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Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran [Paperback]

Sharnush Parsipur
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Feb 2004
A modern literary masterpiece, Women Without Men creates an evocative and powerfully drawn allegory of life in contemporary Iran. Internationally acclaimed writer Shahrnush Parsipur follows the interwoven destinies of five women including a prostitute, a wealthy middle-aged housewife and a schoolteacher as they arrive by different paths to live together in a garden in Tehran. Shortly after the 1989 publication of Women Without Men in her native Iran, Parsipur was arrested and jailed for her frank and defiant portrayal of women's sexuality.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 179 pages
  • Publisher: THE FEMINIST PRESS CUNY (15 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558614524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558614529
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 12.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 590,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 29 Jan 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Women without Men is another entry in the growing category of Iranian cultural exports to the U.S., and one of the best. Like the Cannes-winning film The White Balloon, Women without Men presents a much different view of Iranian life than readers might expect based on reports from the evening news--a nuanced, subtle, self-reflexive society much concerned with the role of art in both everyday life and in the turbulent cultural politics of the nation. The story of a group of diverse Iranian women who forge a brief-lived utopian society, Women without Men also addresses, in startling, beautiful prose, the lives of women in any modern society. The fact that these stories can be transposed to, and understood by, Americans, is one of the pleasant surprises of the book; this isn't just a novel for scholars, but for anyone looking for a story that's both entertaining and profound. And, the translators, one Iranian and one American, have done a fabulous job in rendering the Persian into lucid English. I give this book five stars because, even though it's a small book, as one of the very few first rate translations of contemporary Iranian literature, it should be at the top of the reading list for anyone interested in international writing.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Women without Men 13 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback
Set in the time of the Shah, this series of inter-related stories describes the life of five woen in Iran. Gives a moving description of day to day life of women form differenet backgrounds whose lives cross at a time of stress and change for them Lots of metaphor and symbolism. Necessary reading beore seeing the film of the same name as explains much that is just hinted at in film. Very moving.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars worthless 19 April 2012
By Sara
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Nonsense!

I expected much more from a book which has been translated to many languages and is claiming to put the situation of Iranian women in a frame.
As an Iranian woman, I did not enjoy one single page of it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little gem!!! 8 May 2001
By mishalew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Though I stumbled upon the novel by accident, I must admit this book was well worth finding. The stories were simply written but were almost deceivingly fully loaded-- full of conflicting values, political ideology and agendas, and societal turmoil. The compilation of separate women's lives, so different from one another, but joined together by a common thread, hearkens back to a similar style of tale-telling found in many other cultures, such as Amy Tan's novel 'The Joy Luck Club' and the popular film 'How to Make an American Quilt'. Rather than choosing to write a politicized essay or thesis which reaches only a certain segment of the educated and politically literate population, Parsipur chooses to write fiction, laced with raw truths and posessing a clear agenda.
Such tales are typical of the kind that are passed down from generation to generation in order to educate the young about their society's morals or possible pitfalls that may entrap those who stray from the accepted norm. This is not dissimilar from urban legends that adults in American society pass amongst themselves or the fairy tales laced with truths that young children are told before bedtime.
Sometimes the most volitile information is passed down and understood by the most simple or innocuous means, and I think that is a conscious choice that Parsipur has made with this book. She chooses to uncover the double standard that both male and female society is guilty of upholding, the notion of virginity (and the understanding of what it is and what it means), and socially-sanctioned ideas of morality, mortality, violence, and inter-gender relationships through stories that allow the reader to look at how different women deal with the society that they live in.
Because Parsipur does not clearly lay out a list of evils that Iranian society proportedly commits, nor does she specifically glorify other elements of her society, her writing raises many more questions for the reader to ponder. By making the problems personal for each woman, some of the issues that a reader would initally consider black and white suddenly turn grey, which in turn, leads to a greater depth of meaning in her work.
In sum, I was very impressed by the book's simplicity, and appreciative for the brief glimpse through the window to Iranian society that it offered.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The complexity of human nature 17 Nov 2008
By Brian H. Appleton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dear fellow readers,

I have become a personal friend of the author, Shahrnush Parsipur recently as fortunately we both reside in Northern California now. We have common interests as I am an Anglo American who lived in Iran before,during and four months after the revolution and really didn't want to leave. I have some understanding of the complexity of Iranian society. There have been a few articles recently like last summer's National Geographic which try to explain how the private side of Iranians remains very impenetrably private and their public image is one of friendship, hospitality and generosity because this is how they have survived centuries of being invaded and conquered....sugar coated lies and taroff (honorifics)...making total strangers feel good and everyone feel important...while hiding from them what you really think...it is bitter sweet, it is something I love and hate...

When I read this "magical realism" or surreal style of writing, I not only recognized Iranian social complexity but in fact a certain universality about human nature and what experts we human beings are at deceit, especially self deception and denile. The aspiring socialite starving for fame and glamourous life, Farrokhlaga finally finds it in the end by marrying an older diplomat and living abroad, no romance but life style she wanted after years of trying to be the hostess of literary salons or become a member of parliament or even write poetry, all without success because other than her sophisticated physical beauty she had no real talent.

Fazieh always in love with Amir, her best friend Munis's brother, finally settles for being his secret second wife on the side with a seperate houshold.

The author on the one hand captures how in real life everything is compromise. Nothing is black and white or pure like we are told it is supposed to be as children, in real life and yet at the same time the author tells fairy tales in this book and takes us into metaphysical realms with ease having come to realize that despite our dualistic nature, essentially we are spiritual beings with spiritual as well as earthly needs. We are capable not only of wickedness but also redemption, not only of hiding with our fears in the darkness but basking with our glories in the sunlight... For me, the gardener represents what goodness a man without lust is capable of and he is the antithesis of the first gardener who in a few short sentences manages to seduce a 15 year old servant girl and then disappears into the night.

It is not just Iranian society but all society where people worry about their social image, their reputation, their virginity...it is all societies where people want their daughters to marry "well" or into a "good" family and then the young couples sacrifice their personal happiness and true love for years in the process and resort to total animosity, misery or affairs, divorce, etc. Shahrnush captures that quality of life that is disturbed. There is something unsettled about human nature, never completely happy, always striving to relieve boredom or find something new to obsess about til that grows tiresome and then it is on to the next conquest, or country or party or husband or or or...to be totally satisfied with life is to be dead...

Still in a few short pages, she does a masterful job of painting a picture of the social rot, the exploitation of women, the vulnerability of women and how they manage to escape it; their ability to survive and carry on despite the social and political pressures...and although the particular fungus she describes is Iranian, it grows everywhere in one stripe or another...and life is a disease with no cure, life is terminal...and that said some of her most beautiful pages present death as a crystalline and light transcendence, as procreation and bounty in nature like the person tree turning into a hill of seeds to be carried to all corners of the earth by wind and wave...which was what she always wanted in life...

It's definately worth a read, it has the surreal beauty of South American writers like Borges, the portrayal of life's absurdity stuck in a loop of Kafka and the existentialism of Camus...and I look forward to reading her "Tuba and the Meaning of Night" and hope that the other dozen books of hers will be translated soon.

She recently became a US citizen and I wish her every success and happiness in her new country.

Brian H. Appleton
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 29 Jan 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Women without Men is another entry in the growing category of Iranian cultural exports to the U.S., and one of the best. Like the Cannes-winning film The White Balloon, Women without Men presents a much different view of Iranian life than readers might expect based on reports from the evening news--a nuanced, subtle, self-reflexive society much concerned with the role of art in both everyday life and in the turbulent cultural politics of the nation. The story of a group of diverse Iranian women who forge a brief-lived utopian society, Women without Men also addresses, in startling, beautiful prose, the lives of women in any modern society. The fact that these stories can be transposed to, and understood by, Americans, is one of the pleasant surprises of the book; this isn't just a novel for scholars, but for anyone looking for a story that's both entertaining and profound. And, the translators, one Iranian and one American, have done a fabulous job in rendering the Persian into lucid English. I give this book five stars because, even though it's a small book, as one of the very few first rate translations of contemporary Iranian literature, it should be at the top of the reading list for anyone interested in international writing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honored to Read; Discuss; and Perform for Shahrnush 30 Aug 2008
By Rebecca Lynn Horst - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is a work of a genious abstract vision of womanhood through the eyes and Persian ethnic culture of the author. It relates to the reader of every culture. I have had the honor of reading this book numerous times, researching, analysing the characters and themes. This is a novel with touches of prose and poetry. It is a story of female rivalry through the Persian ethnic culture that is influenced by Islam. It requires the abstract vision of the reader to find, see, and understand the many layers of truth in each character, their relationships, and their transformations. As an actress I was honored to perform the world debut of the stage performace, adapted by Diana Bigelow on August 1, 2, 3 of 2008. Even more wonderful was to perform in front of Shahrnush Parsipur, herself, and discuss aspects of her life and the book with her. I am Rebecca (Becky) Horst and played the part of Faizeh, a very complicated and real character with flaws that exist in every woman in every culture. I will cherish the experience for the rest of my life.

Faizeh's flaws are difficult to accept. She has a innocent vision of how her life "should be." She is waiting for "Her night in shining armor and the white picket fence." She presents her virginity as a code of female honor and judges others by adherance to traditional female duty. When this vision is burst through loss and exploration of woman-hood through communal living with women in a magical garden; she changes. These chages are for the reader to discover; but I found them facinating and evident of the abuses women place on themselves and men. I had difficulty accepting Faizeh as an actress. Her uninhibited behavior expressed in this book is the controversy. It is a controversy of womanhood not culture and religion which Parsipur has been unfairly accused of by her native country.

Through the vision of Diana Bigelow, I saw the book in the mirror of Anglo-American ethnic culture through dress and behavior. The story was somewhat stripped of Parsipur's Persian ethnic background and given my own. I was able to see that, as a women, we are all similar through rivalry, expectations/transformations in life, and treatment of men.

I recomend treating this piece of writing as a work of poetry. The symbolism cannot be ignored. A basic understanding of Islamic culture is necessary. The only warning I have is that this is not a throw away romantic paperback novel. I recomend reading interviews of Shahrnush Parsipur to understand her heritage and the perspective of the audience the book was originally written for in the Persian language.

The most intersting thing I learned in conversation with Shahnush is that this book is her reaction to Hemingway's "Men Without Women"

Shahrnush jaan, Thank you for this gift to women all over the world. Hugs to you. Becky
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly humorous . . . 9 April 2010
By Ronald Scheer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After the author's monumental novel "Touba," this novella is both as serious and light-hearted as Pedro Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Parsipur's unabashed subject matter is the mindless subjugation of women among tradition-bound Iranians, where fear of losing her chastity keeps a girl in the story from climbing trees and a jealous brother may take a knife to a sister whom he believes has dishonored the family.

As chance would have it in the world of this novel, a murdered and buried woman can come back to life with an even greater appetite for living. A woman may also choose to transform herself into a tree in order to travel the world (you may have to read the book to learn how that works). Or she may take to the road after years as a cheerful sex worker when her customers begin showing up without heads on their shoulders - then after pregnancy with a gifted gardener she may gradually disappear before giving birth to a lily.

Set in 1953 during the CIA-backed ouster of left-leaning prime minister Mossadegh, which figures as little more than a nuisance while domestic discord rules the lives of its characters, the book is a mixture of dark humor, fable, and a call for the release of Iranian women from male oppression and social limitations.
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