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Why so serious? on ‘Doozakhrafat’

It is as if he has been one of the staff in God’s kingdom, sitting there like the Thinker sculpture, his hands under his chin, observing the daily life of God and his buddies in heaven. A review.

Le penseur de la Porte de l'Enfer (Rodin museum), 1890. Le penseur de la Porte de l'Enfer (Rodin museum), 1890. Wikicommons/ Jean-Piere Dalbera. Some rights reserved.Firstly: Doozakhrafat is a book by Sorush Pakzad, for which I have written a foreword, in the hope of sharing in the joy of those reading its beautiful stories. I recommend this book; it is unmatched and makes you snort with laughter. I have written in the foreword: “it had been a while since I laughed so much. To be honest, since reading Farrokh Saramad in the 80s and Ambrose Bierce in the 90s, I had not encountered a writing that could make me laugh in private. Now this is exactly what Sorush offers in Doozakhrafat and somehow it feels that he has obtained God’s permission for the jokes. It is as if he has been one of the staff in God’s kingdom, sitting there like the Thinker sculpture, his hands under his chin, observing the daily life of God and his buddies in heaven, and suddenly bursting into laughter. “What’s so funny yo?” asks Michael. “Nothing really,” replies Sorush, “I just remembered something.”    

I recommend this book, as it is one of a kind, unique, pleasant, and insightful. Sometimes, I feel a close attachment to it and sometimes I wonder how the book’s moments of political satire, which are quite limited, do not shorten the life of its humor by giving it an inevitable expiry date. But it offers a global perspective and at the same time shows traces of an Iranian culture. More precisely, it is as if this dude has traveled beyond our galaxy and looked back upon our world and written about it (quite masterfully, I should add) from a distant perspective.

The jokes are centered on God and his creation, and Satan’s warnings  - “hey man, stop this shit”. God, being a stubborn jerk, ignores all common sense. There is Khidr, who has gone missing, and Abraham, who plays stupid pranks on his son, and Joseph, with his tight jeans and funky hairstyle, and Jesus and his Mommy, and Moses with his demands and commandments, and Israfil, making way too much noise, and Michael, with his Isfahani accent, and Azrael, who has totally forgotten about Iran’s Supreme Leader, and of course Gabriel, who like it or not, is God’s favorite.  

Secondly: the book includes 107 short and long pieces, which were previously published on the web. The stories share two features: 1) they are satirical, and 2) they are about heaven and purgatory and hell and angels and similar crap.

One of the most beautiful stories in the book is called “Toy Story.” I have copied its translation for you into my third section here.

Three:

I didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, I witnessed how all his fears and the trauma of being alone had disappeared, but on the other hand, I couldn’t accept it, because he was deceiving himself. I didn’t want to see him suffer: but this self-deception was even worse. It was so sad to see all that creativity and intelligence being wasted on a stupid game.

 

Well, the other angels didn’t care; they never truly liked him. Our bond was different; it wasn’t a business relationship between God and an angel employee. I admired him, I praised him, and worshipped him. And, he knew this. Until that agonizing pain of loneliness gradually invaded his spirit, and until that damned day came along.

 

On that day, and for a long time aferwards, he seemed happy. He asked us all to gather, “come, I have a surprise.” His excitement grew and with it our curiosity. And then, with tears of joy and benevolence, he revealed his two small dolls. “So that was what he was making during the 6 days he had locked himself in his room,” I thought. The angels murmured all kinds of flattery in response; God turned to me: he wanted to know my opinion. Well, they looked OK, but to me the important thing was his happiness, which I could now see in his eyes.

 

My optimism didn’t last long, as everything started to change from that day on. God would sit there for days playing with the pair, combing their hair, and dressing them with care. One day, I saw him at it, as he had supposedly taken the dolls for a picnic. I greeted him and asked if he was feeling better. “I’ve never felt so happy,” he replied, looking at the dolls, “because I am not alone anymore.” “This Mr. I-hate-bathing is Adam,” he introduced, “this cutie-pie is Eve.” “And this is Satan,” blinking at me he added, “who is always serious and looks after me like a worried mom.”

 

He was right; I was worried and his next sentence increased my concern: “Don’t you want to say hi to my friends?” I grabbed his arm and looked into his eyes: “But these are just dolls,” I replied.

 

His smile disappeared and as if in a trice, his previous depression returned, crushing his heart. He pulled himself together and looked away from me. “We had better be going,” he said, while putting the tiny shoes on the dolls’ feet, “it’s getting late.” And then sotto voce, as if he would rather not be heard, he added “ignore Satan kids, OK? He would only hurt your feelings. Promise me you won’t talk to him?” Then, in childish tones, “we promise.” I knew he was upset, I reached for his hands to calm him, but he pulled back bitterly and said: “who knows, maybe you are also one of my puppets.” And those were the last words I ever heard from God.

 

From that day on, God disappeared into his game, as if he lived the life of his dolls. Day and night, his game was on; he had lost contact with reality. The dolls would get old and broken, and as they did so he would replace them with new ones, and would play new games. My attempts to talk with him came to nothing. He wouldn’t listen. He would see, hear, and think only through his dolls, as if his previous existence had vanished.

 

I consulted his doctor regarding this alarming change in his condition. She believed it was schizophrenia and that the multiple personalities that God had developed were a psychological mechanism to repress the trauma of loneliness. She thought it better if we tried to discuss this situation with him. Yet, once she learned that God refused to listen to any of us, she suggested that I should try to speak to him through the virtual characters that he had created. The problem is that the dolls are still afraid of me; they think I mean them harm. Apparently, to avoid the inconvenience of truth, people suffering from this kind of personality disorder unconsciously create defence mechanisms. God’s characters had been made to believe that I am evil and that if they listened to me, they would never be saved from the horrors that I will bring to them. But I have not given up; because I believe in God and his will and his and courage, and I will do whatever there is in my power to help him, and to free him from this silly game.

 

I will try by all means to speak with him, because I know that beyond those lifeless dolls, there is a beautiful and creative soul, and even if he tries to avoid me, I know he can still hear my voice…. It’s true isn’t it? You can hear me, right? Doesn’t my heart speak to yours? That’s because something in you still seeks the truth.

 

My dearest God, I have written this story for you, in the hope that you will listen to me. I know you have read these lines so please bear with me for a few more. To be honest, whatever choice you make, I will back you up to the very end. I know how creative and smart you are and I am sure that you have built a beautiful world with fascinating details. If this is what you want and you feel happy in your world, I promise to let you go forever.

 

But if at the bottom of your heart, you feel a deep pain that tells you that this toy-box is not your natural environment, then let me assure you that your real life is awaiting you. All you need to come back home is a smidgeon of courage…

 

 

Fourthy: Reading these stories, one can’t help wondering, “where should we draw the line at joking with God?” In my foreword, I give an example of a radical Islamist who in the early years of post-revolution Iran, enters the camp of the Revolutionary Guard, crying out to his commander that “someone has written ‘death to God’ on the street wall.” “Don’t worry,” replied the commander, who was accidentally wise, “death does not apply to a self-existent being.” And, this, I believe, is exactly the permission we need for any humor regarding God and his kingdom.

Sorush Pakzad’s writings, which he calls Craposyncrasies, is a unique magnum opus. Except for a few less substantial works, I had never seen or heard anything similar to this. It reminded me of Ambrose Pierce’s The Devil's Dictionary, written in the early twentieth century and a few works by Zabih Berhouz. But otherwise, there are few works in this field.

As his name suggests, Sorush, which means “messenger” in Persian, is the narrator of the unseen world. His jokes about God, Gabriel, Michael, the prophets, and the angels, which occasionally have a bit of politics thrown in, are not only hilarious but deep and subtle.

They testify to an author who knows his job, has read much, is well-informed, and has studied theology and philosophy before fooling around with God. I have not encountered many satirical works targeting God and his kingdom which are not sickening. I usually feel that these people are upset with the deeds of God or Satan’s faithful servants, who are often not very different, and that therefore, they shoot bullets into the sky in the hope of injuring God.

Satire, however, requires elegance, charm, and wonder, qualities that Sorush offers his readers. Except for a few fleeting jokes in which one can sense the author’s anger and rage at contemporary sociopolitical events, the rest could have been written in the fourth, eighth, fifteenth, or eighteenth century. Who knows, maybe the book is in fact written by a monk who lived in the Middle Ages, and Sorush, who has found the original manuscript, just tweaked some sections to claim the work as his own? It could be the case, right?

Fifthly: For years, I have studied theological and gnostic texts and I know the literature very well. I have even ventured into parodies of Attar of Nishapur (c. 1145 – c. 1221) in my own works, but what Sorush Pakzad has accomplished is way more developed.

As I have stated in the foreword to the book, “the author makes jokes about the prophets and the angels, sometimes visiting Nietzsche and sometimes Rumi, and has apparently looked into philosophy and theology. I don’t know the author, but I know his work very well, and I can say that his satire is astonishingly timeless. It has been a while since a text had given me such pleasure. And also a while since I lost all contact with the heavens, from which now, thanks to Sorush Pakzad, some news has been leaked.

To make a full disclosure, I occasionally tried my own comedic hand at sacred subjects, but Sorush’s writing is something else. This is why I strongly recommend this book to those who appreciate satire. Seriously guys, you don’t want to die without reading Doozakhrafat. But, keep in mind the first sentence of the book: “when falsehood is funnier than the truth.” 

About the author

Ebrahim Nabavi is Iran's leading satirist, currently conducting research into the history of Persian satire, as a Visiting Scholar at the Jordan Center for Persian Studies of the University of California, Irvine. He has authored more than 50 books, some best sellers in Iran, and many translated into Italian, French, and Turkish. 

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