Contemporary Non-Fiction: Memoirs
Ardalan, Davar. My Name is Iran (Holt, 2008).
Drawing on her remarkable personal history, Davar Ardalan brings us the lives of three generations of women and their ordeals with love, rejection, and revolution. Ardalan’s Iranian American parents, who barely spoke Farsi, moved from San Francisco to rural Iran in 1964. After her parents’ divorce, Ardalan briefly joined her father in Brookline, Massachusetts, then, however improbably, decided to move back to an Islamic Iran. When she arrived, she discovered a world she hardly recognized, and one which demanded a near-complete renunciation of the freedoms she experienced in the West. In time, she and her young family make the opposite migration and discover the difficulties, however paradoxical, inherent in living a free life in America.
Dumas, Firoozeh. Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of a Global Citizen (Random House, 2009).
Mining her rich Persian heritage with dry wit and a bold spirit, Firoozeh Dumas puts her own unique mark on the themes of family, community, and tradition. Explaining crossover cultural food fare, Dumas says, “The weirdest American culinary marriage is yams with melted marshmallows. I don’t know who thought of this Thanksgiving tradition, but I’m guessing a hyperactive, toothless three-year-old.” On Iranian wedding anniversaries: “It just initially seemed odd to celebrate the day that ‘our families decided we should marry even though I had never met you, and frankly, it’s not working out so well.’ ” Dumas also documents her first year as a new mother, the experience of taking fifty-one family members on a birthday cruise to Alaska, and a road trip to Iowa with an American once held hostage in Iran. Droll, moving, and relevant, Laughing Without an Accent shows how our differences can unite us–and provides indelible proof that Firoozeh Dumas is a humorist of the highest order.
Entekhabifard, Camelia. Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008).
"A courageous book by a gifted journalist that peels back the many layers of repression faced by journalists in Iran. Entekhabifard has written an affecting, emotionally rich memoir that is a must-read for anyone concerned with the current Iranian predicament, women's rights, or the plight of journalists in authoritarian states."-Afshin Molavi
Camelia Entekhabifard was six years old in 1979 when the shah of Iran was overthrown by revolutionary supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Despite the terrors and deprivation of the long Iran/Iraq war, and the constant threat of the religious police patrolling their neighborhood, the Entekhabifards chose to stay in Tehran, incredibly surviving two decades of violent change, though some family members were disappeared by the Ayatollah's military forces.
By the age of sixteen, Camelia was a nationally celebrated poet, and at eighteen she was one of the youngest reformist journalists in Tehran. Just eight years later she was imprisoned, held in solitary confinement, and charged with breaching national security and challenging the authority of the Islamic regime.
After months of solitary confinement and daily interrogation, Camelia confesses to crimes she did not commit, and comes to believe that she is in love with her brutal interrogator. Thus unfolds a dramatic account of this morally ambivalent and emotionally troubling relationship. Once outside of prison, Camelia must struggle anew for her freedom, and find her way out of the compromising secrets she shares with this dangerous and powerful man.
Farmanfarmaian, Monir and Zara Houshmand. A Mirror Garden (Anchor, 2008).
Garmaian, Sattareh Farman and Dona Munker. Daughter of Persia (Three Rivers Press, 2006).
“A lesson about the value of personal freedom and what happens to a nation when its people are denied the right to direct their own destiny. This is a book Americans should read.” —Washington Post
The fifteenth of thirty-six children, Sattareh Farman Farmaian was born in Iran in 1921 to a wealthy and powerful shazdeh, or prince, and spent a happy childhood in her father’s Tehran harem. Inspired and empowered by his ardent belief in education, she defied tradition by traveling alone at the age of twenty-three to the United States to study at the University of Southern California. Ten years later, she returned to Tehran and founded the first school of social work in Iran.
Intertwined with Sattareh’s personal story is her unique perspective on the Iranian political and social upheaval that have rocked Iran throughout the twentieth century, from the 1953 American-backed coup that toppled democratic premier Mossadegh to the brutal regime of the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini’s fanatic and anti-Western Islamic Republic. In 1979, after two decades of tirelessly serving Iran’s neediest, Sattareh was arrested as a counterrevolutionary and branded an imperialist by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical students.
Ghahramani, Zarah. My Life as a Traitor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).
At the age of twenty, Zarah Ghahramani was swept off the streets of Tehran and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side in conditions of legendary brutality. In this richly textured memoir, she tells the terrifying, inspiring story of her time in prison. My Life as a Traitor celebrates a triumph of the individual over the state and is an affecting addition to the literature of struggle and dissent.
Goldin, Farideh. Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman (Brandeis University Press, 2004).
Farideh Goldin was born to her fifteen-year-old mother in 1953 and into a Jewish community living in an increasingly hostile Islamic state--prerevolutionary Iran. This memoir is Goldin's passionate and painful account of her childhood in a poor Jewish household and her emigration to the United States in 1975.
As she recalls trips to the market and the mikvah, and as she evokes ritual celebrations like weddings, Goldin chronicles her childhood, her extended family, and the lives of the women in her community in Shiraz, a southern Iranian city. Her memoir details her parents' "courtship" (her father selected her mother from a group of adolescent girls), her mother's lonely life as a child-bride, and Goldin's childhood home which was presided over by her paternal grandmother.
Goldin's memoir conveys not just the personal trauma of growing up in a family fraught with discord but also the tragic human costs of religious dogmatism. In Goldin's experience, Jewish fundamentalism was intensified by an Islamic context. Although the Muslims were antagonistic to Jews, their views on women's roles and their treatment of women influenced the attitude and practices of some Iranian Jews.
In this brave and dispassionate portrayal of a little-known corner of Jewish life, Farideh Goldin confronts profound sadness yet captures the joys of a child's wonder as she savors the scenes and textures and scents of Jewish Iran. Readers share her youthful adventures and dangers, coming to understand how such experiences shape her choice.
Hakakian, Roya. Journey from the Land of No (Three Rivers Press, 2005).
“We stormed every classroom, inscribed our slogans on the blackboard . . . Never had mayhem brought more peace. All our lives we had been taught the virtues of behaving, and now we were discovering the importance of misbehaving. Too much fear had tainted our days. Too many afternoons had passed in silence, listening to a fanatic’s diatribes. We were rebelling because we were not evil, we had not sinned, and we knew nothing of the apocalypse. . . . This was 1979, the year that showed us we could make our own destinies. We were rebelling because rebelling was all we could do to quell the rage in our teenage veins. Together as girls we found the courage we had been told was not in us.”
In Journey from the Land of No Roya Hakakian recalls her childhood and adolescence in prerevolutionary Iran with candor and verve. The result is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about one deeply intelligent and perceptive girl’s attempt to ï¬?nd an authentic voice of her own at a time of cultural closing and repression. Remarkably, she manages to re-create a time and place dominated by religious fanaticism, violence, and fear with an open heart and often with great humor.
Hakakian was twelve years old in 1979 when the revolution swept through Tehran. The daughter of an esteemed poet, she grew up in a household that hummed with intellectual life. Family gatherings were punctuated by witty, satirical exchanges and spontaneous recitations of poetry. But the Hakakians were also part of the very small Jewish population in Iran who witnessed the iron fist of the Islamic fundamentalists increasingly tightening its grip. It is with the innocent confusion of youth that Roya describes her discovery of a swastika—“a plus sign gone awry, a dark reptile with four hungry claws”—painted on the wall near her home. As a schoolgirl she watched as friends accused of reading blasphemous books were escorted from class by Islamic Society guards, never to return. Only much later did Roya learn that she was spared a similar fate because her teacher admired her writing.
Hakakian relates in the most poignant, and at times painful, ways what life was like for women after the country fell into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who had declared an insidious war against them, but we see it all through the eyes of a strong, youthful optimist who somehow came up in the world believing that she was different, knowing she was special. At her loneliest, Roya discovers the consolations of writing while sitting on the rooftop of her house late at night. There, “pen in hand, I led my own chorus of words, with a melody of my own making.” And she discovers the craft that would ultimately enable her to find her own voice and become her own person.
Kherad, Nastaran. In the House of My Bibi (Academy of Chicago Publishers, 2008).
This is a powerful memoir of a girlhood spent during the upheaval of the Iranian Revolution. From early childhood, Nastaran chronicles vivid recollections of her imprisonment at age 18 on trumped-up political charges. During her brutal incarceration in the women's cell block of Adelabad Prison in the city of Shiraz, in southern Iran, she was tortured and made to live in harsh over-crowded conditions. Many of the people imprisoned at Adelabad were innocent victims of tyranny, and this included Nastaran's brother, Mohammed, 24 years old, who was on death row for his political views and his belief in a free and just society. The Ayatollah Khomeini's secret police executed tens of thousands of young university students and schoolchildren in a sweeping attempt to destroy all signs of modernization and to sever all ties with the West. Nastaran's narrative is a compelling glimpse into this nightmare world.Nastaran grew up in Shiraz, a beautiful garden city, under the protection of Bibi, her maternal grandmother. Bibi mesmerized her granddaughter with countless stories, traditional prayers, and simple yet profound wisdom gleaned from a harsh life. At first it was just Nastaran and Bibi in the house, but when Nastaran turned 6 years old, her mother and brothers came to live with them, turning Bibi's simple home into a microcosm of the clash of cultures that was Iran in the 1970s.Nastaran was torn between the traditional upbringing of a girl her age, and the call of the modern world. She established a special bond with Mohammed, her agate-eyed older brother, who introduced her to the world of ideas, literature, and art. It is the love and nurturing of Bibi and Mohammed that guide Nastaran through her tangled and tumultuous adolescence. This is a dramatic story of struggle and survival, and readers will gain a deeper understanding of a country and its people about which many in the West know very little.
Moaveni, Azadeh. Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran (Random House, 2009).
Both a love story and a reporter’s first draft of history, Honeymoon in Tehran is a stirring, trenchant, and deeply personal chronicle of two years in the maelstrom of Iranian life. In 2005, Azadeh Moaveni, longtime Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, returns to Iran to cover the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As she documents the firebrand leader’s troublesome entry onto the world stage, Moaveni richly portrays a society too often caricatured as the heartland of militant Islam. Living and working in Tehran, she finds a nation that openly yearns for freedom and contact with the West, but whose economic grievances and nationalist spirit find a temporary outlet in Ahmadinejad’s strident pronouncements. Mingling with underground musicians, race car drivers, young radicals, and scholars, she explores the cultural identity crisis and class frustration that pits Iran’s next generation against the Islamic system.
And then the unexpected happens: Azadeh falls in love with a young Iranian man and decides to get married and start a family in Tehran. Suddenly, she finds herself navigating an altogether different side of Iranian life. Preparing to be wed by a mullah, she sits in on a government marriage prep class where young couples are instructed to enjoy sex. She visits Tehran’s bridal bazaar and finds that the Iranian wedding has become an outrageously lavish–though often still gender-segregated–production. When she becomes pregnant, she must prepare to give birth in an Iranian hospital, at the same time observing her friends’ struggles with their young children, who must learn to say one thing at home and another at school.
Despite her busy schedule as a wife and mother, Azadeh continues to report for Time on Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and Iranians’ dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad’s heavy-handed rule. But as women are arrested on the street for “immodest dress” and the authorities unleash a campaign of intimidation against journalists, the country’s dark side reemerges. This fundamentalist turn, along with the chilling presence of “Mr. X,” the government agent assigned to mind her every step, forces Azadeh to make the hard decision that her family’s future lies outside Iran.
Moaveni, Azadeh. Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in Iran (Public Affair, 2006).
As far back as she can remember, Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American. In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds. At home, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran. Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna. For years, she ignored the tense standoff between her two cultures. But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist. This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history. It is also the story of Iran, a restive land lost in the twilight of its revolution.
Moaveni's homecoming falls in the heady days of the country's reform movement, when young people demonstrated in the streets and shouted for the Islamic regime to end. In these tumultuous times, she struggles to build a life in a dark country, wholly unlike the luminous, saffron and turquoise-tinted Iran of her imagination. As she leads us through the drug-soaked, underground parties of Tehran, into the hedonistic lives of young people desperate for change, Moaveni paints a rare portrait of Iran's rebellious next generation. The landscape of her Tehran — ski slopes, fashion shows, malls and cafes — is populated by a cast of young people whose exuberance and despair brings the modern reality of Iran to vivid life. Azadeh Moaveni grew up in San Jose and studied politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She won a Fulbright fellowship to Egypt, and studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo. For three years she worked across the Middle East as a reporter for Time Magazine, before joining the Los Angeles Times to cover the war in Iraq. She lives in Beirut.
Nafisi, Azar. Things I've Been Silent About: Memories (Random House, 2008).
Nafisi’s intelligent and complicated mother, disappointed in her dreams of leading an important and romantic life, created mesmerizing fictions about herself, her family, and her past. But her daughter soon learned that these narratives of triumph hid as much as they revealed. Nafisi’s father escaped into narratives of another kind, enchanting his children with the classic tales like the Shahnamah, the Persian Book of Kings. When her father started seeing other women, young Azar began to keep his secrets from her mother. Nafisi’s complicity in these childhood dramas ultimately led her to resist remaining silent about other personal, as well as political, cultural, and social, injustices.
Reaching back in time to reflect on other generations in the Nafisi family, Things I’ve Been Silent About is also a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans many periods of change leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which turned Azar Nafisi’s beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship. Writing of her mother’s historic term in Parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the remarkable “coffee hours” her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.
Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran (Random House, 2003).
We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true. For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.
Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.
Nahan, Sima. Returning to Iran (Urtext Media, 2009).
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the revolution in Iran. This book is a collection of articles written over more than twenty of those years, from 1986 to 2008. The author's accounts of her travels, mostly to her native city of Tehran, reflect the complexities and contradictions that define Iranian life, culture, and politics. The articles depict the experience of the years since the revolution through the eyes of the people who have lived them. They offer glimpses into many facets of Iranian society: survivors of war and terror, women, dissent, secular intelligentsia, underground culture, and Iranians in the diaspora.
Nemat, Marina. Prisoner of Tehran (The Free Press, 2007).
"What would you give up to protect your loved ones? Your life? In her heartbreaking, triumphant, and elegantly written memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, Marina Nemat tells the heart-pounding story of her life as a young girl in Iran during the early days of Ayatollah Khomeini's brutal Islamic Revolution. In January 1982, Marina Nemat, then just sixteen years old, was arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death for political crimes. Until then, her life in Tehran had centered around school, summer parties at the lake, and her crush on Andre, the young man she had met at church. But when math and history were subordinated to the study of the Koran and political propaganda, Marina protested. Her teacher replied, "If you don't like it, leave." She did, and, to her surprise, other students followed. Soon she was arrested with hundreds of other youths who had dared to speak out, and they were taken to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Two guards interrogated her. One beat her into unconsciousness; the other, Ali, fell in love with her. Sentenced to death for refusing to give up the names of her friends, she was minutes from being executed when Ali, using his family connections to Ayatollah Khomeini, plucked her from the firing squad and had her sentence reduced to life in prison. But he exacted a shocking price for saving her life -- with a dizzying combination of terror and tenderness, he asked her to marry him and abandon her Christian faith for Islam. If she didn't, he would see to it that her family was harmed. She spent the next two years as a prisoner of the state, and of the man who held her life, and her family's lives, in his hands. Lyrical, passionate, and suffused throughout with grace and sensitivity, Marina Nemat's memoir is like no other. Her search for emotional redemption envelops her jailers, her husband and his family, and the country of her birth -- each of whom she grants the greatest gift of all: forgiveness. "
Parsipur, Shahrnush. Women Without Men (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2004).
Shortly after the 1989 publication of Women Without Men in her native Iran, Shahrnush Parsipur was arrested and jailed for her frank and defiant portrayal of women's sexuality. Now banned in Iran, this small masterpiece was eventually translated into several languages and introduces U.S. readers to the work of a brilliant Persian writer. With a tone that is stark, and bold, Women Without Men creates an evocative allegory of life for contemporary Iranian women. In the interwoven -destinies of five women, simple situations-such as walking down a road or leaving the house-become, in the tumult of post-WW II Iran, horrific and defiant as women escape the narrow confines of family and society-only to face daunting new challenges. Shahrnush Parsipur was born in Iran in 1946. While incarcerated by the Islamic Republic in the 1970s she wrote the first part of her masterpiece Touba and the Meaning of Night. Parsipur now lives and writes in exile in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Pedram, Hemila. Bazaar Stories (Lulu.com, 2006).
Through this collection of short vignettes, Hemila Pedram takes you on a personal journey of intimate encounters with memorable characters that she met in Iran. When Hemila visited Iran after twenty-eight years of living abroad, she thought she was going for a summer vacation. Her stay stretched to six months as her trip turned into a healing journey, and she met people whose quiet grace taught her extraordinary lessons about the beauty of the human spirit. Walk through Iran's streets and bazaars and discover the wisdom and humor of merchants, craftsmen, and ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary peace of mind and harmony in an unpredictable world. Hemila shares glimpses of everyday moments that offer universal lessons on love, compassion, and the beauty of being alive.
Rachlin, Nahid. Persian Girls: A Memoir (Tarcher, 2007).
For many years, heartache prevented Nahid Rachlin from turning her sharp novelist's eye inward: to tell the story of how her own life diverged from that of her closest confidante and beloved sister, Pari. Growing up in Iran, both refused to accept traditional Muslim mores, and dreamed of careers in literature and on the stage. Their lives changed abruptly when Pari was coerced by their father into marrying a wealthy and cruel suitor. Nahid narrowly avoided a similar fate, and instead negotiated with him to pursue her studies in America.
When Nahid received the unsettling and mysterious news that Pari had died after falling down a flight of stairs, she traveled back to Iran-now under the Islamic regime-to find out what happened to her truest friend, confront her past, and evaluate what the future holds for the heartbroken in a tale of crushing sorrow, sisterhood, and ultimately, hope.
Sullivan, Zohreh. Exiled Memories: Stories of Iranian Diaspora (Temple University Press, 2001).
'I feel I am the wandering Jew who has no place to which she belongs. I thought I could settle down, but can't imagine staying. Whenever I bought a bar of soap and two came in the package, I thought there would be no need to buy a package of two because I would never last through the second. Why? Because I knew I was returning to Iran tomorrow. So too, I would buy the smallest size toothpastes and jars of oil. Putting down roots here is an impossibility.' These are the words of one Iranian emigre, driven from Tehran by the revolution of 1979. They are echoed time and again in this powerful portrayal of loss and survival. Impelled by these words and her own concerns about nationality and identity, Zohreh Sullivan has gathered together here the voices of sixty exiles and emigres. They come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds and range in age from thirteen to eighty-eight. Although most are from the middle class, they work in a variety of occupations in the United States. But whatever their differences, here they are all engaged in remembering the past, producing a discourse about their lives, and negotiating the troubled transitions from one culture to another. Unlike many other Iranian oral history projects, "Exiled Memories" looks at the reconstruction of memory and identity through diasporic narratives, through a focus on the Americas rather than on Iran. The narratives included here reveal the complex ways in which events and places transform identities, how overnight radicals become conservatives, friends become enemies, the strong become weak. Indeed, the narratives themselves serve this function serving to transfer or transform power and establish credibility. They reveal a diverse group of people in the process of knitting the story of themselves with the story of the collective after it has been torn apart. Author note: Zohreh T. Sullivan is Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of "Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling" and editor of the Norton edition of "Kipling's Kim".
Varzi, Roxanne. Warring Souls (Duke University Press, 2006).
With the first Fulbright grant for research in Iran to be awarded since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Roxanne Varzi returned to the country her family left before the Iran-Iraq war. Drawing on ethnographic research she conducted in Tehran between 1991 and 2000, she provides an eloquent account of the beliefs and experiences of young, middle-class, urban Iranians. As the first generation to have come of age entirely in the period since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, twenty-something Iranians comprise a vital index of the success of the nation’s Islamic Revolution. Varzi describes how, since 1979, the Iranian state has attempted to produce and enforce an Islamic public sphere by governing behavior and by manipulating images—particularly images related to religious martyrdom and the bloody war with Iraq during the 1980s—through films, murals, and television shows. Yet many of the young Iranians Varzi studied quietly resist the government’s conflation of religious faith and political identity.Highlighting trends that belie the government’s claim that Islamic values have taken hold—including rising rates of suicide, drug use, and sex outside of marriage—Varzi argues that by concentrating on images and the performance of proper behavior, the government’s campaign to produce model Islamic citizens has affected only the appearance of religious orthodoxy, and that the strictly religious public sphere is partly a mirage masking a profound crisis of faith among many Iranians. Warring Souls is a powerful account of contemporary Iran made more vivid by Varzi’s inclusion of excerpts from the diaries she maintained during her research and from journal entries written by Iranian university students with whom she formed a study group.