Thursday, April 23, 2009

Love/Hate


Things I've Been Silent About
by Azar Nafisi

Relationships are complicated and often painful, whether it is a relationship with a family member or a home country. Nafisi expresses those mixed feelings, misunderstandings, and manipulations very vividly in her newest book Things I've Been Silent About. Many may remember her prior book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which tells the story of a group of women (Nafisi's former students at the University of Tehran) who met secretly to read and discuss forbidden works of literature after the 1978 Islamic revolution in Iran. Things I've Been Silent About also touches on the power of reading to liberate the mind and spirit in the face of oppression, but also gives us more detail about Nafisi's family and personal life, as well as the recent history of Iran.

Azar Nafisi gives us a window into the rich culture and literature of both ancient Persia and modern Iran, and her descriptions of the marketplaces and natural beauty are absolutely lyrical. Her childhood was relatively privileged. Her father was a close ally of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and for a time he served as Mayor of Tehran. Her mother briefly served in the Iranian Parliament. However, the family had more than its share of sorrow, when her father was imprisoned for several years because the Shah had come to see him as a threat and rival. Nafisi herself was educated here in the United States (at my own alma mater, the University of Oklahoma). While a professor in Tehran in the early 1980s, she lost her job because she refused to wear a veil in public.

Azar Nafisi lives in the United States now and has raised her family here. While she appreciates the opportunities she has enjoyed in our country, her homesickness for Iran is palpable in her writing. She expresses deep love and longing for her home nation but also sadness and even disgust at the way Islamic faith and culture has been corrupted, causing unnecessary grief for so very many Iranian families. Likewise, Nafisi's feelings about her own family, especially her mother (who died just a few years ago) are complex. The two of them clashed almost constantly (her mother strikes me as a manipulative and histrionic person), yet love was present in the relationship and it is clear that Nafisi still grieves the chasms between them that could never be bridged. She is to be commended for writing about difficult, personal subjects so honestly, for in doing so she challenges us to confront the troubled relationships in our own lives and consider if those are worth making the effort to salvage. She also speaks eloquently to the parts of each of us that still long for home, even when we have created a new home that shelters us more adequately.

Things I've Been Silent About is worth reading for anyone who wants to experience a bit of the richness present in the Iranian mind and culture, as well as people who love reading and understand it to be a foundation for the interior life. Nafisi is a wonderful writer - her insights into Iran and her own life speak to all of our common humanity.

Reverent Reader

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