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Things I've Been Silent About

Things I've Been Silent About

3.0 25
by Azar Nafisi

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I started making a list in my diary entitled “Things I Have Been Silent About.” Under it I wrote: “Falling in Love in Tehran. Going to Parties in Tehran. Watching the Marx Brothers in Tehran. Reading Lolita in Tehran.” I wrote about repressive laws and executions, about public and political abominations. Eventually I drifted


I started making a list in my diary entitled “Things I Have Been Silent About.” Under it I wrote: “Falling in Love in Tehran. Going to Parties in Tehran. Watching the Marx Brothers in Tehran. Reading Lolita in Tehran.” I wrote about repressive laws and executions, about public and political abominations. Eventually I drifted into writing about private betrayals, implicating myself and those close to me in ways I had never imagined.
—From Things I Have Been Silent About

Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

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.

Things I’ve Been Silent About is, finally, a deeply personal reflection on women’s choices, and on how Azar Nafisi found the inspiration for a different kind of life. This unforgettable portrait of a woman, a family, and a troubled homeland is a stunning book that readers will embrace, a new triumph from an author who is a modern master of the memoir.

Editorial Reviews

In her bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi wrote about growing up intellectually adventurous in the midst of the Iranian Revolution. In Things I've Been Silent About, she ventures into matters even more private, yet still deeply knotted into political and social upheavals in her homeland. As in her previous books, Nafisi renders her family's story rather than simply laying out its elements. Her father and especially her mother emerge as full-blooded people, both talented and tormented. An absorbing memoir about a distant culture that seems so close.
Michiko Kakutani
Things I've Been Silent About is a kind of companion volume to Ms. Nafisi's stunning 2003 memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, but in these pages she turns her focus from life in Iran after the Revolution to her own family, giving us finely etched portraits of her tempestuous, authoritarian mother, and her doting, unassertive father, who was a mayor of Tehran under the Shah. By its end the book builds into an affecting account of a family's struggle to survive the vicissitudes of political and personal strife
—The New York Times
Francine du Plessix Gray
Nafisi's sensory descriptions of Tehran life—the "enticing cacophony" of its streets, the daily forays her mother makes to the market, where she appears to be "so much at home in this world of chocolates, leather, and spices"—are as vivid as the portraits of her exotically dysfunctional family…an utterly memorable (pardon the alliteration) memoir.
—The Washington Post
Elaine Sciolino
A gifted storyteller with a mastery of Western literature, Nafisi knows how to use language both to settle scores and to seduce. Her family secrets pour forth in a flood of revelations of anger, humiliation and deceit.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Nafisi follows up the internationally acclaimed Reading Lolita in Tehran with another memoir, concentrating this time on her unhappy family life. Her mother was vocally nostalgic for her first marriage to a man who died two years after their wedding day, while her father sought the company of other women-not so much for sexual excitement as for emotional stability. Nafisi's parents' relationship was so off-kilter that when her father, the mayor of Tehran, was accused of plotting against the shah and thrown into jail, one of his main hopes was that it would finally reconcile them. Nafisi grew up determined to "become the woman [my mother] claimed she had wanted to be," but an adolescent education in England and an impulsive first marriage (followed by college in the U.S.) did not bring the happiness she sought. The calm candor with which she narrates her experiences, from childhood sexual abuse to a frightening confrontation when her second husband argues with a religious zealot over her unscarved hair, provides a solid emotional anchor-and the intimate drama at her memoir's core, the conflicting frustration with a parent and the desire for connection, is one that will resonate with readers everywhere. (Jan. 6)

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Library Journal

Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) captures her memories of her mother and father in this story about growing up in the turbulent and politically charged atmosphere in Iran. Central to the book is Nafisi's mother, who adds details and eliminates facts to her life story as it suits her. This element of mistrust is the basis for Nafisi's dysfunctional relationship with this melodramatic woman, who is known for her local coffee sessions that eventually enable her to be elected to Parliament. By contrast, Nafisi's father, who was jailed for his political actions as deputy mayor of Tehran, loves to entertain Nafisi with his tales of the goodness of people even with all the injustice in the world. Her father also gives her the diaries he wrote for her since she was a four-year-old. Fantasy, in various forms, is the mechanism Nafisi's family employs to understand life. Watching Nafisi grow from a child to a mother and a writer shows how her family's story is really her own. Recommended for all public libraries where Nafisi is popular and for all academic collections.
—Joyce Sparrow

Kirkus Reviews
An account of growing up under a chilly, tyrannical parent in a changing Iran, by the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003). An adversarial relationship with her mother defined the choices she made in her life, writes Nafisi, who now lives in Washington, D.C. Raised amid privilege and wealth in Tehran in the 1950s and '60s, the author became aware early on that her parents' marriage, which united two prominent families, was not happy. Both her father and her mother told their children "fictions," she declares, official versions of the family history rather than the truth. She took the side of her literary-minded father, who became mayor of Tehran, and had scant sympathy for her dictatorial, paranoid mother, who lamented the untimely death of her first husband and her inability to go to medical school because of her gender. Nafisi grew up enjoying education abroad and freedoms her mother had never known. During the five years in the '60s that her father spent in jail for "consorting with the opposition," the then-teenaged author agreed to an ill-starred marriage pushed by her mother, simply to get out of the house. While an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, Nafisi divorced her first husband and got involved in the nascent Iranian student movement. "In the seventies it was easy for a young Iranian abroad to be antigovernment," she writes. "Inside Iran, of course, it was a different story." She returned to Tehran shortly after the Revolution in 1979 with her new husband, also an Iranian activist. The young revolutionaries had few illusions about the new Islamic regime, however, and Nafisi and her friends were harassed and imprisoned for their subversive activities. She and herhusband finally decided to leave in 1997. She sees her writings as part of the same decision to reject the "complicity and silent acquiescence," whether to a tyrannical regime or a domineering parent, that have plagued her life both personally and professionally. An immensely rewarding and beautifully written act of courage, by turns amusing, tender and obsessively dogged.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


I have often asked myself how much of my mother's account of her meeting with her first husband was a figment of her imagination. If not for the photographs, I would have doubted that he had ever existed. A friend once talked of my mother's "admirable resistance to the unwanted," and since, for her, so much in life was unwanted, she invented stories about herself that she came to believe with such conviction that we started doubting our own certainties.

In her mind their courtship began with a dance. It seemed more likely to me that his parents would have asked her father for her hand, a marriage of convenience between two prominent families, as had been the convention in Tehran in the 1940s. But over the years she never changed this story, the way she did so many of her other accounts. She had met him at her uncle's wedding. She was careful to mention that in the morning she wore a flowery crêpe-de-chine dress and in the evening one made of duchess satin, and they danced all evening ("After my father had left," she would say, and then immediately add, "because no one dared dance with me in my father's presence"). The next day he asked for her hand in marriage.

Saifi! I cannot remember ever hearing his last name spoken in our house. We should have called him--with the echo of proper distance-- Mother's first husband, or perhaps by his full title, Saif ol Molk Bayat, but to me he was always Saifi, good-naturedly part of our routine. He insinuated himself into our lives with the same ease with which he stood behind her in their wedding pictures, appearing unexpectedly and slyly whirling her away from us. I have two photos from that day--more than we ever had of my own parents' wedding. Saifi appears relaxed and affable, with his light hair and hazel eyes, while my mother, who is in the middle of the group, stands frozen like a solitary centerpiece. He seems nonchalantly, confidently happy. But perhaps I am wrong and what I see on his face is not hope but utter hopelessness. Because he too has his secrets.

There was something about her story that always bothered me, even as a child. It seemed not so much untrue as wrong. Most people have a way of radiating their potential, not just what they are but what they could become. I wouldn't say my mother didn't have the potential to dance. It is worse than that. She wouldn't dance, even though, by all accounts, she was a good dancer. Dancing would have implied pleasure, and she took great pride in denying herself pleasure or any such indulgences.

All through my childhood and youth, and even now in this city so far removed from the Tehran that I remember, the shadow of that other ghostly woman who danced and smiled and loved disturbs the memories of the one I knew as my mother. I have a feeling that if somehow I could understand just when she stopped dancing--when she stopped wanting to dance--I would find the key to my mother's riddle and finally make my peace with her. For I resisted my mother--if you believe her stories--almost from the start.

I have three photographs of my mother and Saifi. Two are of their wedding, but I am interested in the third, a much smaller picture of them out on a picnic, sitting on a rock. They are both looking into the camera, smiling. She is holding onto him in the casual manner of people who are intimate and do not need to hold onto one another too tightly. Their bodies seem to naturally gravitate together. Looking at the photograph, I can see the possibility of this young, perhaps not yet frigid, woman letting go.

I find in the photograph the sensuality that we always missed in my mother in real life. When? I would say, when...

Meet the Author

Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University. She has taught Western literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and the University of Allameh Tabatabai in Iran. In 1981 she was expelled from the University of Tehran after refusing to wear the veil. In 1994 she won a teaching fellowship from Oxford University, and in 1997 she and her family left Iran for America. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic and has appeared on countless radio and television programs. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.

Brief Biography

Potomac, Maryland
Place of Birth:
Tehran, Iran
M.A., Ph.D., Oklahoma University, 1979

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Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a very well written and interesting book. I think the topic of this book is a universal topic about the struggle between children and parents and is not about criticizing Iran or the Iranian government like some people (i.e. the above reviewer) will make it out to be solely because the author is Iranian. However i think this book does point out some very good aspects of Iranian culture that Americans in large part are not familiar with like the Shanameh and the deep roots that literature and poetry have in Iranian culture.

The reviewer above obviously did not read the entire book, since if they had they would know that the author returned to Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution and lived, worked and raised a family in Iran for almost twenty years during her adult life as well spending extensive time in Iran while she was studying abroad.

All in all if you are looking for a good read and an interesting life story which in one way or another most of us can relate to no matter race, religion or country of origin i would highly recommend this book, however if you are looking for a political book about Iran i would suggest you look elsewhere.
PVF More than 1 year ago
This is an enlightening book, because it talks about the culture of Iran and how various family interactions were affected by it. The writing is so excellent that it's hard to believe English is not the author's first language. Some of the information about the political unrest in Iran is fascinating. A thoroughly enjoyable and courageous book.
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Sits alone waiting for hood
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Although this was not as analytical and disciplined as "Reading Lolita.." I found it a very engaging and enlightening counterpoint. The choice to reveal so many details of the family dynamics and the history of the parents (now that both parents are apparently gone) was very positive. It turns out that Nafisi's life (with her moving back and forth between Iran, England, and the US in a very fraught time for her country of origin) was more contradictory, exciting, and challenging than most of the plots of the great novels Nafisi loves to think about (the great writers would have to have kept things more structured!). The book moves along almost on 2 separate planes: what is happening in her personal life or in that of relatives and then what is happening politically in Iran. Although she claims NOT to want to outline the history of Iran or this period -- nor the politics, the book, in fact, provides selected and useful information along with remarkable insight into this extremely complicated country. I felt comprehension, wonder, anguish, and fear at what it all means for our global future. As to the choice of such honesty in relating family, for me this was a very welcome contrast to what I see as the American tendency to sanitize matters and seek the sentimental "reconciliation", create a family picture that is nicer than the reality (unless of course the members are still locked in full-blown animosity.) Applying the same maxim she uses in literary criticism - that good novels represent what is true, even if profane - her message seems to be that we, too, can survive honesty in confronting our own family histories. And in the process learn from history, avoid repeating so many mistakes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
rossberliner More than 1 year ago
"Things I Have Been Silent About" is an interesting and readable book that does not have the strong political, educational or cultural insight and message of the author's previous, Reading Lolita in Tehran". The book takes us into the author's family and her friends, lovers and world. It is revelatory but ever mindful that some of the people are still alive and her memories are less angry or meditative than real life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another engrossing read from Nafisi, didn't want to put it down. More self-indulgent (analyzing family issues) than prior books, so not as hard-hitting and eye-opening on Iranian issues, but still a great book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This woman left Tehran at the age of thirteen. Therefore, the experiences in the book are through the eyes of a child. This book is good if it is read as a piece of fiction, however, I don't think this book is very accurate in the impressions it leaves one with about Tehran. Because, they are being told to us from a child's point of view. I hope more people will chose to visit the country instead of simply reading books like this.