I just love my book club. The fact that each time the host/ess chooses a book, which we all then read and discuss, gives me the opportunity to get a taste of new genres, authors and countries that I may otherwise not have experienced.
So when our Iranian hostess informed us of the Book of Rustem, and I got to see the beautiful illustrations, I knew I was in for a treat: a sort of fairy-tale, set in beautiful Persia.
The book reads very comfortably - it helps that I've read the Bible, because the style is comparable. Continuous repetitions and use of the superlative set the scene and provide the background for the reading experience.
The main character is Rustem and his adventures - but before that, we get a glimpse of his predecessors, who are implicated in a repetitive pattern of family feuds, heroic fights, plenty of courage shown, as is the quest to avenge for any wrong-doing...
The book of Rustem is very detailed when describing the armies, the glory of a victorious battle but also the fear of God - pretty much like the Old Testament. Also like in the Bible, we get several instances when the fate of people and especially babies is determined by the wise men and/or particularities of the day. So, when Sahn, chief of armies of Minuchir, has a son with white hair, he is ready to get rid of him (not only does this remind me of Abraham and his son but also his sacrifice). A bird rescues the child and raises him. When Sahn realises what he's done, he searches for his son who he names Zal, the aged.
Then, we're in for a little soap opera - Zal and Rudabeh, from opposing houses (Romeo and Juliet?) - hair ladder used in order to meet (Rapunzel?) Their offspring, Rustem (finally - enter the main character!)
Future generations will be presented, always with someone along the line who will not pay attention to the wise words of the elder Zal, who will think his will is above everyone else. Enter Kai Kaoos, who dares besiege the enchanted Mazinderan, and is, together with his whole army, rendered blind.
As with the Bible, I place a huge question mark on the age of the characters, the physical strength and the biological abilities of them to live beyond what we would consider an average life. There must be a different time measurement used... (also, horses live a very long life).
Rustem is portrayed throughout the side stories as the hero who remains loyal and wise, ready for action. In total, seven labours of Rustem are described in this book - resembling the 12 labours of Hercules, maybe?
I was intrigued by the way damsels in distress are described - all dainty and immediately in love with their conquerors - as in all the fairy tales I've known. What is interesting is the date of this book, which precedes by far the known tales. As such, Rustem marries beautiful Tamineh and has a son, Sohrab, unbeknown to him (of course).
Sohrab grows up to be exactly like his father (again, of course) and he is faced with a girl-ninja - finally! That at that era, writers would even think of such a possibility, let alone dare to write about a girl growing up knowing martial arts and not only winning Sohrab but also canny enough to deceive him... yes! I thoroughly enjoy this bit.
It is inevitable that Sohrab and Rustem will meet in fight (each not knowing who the other is) - a reversed Oedipus Rex, in that the father will kill the son.
And so the fairy tale ends. Throughout the book, the idea of fate, of helplessness, of lives being sacrificed to save others provided an interesting reading as well as an insight into the works of a bygone era. Heroes not only have tremendous powers, but their experience will make them win over and over again.
The book of Rustem is certainly a classic and proof that there is great work of fiction everywhere in the world.