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