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Things I've Been Silent About
Cover of Things I've Been Silent About
Things I've Been Silent About
A Memoir in Moments
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"Absorbing . . . a testament to the ways in which narrative truth-telling—from the greatest works of literature to the most intimate family stories—sustains and strengthens us."—O:...
"Absorbing . . . a testament to the ways in which narrative truth-telling—from the greatest works of literature to the most intimate family stories—sustains and strengthens us."—O:...
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Description-

  • "Absorbing . . . a testament to the ways in which narrative truth-telling—from the greatest works of literature to the most intimate family stories—sustains and strengthens us."—O: The Oprah Magazine
    In this stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, Azar Nafisi shares her memories of living in thrall to a powerful and complex mother against the backdrop 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 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).

    BONUS: This edition contains a Things I've Been Silent About discussion guide.

    Praise for Things I've Been Silent About
    "Deeply felt . . . an affecting account of a family's struggle."New York Times

    "A gifted storyteller with a mastery of Western literature, Nafisi knows how to use language both to settle scores and to seduce."New York Times Book Review

    "An immensely rewarding and beautifully written act of courage, by turns amusing, tender and obsessively dogged."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "A lyrical, often wrenching memoir."People

Excerpts-

  • Chapter 1 Saifi

    I have often asked myself how much of my mother's account of her meeting with her first husband was a figment of her imagination. If not for the photographs, I would have doubted that he had ever existed. A friend once talked of my mother's "admirable resistance to the unwanted," and since, for her, so much in life was unwanted, she invented stories about herself that she came to believe with such conviction that we started doubting our own certainties.

    In her mind their courtship began with a dance. It seemed more likely to me that his parents would have asked her father for her hand, a marriage of convenience between two prominent families, as had been the convention in Tehran in the 1940s. But over the years she never changed this story, the way she did so many of her other accounts. She had met him at her uncle's wedding. She was careful to mention that in the morning she wore a flowery crêpe-de-chine dress and in the evening one made of duchess satin, and they danced all evening ("After my father had left," she would say, and then immediately add, "because no one dared dance with me in my father's presence"). The next day he asked for her hand in marriage.

    Saifi! I cannot remember ever hearing his last name spoken in our house. We should have called him--with the echo of proper distance-- Mother's first husband, or perhaps by his full title, Saif ol Molk Bayat, but to me he was always Saifi, good-naturedly part of our routine. He insinuated himself into our lives with the same ease with which he stood behind her in their wedding pictures, appearing unexpectedly and slyly whirling her away from us. I have two photos from that day--more than we ever had of my own parents' wedding. Saifi appears relaxed and affable, with his light hair and hazel eyes, while my mother, who is in the middle of the group, stands frozen like a solitary centerpiece. He seems nonchalantly, confidently happy. But perhaps I am wrong and what I see on his face is not hope but utter hopelessness. Because he too has his secrets.

    There was something about her story that always bothered me, even as a child. It seemed not so much untrue as wrong. Most people have a way of radiating their potential, not just what they are but what they could become. I wouldn't say my mother didn't have the potential to dance. It is worse than that. She wouldn't dance, even though, by all accounts, she was a good dancer. Dancing would have implied pleasure, and she took great pride in denying herself pleasure or any such indulgences.

    All through my childhood and youth, and even now in this city so far removed from the Tehran that I remember, the shadow of that other ghostly woman who danced and smiled and loved disturbs the memories of the one I knew as my mother. I have a feeling that if somehow I could understand just when she stopped dancing--when she stopped wanting to dance--I would find the key to my mother's riddle and finally make my peace with her. For I resisted my mother--if you believe her stories--almost from the start.

    I have three photographs of my mother and Saifi. Two are of their wedding, but I am interested in the third, a much smaller picture of them out on a picnic, sitting on a rock. They are both looking into the camera, smiling. She is holding onto him in the casual manner of people who are intimate and do not need to hold onto one another too tightly. Their bodies seem to naturally gravitate together. Looking at the photograph, I can see the possibility of this young, perhaps not yet frigid, woman letting go.

    I find in the photograph the sensuality that we always missed in my mother in real life. When? I would say, when did you graduate...

About the Author-

  • Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University. She has taught Western literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and the University of Allameh Tabatabai in Iran. In 1981 she was expelled from the University of Tehran after refusing to wear the veil. In 1994 she won a teaching fellowship from Oxford University, and in 1997 she and her family left Iran for America. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic and has appeared on countless radio and television programs. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 10, 2008
    Nafisi follows up the internationally acclaimed Reading Lolita in Tehran
    with another memoir, concentrating this time on her unhappy family life. Her mother was vocally nostalgic for her first marriage to a man who died two years after their wedding day, while her father sought the company of other women—not so much for sexual excitement as for emotional stability. Nafisi's parents' relationship was so off-kilter that when her father, the mayor of Tehran, was accused of plotting against the shah and thrown into jail, one of his main hopes was that it would finally reconcile them. Nafisi grew up determined to “become the woman claimed she had wanted to be,” but an adolescent education in England and an impulsive first marriage (followed by college in the U.S.) did not bring the happiness she sought. The calm candor with which she narrates her experiences, from childhood sexual abuse to a frightening confrontation when her second husband argues with a religious zealot over her unscarved hair, provides a solid emotional anchor—and the intimate drama at her memoir's core, the conflicting frustration with a parent and the desire for connection, is one that will resonate with readers everywhere.

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2009
    Nafisi ("Reading Lolita in Tehran") captures her memories of her mother and father in this story about growing up in the turbulent and politically charged atmosphere in Iran. Central to the book is Nafisi's mother, who adds details and eliminates facts to her life story as it suits her. This element of mistrust is the basis for Nafisi's dysfunctional relationship with this melodramatic woman, who is known for her local coffee sessions that eventually enable her to be elected to Parliament. By contrast, Nafisi's father, who was jailed for his political actions as deputy mayor of Tehran, loves to entertain Nafisi with his tales of the goodness of people even with all the injustice in the world. Her father also gives her the diaries he wrote for her since she was a four-year-old. Fantasy, in various forms, is the mechanism Nafisi's family employs to understand life. Watching Nafisi grow from a child to a mother and a writer shows how her family's story is really her own. Recommended for all public libraries where Nafisi is popular and for all academic collections.Joyce Sparrow, JWB Children's Svcs. Council, Clearwater, FL

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from December 1, 2008
    Nafisis book about clandestine gatherings with other Iranian women to discuss works of Western literature, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), became an unlikely best-seller. In her new, equally compelling memoir, she affirms her belief in the power of literature and the need to speak the truth. Things Ive Been Silent About was the heading for a list Nafisi kept in her diary of painful subjects, primary among them her contentious relationship with her bitterly unhappy mother. Recognizing that her mothers story, and her own, are inextricably meshed with the history of Iran, Nafisi, with diligence and candor, breaks her silence about family traumas and offers a unique and clarifying perspective on Iranian life. Nafisis tenacious mother was one of the first women elected to Irans Parliament. Nafisis valiant father, whose passion for Persian literature ignited Nafisis own literary ardor, was mayor of Tehran under the Shah until he was wrongfully imprisoned in an infamous case of revenge politics. Nafisis dramatic and cathartic account of her difficult childhood, doomed first marriage, and political awakening glimmer with vivid and telling memories of Tehranfragrant and flourishing in her youth, grim and treacherous during the war with Iraq and under Khomeini. With high praise for insubordinate women and inspiring testimony to the liberation and wisdom found in literature, Nafisi celebrates individual expression and the polyphony of a democratic society.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • O: The Oprah Magazine

    "Absorbing . . . a testament to the ways in which narrative truth-telling--from the greatest works of literature to the most intimate family stories--sustains and strengthens us."

  • New York Times "Deeply felt . . . an affecting account of a family's struggle."
  • New York Times Book Review "A gifted storyteller with a mastery of Western literature, Nafisi knows how to use language both to settle scores and to seduce."
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "An immensely rewarding and beautifully written act of courage, by turns amusing, tender and obsessively dogged."
  • People "A lyrical, often wrenching memoir."

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