Sunday, August 08, 2010

Book 81: Things I've Been Silent About

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter by Azar Nafisi

I remember I quite enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran (it even inspired me to read Lolita, which I enjoyed much less), but I can't remember much about it. I have a tendency to enjoy books that talk about books and I enjoyed how Nafisi related the Western novels she and her students read to the oppression they were experiencing on a daily basis.

While books and certain characters play an important role in Nafisi's life, this memoir is about her growing up, her relationship with her parents and the political changes in Iran. I especially enjoyed the beginning of the book, though I lost interest in the middle - I'm not even sure what it was - were the politics becoming too distracting from the personal story or vice versa?

Nafisi and her mother have a very strained and difficult relationship. In fact, the entire family seems to have a strained relationship with her mother. In the beginning of the book, Nafisi also makes comments about betrayals from her father and how they hurt her, but other than a few scenes were she is clearly put in the middle during an argument between her parents, I don't feel like she elaborated or dwelt too much on any of her father's betrayals.

Nafisi's extended family was huge so I had a hard time keeping track of some of the characters, and couldn't always remember if this was the first time they were appearing or if they'd already been introduced previously. A family tree or an index would have been helpful with that, but most of these were minor characters and simply used as examples and for anecdotes so it wasn't necessary to keep all of them straight. The ones that are important appear often enough to be memorable.

She also does a good job of explaining the political situation, and how some of the more liberal people were so ready for change, that they ignored some of the things that Ayatollah Khomeini would mean for the country, and it didn't become obvious until it was too late. While she herself protested against the Shah, she also portrays him kindly. Since her father was the mayor of Tehran for four years, Nafisi grew up with politics. Sometimes, I didn't quite understand the family dynamics. Considering my views of what Iran now is like, I was surprised by how openly her mother seemed to complain to everyone about her marriage. She also seemed to have quite a following in the pre-revolutionary days.

There was one page or two in the later part of the novel that I thought was particularly well-put. She talks about how many of her friends don't agree with all the rules, but rather than protest them openly, they slyly break them at home, such as drinking or reading Western literature. However, she feels like this makes it a dishonest society. She also talks about how even for the most open-minded and liberated man, it can be hard not to fall into temptation, and live with their priviledge while not doing anything about women or asking them why they can't just wear their veil without complaining or trying to make a statement.

While I enjoyed this book, and I also liked reading about the family dynamics, I can see where this wouldn't be for everyone - if someone is looking for a straight-up memoir, they might find the politics too much. If they are more interested in the history of Iran, they might get irritated with all the mother-daughter drama. However, if someone wants a personal story that takes place during an important political moment, this would work. However, it is of course the story of someone priviledged and educated, and probably doesn't represent the average Iranian. Nafisi studied in England and the States, and had the option of leaving Iran.

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