Things I've Been Silent About: Memories
Earlier this year I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, and it became one of my more memorable reads of the year; I hope to reread it someday. Having been introduced to Nafisi, I became interested in her speaking engagements about literature, which I watched via Youtube, and other written works.
This book, Things I've Been Silent About, was not on the top of my list - I would rather get a copy of The Republic of Imagination, but my library system does not carry it. Instead I read Things. It is a very long personal narrative that fills in all of the gaps about Nafisi's private life before, during, and a short time after the period covered in Reading Lolita, which mainly focuses on Nafisi as a literary professor in Iran (while intertwining the ever changing political atmosphere into the story).
It is an autobiography, a family story, and a political history of Iran from the author's perspective. Azar was born in 1955. While she retold her personal history, she shared the political changes in Iran, including the Islamic Revolution and the Iraq-Iran War. I only remember the conflict with Iran in 1979 because, as a weird nine-year old I enjoyed current events. I read the newspaper and followed the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Nafisi reserved only one sentence for that event, and did not even mention the hostages. (It is recorded in the back of the book in the timeline.) But it was not important to her history because, at the time, Iran was drastically changing before her eyes. Yet, I remember it because 52 Americans were taken hostage, in Iran, and held for 444 days. I wore my yellow ribbon every day because I was emotionally invested. But I did not know or understand that Iran was turning inside out. For Nafisi, it was her whole world.
|The Iranian Hostage Crisis, 1979|
But the major conflict of the autobiography is the turbulent relationship Nafisi had with her oppressive, explosive, controlling mother and how she rectified it at the end of her mother's life. She also has an unfaithful father, though adultery (mostly with men) seemed expected and acceptable in Nafisi's culture. Aside from his adulterous affairs - emotional or physical - Nafisi had a wonderful relationship with her father; it is through him that she developed her love of literature and poetry. Both of her parents were involved in Iranian politics: her father was the Mayor of Tehran, until he was arrested and sent to prison for several years; her mother was elected to Parliament for a time.
|Azar Nafisi and her mother, Nezhat|
She had the opportunity to study abroad in Switzerland, England, and later the United States. But if these appeared to be wonderful opportunities, they were overshadowed by her chaotic, unstable home life. There was no firm foundation growing up.
Nafisi had a senseless first marriage that did not last; and her second marriage was tested during the time of the Islamic Revolution, but it held firm. She and her husband had two children. They later decided to move to the United States to work and raise their children, away from Iran as it remained oppressive.
At the very end of her story, Nafisi said she learned from both her parents that (and I paraphrase) : all that we think we have - our home, our identity, sense of self and belonging, our very lives, (and I would add family), can be taken from us very swiftly. We cannot count on geography for our homes; we must learn to make our own portable home, through stories and memories and experiences that guard and resist "the tyranny of man and time."
Well, it was a sorrowful story, and I do not doubt that the author suffers still from her past pain. There was an emptiness that I felt while reading it, too, and I know it is because there was a lot of uncertainty in her life, both as a child and even when she wrote this book as an adult. But I do not want to get into it because it involves religion, and I know some people are content believing in nothing or a man-made religion for the sake of tradition. I am not sure if Nafisi practices a religion today or has faith in the Christian God, but she has been accused of spreading "Islamophobia" because she wrote about the darkness of Islam (specifically how it treats women). I feel empathy for her because I know she had to find answers and solutions in her life that are not concrete or permanent. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have read her story.