Rituals of Restlessness

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By Yaghoub Yadali

Translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili

Published: June 7, 2016

Paperback: 9781939419828



Engineer Kamran Khosravi wants to die in a car accident.

Or he at least wants it to look that way. His professional life in the Iranian hinterlands is full of bureaucratic drudgery — protecting dams, for example, from looters. His wife Fariba can no longer stand it, and has left him to rejoin her family in Isfahan. She is anxious for him to choose a life with her, or to let her go and persist with things as they are. But Kamran’s issues run deeper than anybody imagines.

Rituals of Restlessness won the 2004 Golshiri Foundation Award for the best novel of the year and was named one of the ten best novels of the decade by the Press Critics Award in Iran. However, in 2007 Yaghoub Yadali was sentenced to one year in prison for having depicted an adulterous affair in the novel. Rituals of Restlessness and his short story collection Sketches in the Garden have been banned from publication and reprint in Iran. This book is the first for Phoneme Media’s City of Asylum Imprint, which showcases books by current and former writers‐in‐residence at the Pittsburgh‐based nonprofit.

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Biographical Note

Yaghoub Yadali, a fiction writer from Iran, has directed for television and worked for Roshd Magazine as the editor of the film section. In addition to Rituals of Restlessness (2004) and Sketches in the Garden (1997) , he is the author of the short story collection Probablity of Merriment and Mooning (2001). His short stories, articles, and essays are published in Iran, Turkey, and the US. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa, Harvard University, and City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, PA.

Sara Khalili is an editor and translator of contemporary Iranian literature. Her translations include Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee, Kissing the Sword: A Prison Memoir by Shahrnush Parsipur, and Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi. She has also translated several volumes of poetry by Forough Farrokhzad, Simin Behbahani, Siavash Kasraii, and Fereydoon Moshiri. Her translations of Mandanipour’s short stories have appeared in the Literary Review, the Kenyon Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, EPOCH, Words without Borders, and PEN America. She lives in New York.


He picked up the telephone to call Fariba, who was sulking and had gone to her father’s house in Isfahan. He hesitated. He could not bring himself to dial the number. What did he have to say to her? She had already decided not to go back to that secluded hinterland where, according to her, she had wasted three years of her youth, lonely and isolated. She would not return, even at the price of a divorce and losing the man she still loved. He had only two options: either give in to Fariba’s wishes and request a transfer to Isfahan, where he would have to live under her parents’ noses, or leave her.

But was his problem the question of where they should live? Or whether they should separate or not? For a long time now, he had stopped caring about what would happen. Whether Fariba would stay or go, whether they would live in a small town or someplace else. He knew that, with or without her, whether they lived in a remote town or in Isfahan or Paris or New York—which Fariba always talked about with envy—none of it would make any difference. What the hell was wrong with him? What was he after? All he knew was that he had to carry out the cold-blooded decision he had made, even at the cost of a human life. He frightened himself. How had he come to this?

He was not in the mood for breakfast. He took a cigarette from the pack that was on the coffee table, lit it, and sank back in the sofa. All he wanted was to just lie there, put his feet up on the table, balance the ashtray on his stomach, puff on his cigarette, and not think about the decision he had made. It was as if there were another Kamran inside him, one who did not want to be so heartless. If only he could just stay there forever, sprawled out and doing nothing. He heard his cell phone ring. He would not have answered it had the number on the screen not been that of the real estate agency.

“Good morning, sir. I’m calling because I have found a buyer. You said you’re in a hurry, and I wanted to let you know as soon as possible so that we can arrange to show him the house.”

“Is it for cash?”

“Of course, sir, all cash. And it’s up to you how much you’re willing to lower the price. As I explained yesterday, cash customers are hard to come by, and I can’t coax and sweet-talk him until he sees the place. Of course, you understand, sir.”

“All right, I should be home this evening around six or seven. If I’m not here, call me and I’ll hurry back. The sooner we wrap this up, the better.”

“Most certainly, sir. I’m at your service. And don’t worry. Even if this one doesn’t work out, I will do whatever it takes to turn the house into cash in a matter of days.”

He hung up and took a deep breath. If Fariba were there, she would say, Don’t they let up even on holidays?

Like that Friday when she had come and stood behind him. Which Friday was it? How long ago? Why could he not gauge time? All he could remember was that he did not close the book he was reading; he sat there, motionless. Then he clasped his hands and rested them on the table. He inhaled the pleasant scent of her Nivea deodorant deep into his lungs. He let her playfully run her index finger through his hair until she reached his earlobe. Then with the back of her hand she stroked his bare shoulders until he had goose bumps, and he waited for her to move closer to his left side so that he could deliberately turn and allow his flushed cheek to brush against her nipple.

“Stop it, girl, stop it.”

Acting childish was for such times.

“I like it. Leave me alone, it’s all mine.”

Fariba’s breezy laughter and that quiet spring morning moved his hand and laid it over hers. He clasped her hand with the intention of lifting it off his shoulder, but the pressure of her body and the scent of Nivea from her underarms mingled with the smell of the onion he had eaten at dinner. He stopped resisting and let her play with the sparse hair on his chest, stroke the skin under his earlobe with her lips and the tip of her nose, and purr, “Do you like it?”

But that time, she neither ran her finger playfully through his hair, nor did she twiddle with the hair on his chest.

She said, “Kamran.”

Whenever she called him Kamran instead of Kami, he knew there was trouble ahead. He closed the book, leaned his elbows on the table, and started drumming his fingers on his head.

“Go ahead, I’m listening.”

“I don’t like things the way they are.”

Something was stuck in his mind. Why could he not turn to her and smile, or even hold her, just like the old days when he would sit her down on his lap and joke around with her and they would pour their hearts out to each other? Just like those Fridays that he could no longer remember.

“Stop it, Kami. Let’s go to bed.”

“I’m not sleepy right now. I’ll be there in half an hour.” “You’re not coming? You don’t like me?”


“Don’t you love me anymore?”

How could he explain something to someone when he could not quite understand it himself? Especially to Fariba, who absolutely did not like hearing anything that went against her wishes.


“As Kamran descends further into a black hole, his nihilistic tendencies come to the fore, at times I was reminded of Dostoyevsky…A readable, enjoyable and enlightening debut in the City of Asylum series and a very worthwhile project to support, one I hope continues for many years to come.” – Tony Messenger

“It’s a fascinating, and surprisingly suspenseful read about the struggle to find meaning in a life that seems largely out of your control.” -Laura Farmer

2004 Golshiri Foundation Award

Named One of the Top Ten Best Novels of the Decade by the Press Critics Award in Iran