Iranian writers writing in exile have given us vibrant, passionate and delightfully irreverent works of fiction since the early 1990s. The absurdity of life under the ayatollahs, the momentous days leading up to the revolution that toppled the last Shah, and the sustained oppression, moral and physical, that the people of Iran endured have been subjects of works by writers such as Taghi Modarressi, Reza Barahene and Marjane Satrapi. We have also known Iran, most famously, through Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shah of Shahs (1992), a fine piece of literary journalism about Iran at the cusp of modernity and uncertainty.
Insider: Nafisi in New York. Amy Sussman / Getty Images / AFP
In 2003, another writer got included in what could now be regarded as a genre in itself— Azar Nafisi, with her best-selling debut novel Reading Lolita in Tehran.
Her new memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About, is, as the title suggests, about herself and about her Iran that she has had to censor in her writings. The memoir, she writes, is “a response to my own inner censor and inquisitor”.
Her parents, who have had a profound influence on her life, are no longer alive and in this book, she fleshes out what she left out in her first: her mother Nezhar, an embittered woman who holds on to the memory of her first husband and loathes her family; Nafisi’s father, who introduced her to a wealth of Persian literature; her first impulsive marriage; her education in the West; an ambiguous sense of isolation and belonging that she feels in her exile in the US; and some painful self-revelations from her childhood. Nafisi’s journey is similar to that of Satrapi’s, as we saw in her graphic novel Persepolis.
For someone with so intimate and complex a relationship with Iran, Nafisi, a professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US, tells us little about the country itself—neither the political and cultural ramifications of the revolution nor its modern vicissitudes. It’s a book about her own rage, guilt and salvation. And having known the woman she is in this one, I look forward to Nafisi’s next.