Today my blog is one of the stops on MotherTalk's 15-Blog Tour of Persian Girls: A Memoir by Nahid Rachlin.
Persian Girls: A Memoir; Nahid Rachlin; ISBN-10: 1585425206; Tarcher (October 5, 2006); hardcover; 304 pp.
Publishers Weekly says:
"This lyrical and disturbing memoir by the author of four novels (Foreigner, etc.) tells the story of an Iranian girl growing up in a culture where, despite the Westernizing reforms of the Shah, women had little power or autonomy. As an infant in 1946, Rachlin was given to her mother's favorite sister, a widow who had been unable to conceive, and was lovingly raised among supportive widows who took refuge in religion from their frustrations as women in an oppressive society. But at the age of nine, Rachlin's father, whom she barely knew, met her at school without warning and brought her to Ahvaz to live with her birth family. Miserable in the new household, young Nahid was befriended by her American movie–obsessed sister Pari. Both sisters developed artistic ambitions, but only Nahid managed to escape the typical female fate, convincing her father to send her to college in the U.S. Less lucky is Pari, whose life of arranged marriage, divorce from an abusive husband and estrangement from her son ends in depression and early death. Exuding the melancholy of an outsider, this memoir gives American readers rare insight into Iranians' ambivalence toward the United States, the desire for American freedom clashing with resentment of American hegemony."
When I saw this book come up for review on MotherTalk, I immediately signed up. Particularly in the current political climate, I was hoping that this book would provide a fascinating look into a culture that is, at best, underrepresented in mainstream English language books and, at worst, criticized, discriminated against, and even hated; the fact that the author is a woman made it all the more enticing as I simply can't read enough of how my fellow women live, survive, and thrive in other cultures.
Persian Girls delivers on all accounts and has made me want to learn more not only about this intriguing woman--cappuccino is on me if you're ever in southern Italy Ms Rachlin!--but also about Iranian history and culture in general.
From Rachlin's difficult childhood with a mother that didn't seem to want her and a father that wanted only control to her struggle for independence and acceptance in America, Persian Girls places the reader in the very heart and mind of the author as she rises to each successive challenge placed before her.
From the time Rachlin was taken from the only mother she knew, I found myself cheering her on--a credit to an outstanding opening scene that transports the reader to 1950s Iran amidst a prayer rug, a Koran, rose water, a paraffin lamp, and hot summer nights spent talking about a golden ladder descending from the sky.
And yet Rachlin's writing style isn't nostalgic or wistful. She presents her life with such an objective tone sometimes that I forgot she was telling her own life story--and this is not a criticism. To the contrary, I felt like what I was reading was a true, fair account of events, and knowing that I'm able to trust the author is so very important.
At times, however, I did feel that there was just a bit held back regarding the working through of her feelings in some of her relationships, particularly the most difficult ones; the fact that some family members are still alive surely had something to do with this, but overall I don't find that this guardedness distracts from the memoir. Rachlin gives plenty of clues into her personality to provide the reader with a sense of what the author might've been feeling, and I don't think there's anything wrong with a little mystery in any book, even a memoir.
On another level, Rachlin's expat status in America really spoke to me, and I'm sure to plenty of other expats as well--the feeling of being caught between two cultures, two languages, two ways of life. On whether she regretted her choice to go to America, in a subsequent interview, Rachlin said:
I have never really regretted my choice to come to America, pursue my own goals. But I am always aware of a loss, a price to pay for the independence I have gained. I don't have easy access and closeness to people I love, because of all the distance between us.Indeed I wouldn't mind another memoir (or even a how-to!) from Rachlin on her marriage to an American and raising her daughter in a country that is a sometimes enemy of her own. I look forward to reading Rachlin's fiction as well.
With 4 espresso cups out of 5, I wholeheartedly recommend this memoir to anyone with an interest in women's history, cultural differences, the Middle East, family relationships, love, or, you know, life.
You can read more about Rachlin at her website NahidRachlin.com and interviews with her at Her Circle Ezine and Pars Arts.
You can also join a discussion about Persian Girls at MotherTalk here.