1930s Books in Translation

The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat

Translated from the Persian by D.P. Costello

I was sorting through my bookshop stock when that beautiful picture of an owl caught my attention. I decided that I had to read it when I saw that it was also described as:

a deeply haunting and disturbing gem of world literature.

At only 108 pages it was a very quick read, but I’m not sure that I fully understood what was happening.

The author, Sadegh Hedayat, was born in Iran in 1903, but dedicated his life to the study of Western literature. His books are are now banned in Iran and are coming under increased attack from political Islamists in Europe.  He suffered from drug addiction and alcohol problems and committed suicide in 1951.

I think that an understanding of the author’s situation is key to realising the importance of this novella. It is a dark book, filled with thoughts on violence and death. It has a hallucinatory feel, so I found it difficult to grasp what was happening at all times. The book seemed to float from one scene to another, with no real plot.

The writing was poetic, and there were some beautiful descriptions hidden amongst the dark thoughts:

The sun, sucking with a thousand mouths, was drawing the sweat of my body. The desert plants looked, under the great, blazing sun, like so many patches of turmeric. The sun was like a feverish eye. It poured its burning rays from the depth of the sky over the silent, lifeless landscape. 

I also loved discovering some of the Persian traditions and it has inspired me to find out more about Iranian culture, but I’m afraid that the negatives of this book far outweighed the positives. It was dark, gruesome and impossible to follow. I felt that some of the scenes were there just to cause outrage and controversy, but perhaps they were just an indication of the authors depressive state. Either way this wasn’t an enjoyable read.

Recommended to people who like weird, depressing books with no plot!


Have you heard of The Blind Owl before?

Do you enjoy dark, weird books like this?

Can you recommend a more positive book about Iranian culture?

1930s Chick Lit

The Nutmeg Tree – Margery Sharp

Jane from Fleur Fisher Reads recommended Margery Sharp, as an author who should be read by more people. I struggled to find any of her books as they are now out of print, but then I struck gold and found three all together!

The Nutmeg Tree was first published in 1937 and was probably the 1930s version of chick-lit on its release. It was a lovely, light entertaining read – the perfect antidote to all the depressing books I’ve been subjecting myself to recently.

The story centres on Julia who is widowed after a very short marriage. She decides to leave her daughter, Susan, in the care of her in-laws to pursue a career on the stage. She has no contact with her daughter and is surprised to receive a letter from her twenty years later, begging her to come and visit the family in France.

The point is that I want to get married and Grandmother objects. 

Julia decides to be reunited with her daughter and travels to France at the first opportunity.

The Nutmeg Tree is a heart warming book, packed with details of an English way of life that just doesn’t exist any more. The plot isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it did make me smile!

I would normally have a problem with a character that abandoned her daughter, but for some reason this didn’t really come into it – I loved Julia’s character and just accepted that things were different back then. Julia is such a bold character who finds herself in all sorts of sticky situations – I loved the ingenious ways in which she wormed her way out of trouble and her courtship behaviour was very entertaining.

This book will appeal to fans of Persephone books, and I hope that one day they reprint one of her books as Margery Sharp does deserve to be rediscovered.


Have you ever read anything by Margery Sharp?

Can you recommend any other forgotten authors who are worth seeking out?

1930s Classics Mystery

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier


Rebecca is a book which everyone seems to rave about. The brooding, Gothic mystery sounded like the sort of thing I would love. I hoped that it would become one of my favourites, but although I enjoyed reading it, Rebecca won’t make it into my top 50.

The book begins with a young woman falling in love with Maxim de Winter, but after a hasty marriage she realises that everything she does is compared to Rebecca, Maxim’s seemingly perfect first wife, who died in tragic circumstances a year earlier

It was slow to start, but after about 100 pages I was completely hooked. I loved the first glimpses of Manderley and the vivid descriptions of the house and grounds.

Yes, there it was, the Manderley I had expected, the Manderley of my picture post-card long ago. A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea.

The girl’s jealousy and feelings of inadequacy where incredibly well written, but I was disappointed by the mystery aspect of the book. Although I was vaguely aware that Rebecca’s death might not have been accidental, this wasn’t confirmed until Maxim admitted the murder. I felt that this was too quick – the mystery was solved the moment it was created and I felt let down that I hadn’t had at least a few chapters to try to solve the crime myself.

There were some amazing characters in this book. I loved the way that even the side characters were fully formed. Mrs Danvers was a deliciously dark character and I would love to know more about her.

I thought the book went downhill quickly once we knew Rebecca had been murdered. All the emotion seemed to disappear, replaced with an average police investigation. Did you enjoy this part of the book? I haven’t seen it mentioned before, so am wondering if people just forget that almost half of the book was reasonably dull.

The last page of the book was fantastic. I love the ambiguous ending and the  destruction of Manderley. Do you think all the staff were killed in the fire? Do you think it was started deliberately?

Overall, this book had some amazing sections, but overall I was slightly disappointed. I think this book will grow on me, as over time I will remember the emotional aspects of the book, but slowly forget about the dull half. I would still recommend this to everyone, but I think there are a lot of better ones out there.


Thank you to Sandy for arranging the readalong for this book.

Do you think Rebecca is one of the best books ever written?

Were you disappointed by any sections?