Persian Girls

I just finished this book on my lunch break today.

It was heart-breaking and eye-opening.

One of the critic quotes reads, “Nahid Rachlin’s memoir reads like a novel- suspenseful, vivid, heartbreaking.” I definitely agree with those three adjectives. I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted to find out the whole story and to understand what her current perspectives are.

I did find, however, that it seemed autobiographical almost to a fault. There are some details that are glazed over and some time periods that are ignored. I was left wanting to learn even more. Of course, that would have made the book three times as long, I’m sure. The way it is written, and the story she tells, makes me trust her facts and opinions. It doesn’t seem like she made up any details to replace things that she didn’t know or remember. I can respect that very much.

To that effect, the reader is left only with what the author knows. And it’s unfinished in some ways. The final line of the book almost sent tears down my face. Somehow, after everything she went through, she was strong enough to write truthfully about her life.

What was personally interesting to me, was comparing the timeline of events to what I know of my father’s life. Nahid (I feel like she’s my friend after reading this, so we’re on a first-name basis now.) is older than my dad, but as she recalls events, I can try imagine where he was in his life at that time.

I don’t know how my grandparents did it, but it seems like they sent my dad and is brother to the US in the nick of time. The Iranian revolution happened in 1979 and it was right around that time that he came to the US. As the revolution continued, travel and communication between the US and Iran was nearly impossible. My dad was in high school during the hostage crisis in 1979-1981. In his first year there (in Adam’s Friendship, WI) he says he was a novelty. He was elected as homecoming king! But then things got very tense. The hostages were held for over a year and between hearing my dad’s stories and reading this book, things were not very good or easy for Iranians in the US at this time.

Another critic quote that I found to be accurate was this, “Hers is one of the voices that must be heard if Iranians and Americans are ever to understand each other.”Oh, this one gets me. Iranians are not bad people. Just as Americans are not bad people. But does each culture have some evil wackjobs? YES!

Her story starts in the 1950s. She talks about Iran oil and how people from other countries worked in refineries and other jobs. Most of them were American or British. The Shah at the time wanted to be modern and Westernized, but this caused a backlash among Iranian citizens. And I can’t really blame them. Americans and British were taking over jobs and money that an Iranian could work and earn. Earlier, Americans and British helped create a government police force that put the Shah into power and helped keep him there. They would execute those who dared speak out against him, and that kept getting worse as they gained more and more power.

In 1979 Khomeini took power and pulled Iran back into it’s religious roots. It seems to me that he got rid of all the good things the Shah did (like women’s rights, more religious freedom) and expanded on the bad (state controlled media, increased police power). No one Nahid talked to in the book was happy. They talked in hushed tones about how the current situation wasn’t what they fought and hoped for.

The government still presses down on people in Iran. They have the so-called “Moral Police.” If a man and woman are walking hand-in-hand, it is well within their rights to stop them and demand to see documents proving they are married, for that is the only way that behavior is allowed. It is my belief and understanding that very few people in Iran want to live like that. Times are changing. In my dad’s pictures from his trip to Iran, there are very few women who dare to wear anything but dark colors outside, and they always observe hejab, or the head scarf to cover their hair. But in the privacy of their own home, it’s another story. The scarf comes off and the bright, modern clothes shine.

I felt intensely connected to this book. The stories she shares are beautiful, although sometimes a little shocking (especially related to women’s rights and marriage). I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just looking for a summer read, but I think her perspectives and opinions as an Iranian American are interesting, informative, and invaluable. Maybe now, more than ever.

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