Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Things I've Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi

Here is a summary of Things I've Been Silent About from the Random House website:

Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

Nafisi’s intelligent and complicated mother, disappointed in her dreams of leading an important and romantic life, created mesmerizing fictions about herself, her family, and her past. But her daughter soon learned that these narratives of triumph hid as much as they revealed. Nafisi’s father escaped into narratives of another kind, enchanting his children with the classic tales like the Shahnamah, the Persian Book of Kings. When her father started seeing other women, young Azar began to keep his secrets from her mother. Nafisi’s complicity in these childhood dramas ultimately led her to resist remaining silent about other personal, as well as political, cultural, and social, injustices.

Reaching back in time to reflect on other generations in the Nafisi family, Things I’ve Been Silent About is also a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans many periods of change leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which turned Azar Nafisi’s beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship. Writing of her mother’s historic term in Parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the remarkable “coffee hours” her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.

Things I’ve Been Silent About is, finally, a deeply personal reflection on women’s choices, and on how Azar Nafisi found the inspiration for a different kind of life. This unforgettable portrait of a woman, a family, and a troubled homeland is a stunning book that readers will embrace, a new triumph from an author who is a modern master of the memoir.

My Review:
This was a fascinating reflection on Nafisi's life that seemed to me to be more of a lack of the mother/daughter relationship that she missed out on.   I think it's even safe for me to say that as I started this book I found myself disliking the author because she only seemed to complain about her mother.  I decided to stick it out and after about 100 pages I found myself enjoying the book and by the time I turned the last page I loved it.

Azar had a good relationship with her father and even pitied him in a sense.  She knew her mother did not appreciate her father as a wife looks to a husband because she was always reminding her family about her missed opportunity with her first husband, Saifi.  After their marriage she learned of Saifi's illness so her mother spent her marriage with Saifi taking care of him until he passed away.  They obviously did not spend much quality time together as a married couple, but she seemed to believe in her mind that Saifi was the perfect spouse that she should have been able to spend her entire life with.

We learn of much turmoil between Azar and her mother.  Besides complaining to all, about the loss of her first husband, she also expresses her frustrations about not having been able to realize her fullest potential as an independent woman.  She considers herself a woman wasted because she decided to take care of her husband and children rather than going on to finish medical school.  It seems that she finally is able to gain some satisfaction in life when she is elected into Parliament.

Azar's father was a very interesting individual, but always seemed to have a sadness upon him, which seemed to be from having to live in Saifi's shadow.  To Azar's mother, he would never be as good of a person, or have as much to offer as Saifi did.  I think that when he found himself put in jail for reasons he would never fully understand he was able to reflect on his life and find what may be missing.  He found himself writing poetry and short stories during his incarceration to help pass the time.

We learn a lot about Iranian politics during the time period of this book, which I think may have explained why Azar's mother acted the way she did.  As her mother was growing up she slowly was given more rights as a woman, only to have those rights taken away later in life.  So let me tell you that if you can muddle through the beginning of this book, you will appreciate the life you have once you finish it.

I read this book with my book club and it turned out that I was the only one to actually finish it.  It was difficult to read, but I wonder if part of the reason that I found enjoyment from the pages was the difficult relationship that Azar had with her mother.  Personally, I did not have a good mother/daughter relationship with my mom until after I left home, and then she passed away about a year later.  I think this helped me to connect with the author in a way that the other gals in my group could not.  With themes of family obligations, civil rights, and independence I think this book has a lot to offer and makes a great discussion if everyone in your group can handle reading it.

My Rating: 4/5

Disclosure:  This book is from my personal collection and I read it as a book club selection.

You can check out more great book reviews over at Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday!


Alyce said...

I can relate to not having a good mother-daughter relationship (although it's not something I talk about often). I loved Reading Lolita in Tehran and have been meaning to read this book.

Elizabeth said...

Stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Party Review.

Love your site.

Stop by my blog if you like.

Veens said...

Great review. You are right this would make a lovely book club choice. I have not read books set in Iran, so this is going to be in my wishlist.

DCMetroreader said...

I have meant to read this book, but never got around to it. Despite the difficult subject matter, based on your review, it sounds like a worthwhile read.

Jo-Jo said...

Alyce: I'm glad I'm not the only one! I just keep thinking that all relationships helped to shape us into the people that we are today.

Elizabeth: Thanks for stopping by, I will definitely have to stop by your blog and check it out.

Veens: I find myself drawn to books that are set in the Middle East. The lifestyle is just intriguing.

DCMetro: It definitely was a worthwhile read and I feel that I walked away with something after reading it.

Julie said...

I actually think that I would like this book. That mother reminds me of many I've come across; I want to slap them and say, "Oh, my goodness! You had a choice! YOU decided to make this and that choice, and this is where you are .. It's not because of anyone else, it's YOU!" (but then, I pretty much feel that way about everyone who blames other people and circumstances and whatever on their failure to achieve - I take my blame full on) :) Thanks for the review!

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries