MANSURI, ZABIH-ALLAH

MANSURI, ZABIH-ALLAH (Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Ḥakim-Elāhi Dašti, b. Sanandaj; d. Tehran, 8 June 1986), prolific, and arguably the most widely read journalist, writer, and translator, who also wrote under the pseudonyms “Nāṣer” and “Pištāz” (Etteḥād, p. 134). His date of birth is variously recorded as: 1909 (Afšār, p. 589; Etteḥād, p. 134), 1895 (Ṣāleḥyār, p. 135), and 1897 (Jamšidi, p. 48). On account of these conflicting figures, he has been dubbed as “a man without a birthday” (Bāstāni Pārizi, p. 807).

Mansuri was born into a lower middle class family. His father was a civil servant, with no literary sensibilities. His relatives on his mother side were religious scholars. He had two brothers and one sister. His younger brother, Rażi-Allāh Ḥakim-Elāhi, was allegedly arrested together with other members of “The Group of Fifty-Three “ (Goruh-e panjāh o se nafar), a group of left-leaning political activists, led by Taqi Arāni, who were charged with propagation of Marxist ideology and jailed in 1937. Mansuri dedicated many of his books to the memory of Rażi-Allāh, who died at the age of 21 (Emāmi, 1988, p. 54).

Mansuri learnt French at the Alliance Française of Kurdistan in Sanandaj, run by French missionaries, and later by taking private lessons from a physician in Kermānšāh. However, after his father’s death he had to give up his formal education to support his family. After taking up various jobs, such as typesetting, he began to work as a translator with the newspaper Kušeš, founded by Šokr-al-Allāh Ṣafavi in Tehran. This proved to be a lifelong cooperation. He went through all stages of journalism, from parliamentary, judicial, and political reporting to writing the journal’s editorial articles. His main task, however, remained the translating of serial stories.

In 1927, while still with Kušeš, he began working for the newly established Eṭṭelāʿāt, the oldest running Tehran afternoon daily newspaper, founded in 1923 by ʿAbbās Masʿudi (1901-1974). He also translated a few books that were serialized in the widely circulated Kayhan, a daily newspaper founded by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Farāmarzi in May 1942.

His journalistic and literary career could be divided into three interrelated periods. Up to 1941, he translated mostly romantic love stories, along with fast- moving thrillers of murder, intrigue, blackmail, and espionage by Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). They were serialized in Kušeš from 1927 onwards. His translations were instrumental in introducing many Western literary figures to the Iranian public, notable among them André Maurois (1885-1967), and Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). Zanbur-e ʿasal, his highly popular translation of The Life of the Bee, by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), the Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist, and Nobel laureate in literature in 1911, was first serialized in Kušeš in 1929 and then published as a book. It went through over thirty reprints in less than a decade, and made Maeterlinck a widely read author in Persian translation.

Throughout the second period of his career, beginning with the occupation of Iran in 1941 by the Allied Forces, and the subsequent abdication of Reza Shah, and ending with the overthrow of Mohammd Mosaddeq’s government in 1953 (see COUP D’ETAT OF 1332 Š./1953), he mainly translated and authored politically charged books and articles. Under pseudonyms he wrote political commentaries for Irān-e mā, an influential liberal paper with a nationalistic orientation, founded by Jahāngir Tafażżoli (1914-1990) in Tehran in 1943 (Jamšidi, p. 120). In the 1950s, his translation of Winston Churchill’s six-volume account of the Second World War was first serialized and then published as a book in 1965 to great success.

The CIA-assisted 1953 coup was a watershed in Iran’s history. The state censorship tightened its grip on the press, and serialized stories replaced heated political debates. Mansuri produced many of his controversial works, mostly historical or religious, in this period (Jamšidi, p. 38). In a sense, he no longer translated during this period. Rather, drawing from an encyclopedic knowledge of historical, geographical, and religious events and issues, he produced, or in his own words ‘adapted’ two or three serials for each issue of Ḵᵛādanihā, the twice-weekly journal founded by ʿAli-Aṣḡar Amirāni in 1941 (Afšār, p. 589). He sprinkled his works with detailed descriptions of scenes, characters, and events. “He was more an author than a translator (Behzādi, pp. 130-31); he “read a book and, in his own words, re-composed it to the taste of Persian readers” (Emāmi, 1988, p. 76); and he imagined names for imaginary writers who were, “like the narratives themselves, the figments of his rich imagination” (Milani, II, p. 874). He once expanded an article of 24 pages into a book of 620 pages. It was first serialized in Sepid o siāh and later published as Maḡz-e motafakker-e jahān-e Šiʿa (The think tank of the Shiite world, 1975). He also rewrote a work of forty pages into a serial story spanning more than fifty issues of the weekly sepid-o-siāh (Behzādi, p. 134). 

Mansuri’s translations caused a great stir and invoked harsh criticism. They were decried as “figments of his own imagination” (Fulādvand, p. 79) and as “the rewriting of a book, of which he has only read one page” (Minovi, p. 17). Not all commentators, however, concurred with such harsh statements. He was praised for writing in a simple, unadorned, correct, and fluent language (Sayyār, p. 667) and for rewarding two or three generations of young readers with the pleasure of reading, “by no means a mean achievement” (Emāmi, 1987, p. 62). According to a noted historian, “Mansuri is not a historian. He writes historical stories … He is certainly the most popular Iranian writer since the emergence of the press in Iran” (Bāstāni Pārizi, p. 55). As held by another critic, “Mansuri’s novels are not read exclusively by housewives and retired old men. Many doctors, engineers, and educated people are among his fans … Forget about Mansuri the translator, just raise your hat to Mansuri the writer” (Emāmi, 1977, pp. 59-60).

Mansuri’s writings, in particular his historical novels, enjoyed a wide readership, selling for more than a decade (1978-88) in huge numbers, rivaled by only a few, in Tehran and other cities (Jamšidi, p. 19; Emāmi, 1977, p. 60; Behzādi, p. 126). Most noted among his books are: Sinuha, pezešk-e maḵṣuṣ-e Ferʿown (Sinuheh, the Pharaoh’s personal physician 1985), Ḡazāli dar Baḡdād (Ghazali in Baghdad, 1984), Maḥbus-e Saint Helen (The prisoner of St. Helena, 1984), Ḵodāvand-e ʿelm o šamšir (The god of knowledge and the sword, 1969), Ḵᵛja-ye tājdār (The crowned eunuch, 1968), Šāh-jang-e Iraniān dar Čālderān (The decisive battle of the Iranians at Chalderan, 1976), ʿĀyeša baʿd az Payḡambar (Ayesha after the Prophet, 1979), Sarzamin-e jāvid (The eternal land, 1990) and Delāvarān-e gomnām-e Irān (Unsung heroes of Iran,1984). To these should be added the popular stories he serialized in the 1950s in Sepid-o-siāh, such as ʿOššāq-e nāmdār (Famous lovers) and Bozorgtarin jahāngardi-e bašar: zendegi-e māgžellān, daryānavard-e Porteqāli (Man’s greatest world exploration: the life of Magellan, the Portuguese sailor).

Under the drastically changed conditions of the Iran of the 1980s, the demand for biographies of historical figures, as well as historical novels, experienced an increase, on a scale unprecedented for several decades. Mansuri’s books satisfied this nostalgic demand and sold the most. “With a genius peculiar to him, he leads the disorientated readers to a neverland, reviving what has been suppressed by the Revolution” (Barāhani, p. 99). According to Karim Emāmi, “His works, completed or otherwise, were published as hardcover, gilt-titled books after the Islamic Revolution. They amused readers throughout the long nights of horror of the Iran-Iraq War” (Emāmi, 2001, p. 48).

The supposed number of works that he had either ‘adapted,’ or translated from English or French, range from 1,400 (Ṣāleḥyār, p. 135) to 130 titles (Afšār, p. 590). As held by a critic, out of more than 450 of his detective stories that were serialized in Kušeš, only 64 were published as pocket-sized popular books (Jamšidi, p. 83).

Mansuri, according to himself, was “a scribe under contract” (Behzādi, p. 123) and saw it as his business to keep the readers engaged and the editors satisfied. In a series of articles entitled Donyā-ye nāšenāḵa-ye seḥr-o-jādu (The unchartered world of sorcery and magic), published in Sepid-o-siāh in 1971, he pleased many readers by assuming the mantle of a clairvoyant fortune-teller (Jamšidi, p.62). According to Hušang Etteḥād, he also functioned as a ghostwriter in several cases and had been hired to compose dissertations in medicine, law, and literature for thirteen graduate students (Etteḥād, p. 140; Jamšidi, p. 94). Despite the long years of hard work, however, he only managed to eke out a modest livelihood.

Mansuri “was a stern, dour, introvert person, who would not let anyone into the sanctity of his personal life” (Behzādi, p. 118). He had no close friends, though he had talked of his friendship with Sadeq Hedayat and Nima Yushij (Jamšidi, p. 103).

Mansuri was Iran’s first champion in lightweight boxing. He married late and had two children: a daughter Homā and a son Siāmak. In 1969, the Iranian Writers and Reporters Syndicate held a ceremony in his honor, in which the Syndicate’s lecture hall was renamed as Zabihollah Mansuri Lecture Hall (Jamšidi, p. 81).

In frail health towards the end of his life, Mansuri found the task of writing increasingly difficult, and in order to fulfill his commitments he had to dictate his stories to his daughter (Jamšidi, p. 38). He died on 8 June 1986 at Šariʿati Hospital in Tehran.

Bibliography:

Iraj Afšār, Nādera-kārān (The notables), ed., Maḥmud Nikuya, Tehran, 2003.

Jaʿfar Āqāyāni Čāvoši, “Kārgāh-e ketābsāzi-e Manṣuri, Našr-e dāneš, April/May, 1988, pp. 76-79.

Reżā Barāhani: Kimyā va ḵāk (Elixir and earth), Tehran, 1985.

Moḥammad Ebrāhim Bāstāni Pārizi,Dar yād-e Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri,” Āyanda, February/ March 1987, pp. 804-8.

ʿAli Behzādi, “Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri ānṭowr ke man šenāḵtam,” in Esmāʿil Jamšidi, Didār ba Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri, Tehran, 1998, pp. 115-56.

Karim Emāmi, “Padida-i be nām-e Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri-e motarjem,” Našr-e dāneš, February/March 1988, pp. 52-61.

Idem, “Bāz ham darbāra-ye Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri,” Našr-e dāneš, April/May, 1988, p. 76.

Idem,“Naqš-e nāšerān dar oft-o-ḵiz-e tarjoma-ye adabi,” in Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e noḵostin hamāyeš-e tarjoma-ye adabi dar Iran, (Collection of essays presented at the first seminar on the translation of literary works), ed., ʿAli Ḵazāʿifar, Mašhad, 2000, pp. 45-56.

Hušang Etteḥād, Pažuhešgarān-e moʿāṣer-e Irān VIII, Tehran, 2003, pp. 134-78.

Moḥammad-Mehdi Fulādvand, “Masʾala-ye dorost-nevisi va ḵiānat dar tarjoma,” Našr-e Dāneš, April 1978 (no. 3), p. 79.

Esmāʿil Jamšidi, Didār bā Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri (An encounter with Zabihollah Mansuri), Tehran, 1988.

Abbas Milani, The Eminent Persians: The Men and Women Who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979, Syracuse, N.Y., 2008.

Mojtabā Minovi, “Mojtabā Minovi: pažuhešgar-e sotihanda,” Ketāb-e emruz, Autumn, 1973, p. 17.

Ğolām-Ḥosayn Ṣāleḥyār, Čehra-y maṭbuāʿt-e moʿāṣer, Tehran, 1972.

Ğolām-ʿĀli Sayyār, “Darbāra-ye Ẓabiḥ-Allāh Manṣuri,” Āyanda, December, 1986-January 1987, pp. 666-68.

(Ḥassan Mirābedini)

Cite this article:

Ḥassan Mirābedini, “MANSURI, ZABIH-ALLAH,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/mansuri-zabih-allah (accessed on 11 April 2016).