x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Annmarie Schwarzenbach squares up to darkness in Death in Persia

Annmarie Schwarzenbach chronicles her travels in Iran in the 1930s in Death in Persia.

Death in Persia by Annemarie Schwarzenbach.
Death in Persia by Annemarie Schwarzenbach.

Death in Persia

Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Seagull Books


“Slowly, the dream world took a violent hold of me; even more slowly, the fear. And then I began to grasp the deadly size of the country that enchanted us every morning with its beauty and supernatural music,” Annemarie Schwarzenbach writes in her diary shortly after arriving in the Iranian city of Pahlavi (now Bandar-e Anzali).

The high-born German adventurer, journalist, archaeologist and anti-fascist novelist made four trips to Iran between 1933 and 1939, chronicling them in Death in Persia, which has been translated into English for the first time by Lucy Renner Jones.

Schwarzenbach, who has long been a cult figure in European bohemian circles, provides a beautifully written account of her experiences in Iran, where, among other things, she took part in archaeological work.

But those looking for a light travel read would probably be better off reaching for something by Bill Bryson. As the title suggests, Schwarzenbach’s take on life tends to be pretty dark at the best of times: “This book will bring little joy to the reader. It will not even comfort him nor raise his spirits,” she warns in the preface.