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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Fortune Told in Blood

Davud Ghaffarzadegan

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To purchase Fortune Told in Blood

Title: Fortune Told in Blood
Author: Davud Ghaffarzadegan
Genre: Novella
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 80 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: Fortune Told in Blood - US
Fortune Told in Blood - UK
Fortune Told in Blood - Canada
  • Persian title: فال خون
  • Translated and with an Introduction by M.R.Ghanoonparvar
  • With An Interview with the Author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid war story -- and interesting in context

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Fortune Told in Blood is a short novella set during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The novel centres on a soldier, sent with a Lieutenant to man an observation post on a mountain, and describes what he goes through, focussing on the emotional turmoil, psychological toll, and physical strain.
       The opening paragraph seems to set the scene and feel:

     He was looking back, his legs trembling, thinking that death here would be awful: dizziness, dry mouth, and the cold sweat that runs down your spine.
       But, in fact, his experiences are much more of a roller-coaster ride, the tension and discomfort also making way even to boredom, and distractions pushing the death-thoughts aside, at least for a time. The setting allows for isolation, especially once they are snowbound in their bunker, and at least for a while they know they are relatively safe. Up there, away from the immediate horrors and dangers of war, the soldier finds a sense of relief:
     He had not eaten in such comfort and with such peace of mind for a long time.
       Of course, it's also a matter of perspective: soon enough their position can look quite different, as that which ensures their safety also spells: no way out:
In front of us there is the precipice, and behind us are our own forces ...
       The soldier and the Lieutenant are from different classes, but both have had their lives disrupted by war. The Lieutenant was in the last year of his law studies and has a fiancée, the soldier is a small-time landowner who wanted to study literature.
       They stand above the fray, but the war is all-consuming, and a third man is sent to check up on them -- only a Second Lieutenant, but of the dreaded Republican Guard, and he immediately accuses them of not doing their duty, by aiming the artillery shells on what are likely just civilians crossing far below. It comes to a confrontation that gets out of hand, and as in so many other situations in this war, there can be no winners.
       Ghaffarzadegan conveys the soldiers fears -- of death, especially -- well, and in creating these deceptive lulls that give the appearance of their being out of harm's way (the soldier even builds a snowman !), makes the literally all-consuming conflict all the more devastating. The mix of near-tranquility and graphic scenes of death is effective, with Ghaffarzadegan not over-doing things on his small canvas.
       A few oddities do stand out -- they fry up canned eggplant, beans, and caviar for their meal ?!? -- but on the whole it's a smoothly written and translated work.
       What's particularly notable about Fortune Told in Blood, however, is that what the Iranian writer Ghaffarzadegan is describing is the Iraqi side of events. In fact, it's almost a neutral everywhere, with few clues as to what sides (or nations) are even involved: some details -- the mention of Iranian money and child-soldiers, and then, of course, the appearance of the Republican Guard officer -- do make clear that these are Iraqis, but for the most part this aspect of the novel is distinctly secondary: "Under this sky, everything is alike.". More importantly, the novel could readily be transposed across the border, and only a few changes would be necessary to make this an Iranian story. Ghaffarzadegan clearly means to show that the experience of war is much the same for all involved -- a rather daring point to make in this way less than a decade after the end of the Iran-Iraq war. (However, the Republican Guard -- most obviously tied to the heinous Saddam Hussein regime -- are demonized here, allowing Ghaffarzadegan to differentiate between 'ordinary' Iraqis and the representatives of the regime.)
       Worthwhile on its own as a modern war story, the context of Fortune Told in Blood makes it of particular interest.

       An afterword of sorts reprints an interview Ghaffarzadegan gave. It does not deal specifically with Fortune Told in Blood, but does introduce the author and his work, as well as give some sense of the literary situation in Iran -- though it is then frustrating to find that nothing else of his work is available in translation.
       The interview does, however, allow the book to close on a nice note:
     ALIKHANI: I do not often see Ghaffarzadegan moving in line with the waves of fiction writing today in Iran. It seems that you swim upstream, in the direction that is the reverse of others. Is that not so ?

     GHAFFARZADEGAN: First of all, I have no idea what wave you are talking about, and second of all, I do not know how to swim at all; I only try not to sink. That's all.

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Fortune Told in Blood: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Davud Ghaffarzadegan (داوود غفارزادگان) was born in 1959.

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