Things I’ve Been Silent About (Memories)
Posted by nliakos on April 15, 2012
by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2008)
I assumed that this was an autobiography, but by the time I came to the end, I realized that it is really an extended memoir about the author’s parents, Ahmad and Nezhat, in whose memory the book is dedicated. Nafisi writes about her two marriages and life both under the Shah and after the Islamic Revolution; but mostly, she writes about her parents, their relationships with others, their relationship with each other and with her and her brother Mohammed. Theirs was a dysfunctional marriage (to say the least) which affected everything and everyone around them. In fact, if Nafisi’s descriptions are true, and I assume they are (but everyone writes from his/her own perspective), her mother was mentally ill. She spent a lot of energy punishing her husband and her children (for anything and everything). It is hard to imagine growing up with such a parent. Nafisi paints her father in a more favorable light; certainly he had a lot of influence on her, yet she concedes that he was weak vis à vis the women in his life.
It was interesting reading about life after the revolution–about how ordinary people learned to lie and deceive so that they could carry on with their normal activities without being arrested. I also enjoyed the glimpses into Persian culture which the book offers.
Nafisi describes her feelings as a new student at an English school (cross-cultural experiences are always of interest to me) but glosses over her experiences adjusting to life in the United States, where she initially went as a young bride to the University of Oklahoma and later returned to live with her second husband and children. She does not write much about her experiences mothering young children. She is very candid about some of the darker parts of her story–not only her mother’s erratic and punitive behavior, but also sexual abuse that she suffered as a child. It is difficult to be honest about such things. But she does not really write that much about herself; the book focuses much more on Ahmad and Nezhat (She quotes extensively from her father’s diaries.) and their relatives and friends of their generation. Along the way, she muses about literature and its influences on her own life and the lives of others. She writes about her parents’ deaths; after all she wrote about her mother’s toxic behavior, I was kind of surprised to see the extent of her grief when her mother died. I suppose that toxic parent/child relationships leave the child always longing for the love which has been withheld; the parent’s death forces an unwelcome closure on that process, making it forever impossible to mend the relationship. I think that in such a situation, I would be not sad that the toxic parent was out of my life, but who knows?
I enjoyed the book a lot.