Amir Hassan Cheheltan
Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2009–2010
Jan Gruene/FS Medien
Amir Hassan Cheheltan was born in Tehran in 1956 and began writing stories at the age of 12. After leaving school, however, he chose not to embark on a career in literature, but rather began to study electrical engineering. He already published his first volume of stories in 1976, whilst still studying. The second collection of stories, Am stummen Fenster, which appeared just before the Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979 gave him his breakthrough as a writer.
I live in exile in my own country.
After completing his studies and graduating in Britain, he did his military service during the Iraq War from 1980 to 1988. Back in his home country, the author, who was generally regarded as a critic, repeatedly faced threats, attempts to intimidate him and bans on the publication of his works. He left Iran in spring 1999 and lived in Italy with his family for two years. That was where he produced his novel Teheran, Stadt ohne Himmel. The city plays an important role in his work, and he keeps on portraying it, time and time again. After returning home, he refused to accept the nomination for a state book prize in 2007: Cheheltan’s Iranische Dämmerung was selected as the year’s best novel, but the author refused the honour in a protest letter to the censorship authority because of the cuts and deletions. In September 2015, Kirchheim Verlag published the first complete edition of the novel authorised by the writer. "I live in exile in my own country," is how Cheheltan describes his situation. Meanwhile, having published several stories and novels, he is seen as one of his country's most important authors and has made a name for himself as a publisher in the international media. In October 2015, Der Kalligraph von Isfahan was published by Verlag C. H. Beck.
It was during his time as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in- Berlin Programme that he published the novel Teheran Revolutionsstrasse, initially in German. Whether the book will ever receive permission for publication in Iran is uncertain. The novel is about a young woman from Tehran who is loved by two men. Despite their biographical and personal contrasts – the two do have one thing in common: they are infamous torturers. But it is not the monsters or monstrosities, but rather the oppressive everyday life in Tehran that is the subject of the book. “The truth about a society can be recognised in literature,” says Cheheltan, clearly communicating his approach.
The book is not superficially against Islam or the rule of the Mullahs. But it does clearly show how a system that is not subject to public or democratic control has to fail. The book met with great interest in Germany – also because it clearly provided the social background to the political actions occurring in Iran. It is no wonder then that Cheheltan also became a much sought-after interpreter and analyst in the German media when it came to reports on the latest political events in his country. In April 2015, the author reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the level of oppression that Iranian writers suffer.
Although he is subject to political pressure and intimidation in his native country, Cheheltan lives and works in Iran. “Iran is not only my home,” he says, “but also the home of my language. And language is the primary tool of a writer. Furthermore, there is no other place in the world that could impress me as strongly as my home city of Tehran.”