Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter by Azar Nafisi. Published in 2008.
Synopsis: In this autobiographical follow-up to her best-seller memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi interweaves reflections on her own upbringing, and personal stories of her family life, with the political upheaval that is simultaneously happening in her native Iran. The daughter of both a former mayor of Tehran and one of the first women to sit in Iranian Parliament, Nafisi tells her story from a unique position. This is a highly personal account with tremendous historic significance.
About the Author: Born in Tehran, Azar Nafisi was educated in Iran, England, Switzerland and the United States. Her love of literature, both Persian and Western, is evident in her writing. She has previously taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and the Univeristy of Alameh Tabatabai in Iran. She was expelled from the University of Tehran in 1981 after she refused to wear the veil. Nafisi and her family relocated to the United States in 1997, where she currently is a visiting professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
My Initial Reaction on the Book
Four things stand out to me, one from each of the major sections of the book. In Part One, ‘Family Fictions,’ what surprised me the most was the image of 1940s and 1950s Iran that Nafisi portrays. I was born the year of the Islamic Revolution (1979), and in my lifetime the only Iran I’ve known of has been the anti-American, Islamic state that imposes sanctions on women’s rights and practices Sharia law. Pre-1979 Iran, with fancy chocolate stores and pastry shops, intriguing Persian bazaars, and the beautiful Caspian Sea beaches, portrays a country that I would be quite interested to visit.
Second, I was touched by the story of Dr. Parsay, Nafisi’s grade school principal whom she didn’t have a high regard for until later in life. As a feminist, I am intrigued by stories of women’s experiences in other cultures. In her prime, Dr. Parsay was an accomplished educator, who later went on to become a senator and Minister of Education. What is most disturbing, is the description of her death (p. 68):
After the revolution she was arrested and, in a summary trial, she was found guilty of corruption on earth, warring with God, spreading prostitution, and working for the imperialists. Rumor had it that because she was a woman and was not to be touched, she was put in a sack. The method of her murder was not clear; some said bullets had been fired into the sack, others that she was stoned to death. According to a recent biography she was hanged along with a prostitute, but her death certificate cites “the reason for illness: gunshot wounds.” Was this to be the end in store for those intelligent women who did not go to waste?
Early on in the memoir, Nafisi mentions her father’s autobiography, and how his publisher suggested he leave key elements of his personal life out of the account because they did not perceive them as relevant. I found it interesting that much of Part Three, ‘My Father’s Jail,’ was focused on accounts drawn from her father’s diaries that were not included in his books. It was as if, through this book, Nafisi was paying tribute to the details that should have been included, and which she felt were unjustifiably omitted.
One of the things that struck me the most from Part Four, ‘Revolts and Revolution,’ was how in the 1970s, so many Iranians at home and abroad were in favor of a revolution, albeit a Marxist one. Dissatisfaction with the government was high, and change was perceived as much needed. Change did come, but it was definitely not what was expected. Nafisi reminds us in this section, as well as with the accounts of her father’s four years in prison, that the world as we know it can change at any moment.
So what did you think of the book? Any parts that particularly touched you? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
Next up: The first of our ‘classics’ selections, Truman Capote’s 1961 novel In Cold Blood. Discussion begins September 23rd.