence cannot be turned into a story or novel. What do you think I, as a writer, should do with these subjects? Can I ignore them just because they do not have   the capability to be written as a short story or novel? Here the role and practicability of short short-story technique is revealed?  If a writer does not like this   form of story writing, his opinion is respected, but to me one of the most influential styles of narration is short short-story technique which is unfortunately rarely used in war story narration. In story collection of “Ana is still laughing” I have tried to use subjects, which could be influential in that form. Short short-story or "minimal” as some may call, has been less used in war literature. On the other hand, I really mind the readers whom have not the patience to read stories longer than few pages.

Q: The reader finds some contents similarities in some of your stories such as "The bag dropped from his hand", "Ana is still laughing ","The bath", etc, and the same similarities are found between characters like Dar Ali, Hashem, Narges, and even the enemy soldiers and it seems that the reader gains his knowledge and information through story or the drop flux.
The stories of this collection seem to be a single narration, dispersed through different stories in a special form and shape. As if they are all the warp and woof of a cloth. Is that your technique or you have had another intention?

The writer should be able to persuade the reader to read his stories. In these cases the form can be a good help, the one that serves the content. In this collection such a style was chosen   , so as   the reader first can tastes one story then if he admired it, have the rest. The reader should be incited to read the book and what can serve this end better than worriment about the story characters and the suspension! On the other hand, in a short short-story the writer cannot clarify all aspects of the characters' lives. But in this form, or as you called it "flux", the writer is allowed to introduce his characters to the reader as much as possible. In this collection each story can use the sphere of the other story. Another point is in puzzle setting of the stories which I think was essential for suspension

Q: It seems you have a different look toward the enemy soldiers. So that the reader regards them both invader and at the same time pitiable, to the extent that in the story “When Moosa returns?" we find out that Dar Ali and Narges are going to Basra because of the invitation of Sayed Abde Batat, the Iraqi soldier. You have the same look in "The unknown", "A stranger in diving suit" and "When I shall revenge?" stories.

I have been many times questioned in literary circles, "When do you want to give up war story writing?" As though it is a crime to write war stories, I do not want to ask, "Is this question right or wrong? ", but I want to ask," Why are we going toward this atmosphere and who is guilty for that". I think the main reason is the practice of those who have the cultural responsibility in this area.  I read a book in holy defense subject  one time,  which in its pictures the Iraqi soldiers had red and long eyes as if they were  jinn and other similar works in which the enemy soldiers are defined as being coward and abject. Although I believe the stereotype films and serials about holy defense has exacerbated this misunderstanding more than books. Now considering this mentality, will the reader choose the war stories or the non-war ones?  The war writers have encountered to the misunderstanding front. The enemy soldier, despite being an invader, may reflect in some situations and return to his nature. Is it not true that some of these soldiers have helped to our combatants contrary to their superiors? Sayed Abde Batat and that unknown diver are two of them. I tried to have a logical and essential look toward the men on the both sides of the front and consider them as human being. 

Q: In some stories you are explicitly sloganeering, for example when you are describing the overall situation of the front. Do you not think a dramatic work is not a proper place for these composition writing?

Despite I have no believe in description, especially long and, the worse, composition ones, in story or even novel, but one should accept that description is one of the elements of story writing which, considering its use in text, can be used as needed, like what Hemingway has done in "Farewell to Arms" or in his short stories or the short stories of Chekhov and Carver. Undoubtedly one of the tools to define the overall situation of war fronts is short and brief description. In the story collection of "Ana is still laughing", in few stories like "Toward the homeland ", "Safety  from rocket launcher ", "The joy snow", etc , to define the situation of the war front, besides other story elements , description has been used too ,but  it is brief and far from slogan and composition.  To the second part of the question I should say, not only a dramatic work but also no other story text is not a place to sloganeer. If in a part of a story one of the characters sloganeer in a conversation, it has nothing to do with the sloganeering of the writer, but the writer is just describing this character's thoughts and mentality for his readers.

Q: Let us go over the satire which is seen in your works like "The sleepy mortar” and this collection. It seems you have a certain insistence on satire of war, which is shown in the climax of the bitter and heartrending scenes. Ana is alone and the reader accompany her in this loneliness and is affected, but at the same time in this story Akhtar Khanoom , the deaf and dumb old girl and joke  makings of Ana with problems , has its own satiric affect. The other case is Dar Ali, who is present in "The sleepy mortar”, who is him?

I thought about the two words of Dar and Ali very much and I like the reader do the same. Dar Ali is still alive and is breathing just like Ana. Dar Ali is the symbol of combatants who in the hardest and most disagreeing situations, with some pieces of iron and chemical elements in their body, still laugh. Dar Ali and Ana are the same, the common sense between war men in the past and present. All the brigades and divisions had and have Dar Ali and Ana. Who is a more appropriate character than Dar Ali for a story writer? Hundreds of stories can be written about them yet. The satire can multiply the joy and influence of a story, if it is used in its layers. Despite this reality that our war fronts have been full of life and joy, and liveliness has been one of the characteristics of those gone to the fronts, rarely satire has been used in war works. They circled in humble trenches and tents for months and years and had heartfelt and sincere talks. Satire can help to conquer that misunderstanding front that we mentioned earlier. Satire can be used in dramatic and war stories more than other areas. Satire is not only used in a comic story, but on the contrary it can add some layers to the story in tragic, dramatic and bitter situations, it surprises the reader, make him to reflect and at the same time condole him.

Q: We use different genre in short story narration like first person, the omniscient, letter writing, dialogue, and monologue. Do you not think the form of oral history can be added to the world of story as a literary genre?  

  I think the form of interview, at least in western story literature,  has been used in story works, but I agree that in Iran this form , especially in  war story  , has been less used , where as this form could have many uses in war short story and novel.

Q: Have you any new work under publication?

A novel for the youth and adolescent by the name of "I wish I was a little older” is being published by the Cultural and Scientific Publications. I have also the story collection of "The old street" under publication by Shahed, and the novel of "Shemshad" and "The forth wish" by the Office of Literary Creation of Howzeh Honari.

Q: what are you writing these days?

I am writing two works simultaneously. I have started a novel five years ago which by now has reached to 500 pages. It is about the disturbances of the after war people. In this work I burrow to the life of people of my own generation and those of the previous. The second is a work called "Reconsidering the operation of Ghods 3". There was a war one time and a division called "Fajr 19" and the volunteer youth whom were expedited to war fronts. This division in 1984(1363) attacked the enemy in the boarder point of Meymeh river to retake some parts of the country territory by the strength of three battalions and…. I am rewriting and rereading this operation. This work is done for the provincial   Office of Preserving and publicizing the holy war remains.

Soureh Monthly Magazine/ No.36/ Jan, Feb, March 2008

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