Daily Archives: February 13, 2009

Things I’ve been Silent About by Azar Nafisi

Things I’ve Been Silent About is the memoir of the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book I found very boring despite its critical acclaim and intriguing subject matter: a group of women who study banned Western novels in Tehran. This book recalls the author’s entire life starting with her parents’ marriage within the comfortable lifestyle of the Iranian elite.

It’s not an idyllic childhood. Her mother, who herself lost her mom at a young age and was reared none too kindly by her stepmother, clearly prefers her son to her daughter and is drawn to complicated behaviors and demands with everyone, and especially her daughter. Her beloved father is imprisoned under trumped political charges and increasingly maintains a second life with other women, avoiding his wife but never coming clean with her. The author is sent to England and later Switzerland to study and is left alone at a young age in an unfamiliar country with a different language.

I liked two aspects of this book. One is the intertwining of personal and public history: how her dad’s rise in the Shah’s government changed the family, how his imprisonment broke it up, how the Iran revolution divided her extended family in unexpected and tragic ways. The other is the painful, detailed accounting of her mother’s convoluted, needy, miserable self. Was she doomed from the start or could she have been transformed with just a little TLC as a child?

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Disquiet by Julia Leigh

Prepare to be depressed. The 120 pages of Disquiet describe a family where nothing works: the grandmother lives in splendid isolation and self-centeredness in her French chateau. The daughter has left her abusive husband and seems only marginally able to tend to her young son and daughter. The son’s wife has just had a stillborn daughter. (I feel bound to note that France has an extremely low rate of stillbirths contrary to one might think from the books I’ve been reading.) The son’s wife walks around with her dead baby and refuses to bury it. The son holds secretive cellphone conversations with his mistress. The children come close to drowning.

Happy yet?

The very beginning of the book is breathtaking (for me): the daughter, returning to the chateau after a long absence, finds that the main gate is locked electronically and goes hunting for a small side door she remembers. You can feel the ivy in her hand.

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Filed under New fiction