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.
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 lifethe "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
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
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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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...