Review: Bijan & Manije by Ali Seidabadi and Marjan Vafaian

Bijan & Manije, retold by Ali Seidabadi, illustrated by Marjan Vafaian, translated by Azita Rassi (Tiny Owl Publishing, 2016)

Bijan & Manije
retold by Ali Seidabadi, illustrated by Marjan Vafaian, translated by Azita Rassi
(Tiny Owl Publishing, 2016)

Bijan & Manije is one of the stories from Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the collection of Persian myths and legends collected and retold by 10th-century poet Ferdowsi. Ali Seidabadi’s retelling here gives every twist and turn of the story at break-neck speed, without a word out of palce: this is definitely an epic tale that keeps readers on their toes!

In essence, the story tells of how Persian youth Bijan takes on a quest to rid the neighbouring Armenians of a herd of marauding wild boar ‘with tusks like granite’. Unfortunately the general sent along to protect Bijan is not as brave, and runs away.  To cover his cowardice, he persuades Bijan to go take a look at the beautiful gardens nearby: but the gardens belong to the tyrant King Afrasahib of Turan, an enemy of Persia.  Things become more complicated because Bijan and King Afrasahib’s daughter Manije fall in love – and she certainly isn’t going to let the enmity between their two countries get in the way of their future happiness.  They just need some help from various quarters along the way…

The illustrations are wonderful – so clearly rooted in their Persian culture but with a fantastic, contemporary feel.  Indeed, Marjan Vafaian’s figures are unmistakeable.  The colours, patterns and extraordinary perspectival relationships between the different elements within each illustration all add to the reading experience.  Children will find them intriguing – and the spacious, white background to each double-page spread offers all the more breathing space to engage with them.

Azita Rassi’s translation begins with ‘Once upon a time’ and ends with ‘happily ever after’, offering clear signposts to children of the fairy-tale quality of the story. There’s everything here – love, bravery and adventure; fear and hardship; and, of course, a satisfying, happy ending.  What I especially like about it is the concise way the many events of the story unfold – and that even so we emerge with a strong sense of characterisation.  The good are not completely good; and the bad are not completely bad – so slightly older children will be left with some interesting questions to ponder.


 Read a review of author Ali Seidabadi’s beautiful picture book poem  A Rainbow in My Pocket

 Read author Mitali Perkins’ ‘Children’s books in Iran: A Chat with Ali Seidabadi‘ (2013)

 Read MWD’s interview with Delaram Ghanimifard, co-founder of Tiny Owl Publishing (including illustrations from Marjan Vafaian’s picture book The Parrot and the Merchant)

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