Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nonfiction November: Memoirs by Iranian and Iranian-American Women

The topic of Week 2 of Nonfiction November is Be/Become/Ask the Expert, hosted by Leslie at Regular Rumination. For this topic, participants are invited to share a list of titles that they have read on a particular topic, create a wish list of titles that they'd like to read on a particular topic, or ask fellow Nonfiction November participants for suggestions on a particular topic.

The topic I've chosen to tackle is Memoirs by Iranian and Iranian-American Women--Beyond Persepolis. First of all, let me note that I would never call myself an "expert" in this topic. I became interested in reading more nonfiction and memoirs by Iranian women after I read Marjane Satrapi's phenomenal graphic memoir, The Complete Persepolis. When I finished Satrapi's book, I wanted more . . . and so I read additional titles by women from Iran. There are still more that I would like to read. An expert, I most certainly am not--but I'd like to share a few words about these titles with you.

The place to start with memoirs by Iranian or Iranian-American women, in my opinion, is The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi's unique memoir-in-comic strips was first published in France in two volumes in 2000 and 2001, originally as Persepolis I and Persepolis II. Now you can buy them in one combined volume, and believe me, you won't want to read part I without going on to part II. Satrapi's clever, edgy, and sometimes hilarious memoir details her experiences growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The daughter of well-educated and progressive parents, Satrapi was only ten years old at the time of the fundamentalist revolution, and of course it turned her world upside-down. It's no exaggeration to say I couldn't put this book down; as I read it, the story inhabited my dreams.

Nahid Rachlin's Persian Girls: A Memoir, published in 2006, is another story of coming of age in Iran, but quite different than Satrapi's. Rachlin and her sister Pari, growing up during the reign of the last Shah, hoped to leave the repressive, male-domininated society of their birth behind and live out their dreams of becoming a writer and an actress in the West. Only Rachlin managed to escape the weight of family expectations, however; she compares her own story with that of Pari, who is forced by their father to marry a cruel and wealthy man in Iran. As you might expect, Rachlin's fate contrasts sharply with that of her sister. Persian Girls is a poignant and compelling memoir. Rachlin has also published several novels, including Jumping Over Fire and The Heart's Desire.

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran is Azadeh Moaveni's interesting account of her identity and experiences as an Iranian-American. Moaveni grew up in California, the daughter of Iranian exiles. Although she appeared to be a typical California girl on the outside, inside she felt the pull of the country of her parents' birth. After college, Moaveni moved to Iran to work as a journalist. In this book, published in 2005, Moaveni searches for her own identity, as a citizen of two very different societies. She also reports on the rebellious younger generation of Iranians, who chafe against the restrictions of the Islamic Republic. I enjoyed reading Lipstick Jihad, but I often felt that, in this book, Moaveni was torn between writing a personal memoir and a journalistic account. The book is a bit of both, and they don't always mesh together seamlessly. Moaveni has also written Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran about her marriage to an Iranian man.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, published in 2003, is a collection of short essays describing the author's childhood as an Iranian immigrant in California. This is a sweet, quick read, with an emphasis on the cultural confusion of recent immigrants and the absurd lack of knowledge of Iran or Persian culture by most Americans. I was especially amused by the author's struggles with her hard-to-pronounce (for Americans) Persian first name, and how she learned to answer to "anything beginning with F." I can relate--my first name is also Persian, and I've often said that I have to answer to anything beginning with L! I found this book to be a very pleasant read, although at times I wished Dumas had left humor behind and explored some of her themes more deeply. For example, she provides fascinating hints of what it was like to be an Iranian immigrant in America DURING the hostage crisis, when anti-Iranian prejudice in America was at a high point, and I felt this issue could have been developed further. Dumas is also the author of Laughing Without An Accent: Adventures of an Iranian-American, at Home and Abroad, which I would like to read.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is Azar Nafisi's account of teaching seven bright female students in her Tehran home in the 1990s. Nafisi, a former professor at the University of Tehran, met weekly with this group for two years to discuss forbidden classics by Western authors such as Nabokov, Fitzgerald, and Austen. I must confess that I have not yet read this book. I am including it in my list because it is probably one of the most well-known (in America, in any case) nonfiction books by an Iranian woman. I am interested in the perspective of any of you who have read the book. I know that reactions among some of my book-loving friends have been mixed, but I suspect it is a must-read for me as someone interested in women's experiences in Iran. Nafisi has also written a memoir of her childhood and family in Iran called Things I've Been Silent About: Memories, which sounds like a book that I'd like to explore. Nafisi's most recent book, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, an exploration of three classic works of American fiction, was released last month.

The above books are some important nonfiction titles written by Iranian or Iranian-American women, but I don't want to imply that I am the absolute expert on this topic. I'd love to hear other suggestions, and I welcome your comments. I look forward to reading other posts this week from participants in Nonfiction November.

Do you enjoy reading memoirs or other nonfiction titles about life in other countries? What country would like to read more about?

10 comments:

  1. I really really loved Persepolis and Reading Lolita in Tehran, both of them totally blew me away as I had no idea at all about life in Iran and they were just fascinating and such incredibly strong women! I've added all of your others to my wish list, thank you for a great post!

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    1. It's incredible to read about the lives of women in a repressive regime, isn't it? Makes you appreciate our freedoms and liberties in the West. Writing this post has reminded me that I really need to read Nafisi's books!

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  2. I've only read Persepolis (loved it!) and Reading Lolita in Tehran (loved the memoir part but the literature part was tough not having read all of the books). If you're willing to venture out of Iran, there's a memoir called the Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah (she's British) that talks about her journey to Afghanistan to look for her roots. Persian Girls sounds like a good next step for me!

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    1. Storyteller's Daughter sounds great! Thanks, I'll check that out. I have read a few books about Afghanistan, including Jenny Nordberg's awesome Underground Girls of Kabul, which I just finished. I think a lot of bloggers have read it, but I need to write a review of it to convince anyone who hasn't!!

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  3. I love when a book sets off a reading chain like this! Believe it or not, I actually saw the movie (cartoon) version of Persepolis before I saw the book...I don't think I even knew the comic existed until I saw the credits!

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    1. I haven't seen the movie yet! I first read Satrapi's book because I wanted to see the movie--and then never watched it. Ok, maybe we need to pick up Middle Eastern food and watch it this weekend.

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  4. I think Funny in Farsi and Persian Girls look great!

    I just posted my review of Without You, There Is No Us...

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    1. I feel like I am traveling around the globe with some of these nonfiction titles! North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Guatamala, ancient Egypt and Rome . . .

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  5. I absolutely loved Lipstick Jihad! I haven't read "Reading Lolita" yet either but I keep feeling like I should.

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    1. I need to read it so I can at least say I got through my own list!

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