The English translation of the novel Touba and the
Meaning of Night by the pre-eminent Iranian writer Shahrnush
Parsipur was recently released by a major US publishing house in New York. One no longer
needs to have an Iranian passport or an Iranian visa to get onboard Parsipur's
imaginative boat. To make it even easier, her boat sails at all hours from most
bookshops and the entire Cyber Space near you...Her 1989 Women without
Men [Zanan bedun-e
Mardan] has also been available in English (since 2004).
Shahrnush Parsipur &
A decade into the Twenty-First Century and years after small publishing
houses in Europe translated her epic novels into German, Swedish, French
etc-America and the Big Apple woke up to her salient lexis. In the evening of
May 3rd 2006, I met Shahrnush Parsipur for the first time at a Feminist Press reception in New York, where the
English translation of Touba and the
Meaning of Night was being launched.
Shahrnush Parsipur, the giant of Iranian women's literature, was radiant,
relaxed and seemed excited. Shaking her hand nervously, I introduced myself with
my full name and wittingly she responded: "nice to meet you Golbarg Bashi" and
immediately put me at ease. I was in the presence of greatness-I cannot remember
a time in my life when I did not know the name of Shahrnush Parsipur-from my
childhood in Iran when my parents and my book-worm of an aunt Mahru "Mimmi" read
and admired her work, to my adolescence in Sweden where the Persian originals of
her work adorned my family's library, to my student years in Britain where I
wrote academic papers on her fiction.
As she gracefully exchanged greetings with everyone who had come to
attend the launch of her book in English-it felt more like the celebration of a
national icon's lifetime achievements than yet another book launch in New York
Parsipur's Touba and the Meaning of Night
is considered one of the unsurpassed masterpieces of modern Persian
literature. The protagonist of the novel, Touba, a young girl turning into a
determined woman, goes through major personal upheavals throughout a turbulent
80-year long Iranian history. Touba's
life-story is connected to the historical predicaments of her country and thus
makes the novel one of the best works of literature to provide a fictive
narrative of contemporary Iran.
we read Parsipur's Touba
and the Meaning of Night,
we feel that we are reading modern Iranian history but through the perspective
of a distorted vision. But we soon realise that the distortion is less in the
story that we are reading and more in the history that we have learned. Now this
history is turned upside down, and written from the hitherto silenced voice of a
woman. It is the interwoven tale of two fictional readings of two
straightforward histories-Iranian history of the twentieth century and the
ordinary life of a woman who happens to have been named after a legendary
tree. Touba is married to a Qajar prince, she is eccentric but her ordinary
life passes by historical and metaphysical domains. Touba is the fate of
Iranian contemporary history but it is narrated from the hidden side of a
woman's perspective, which to the narrator (Touba herself) seems to have always
been evident but rarely visible in the
Touba's life-story comprises both her own wonderful and magically
realistic language and her ahistorical presence in a country's historical
events. One can argue that in one fictional account Shahrnush Parsipur
counters the entire masculinist historiography (tarikh-e mozakkar) and the
result is a her-story at once empowering and
non-Iranians have had little chance to get to know Touba or her country's
history. In the United States and Europe familiarity with Iran's literary,
historical and political scene (outside the academy) and thus public opinion in
"Western" countries about Iran have been more dis/informed by the media and an
avalanche of autobiographies, by journalists, ex-diplomats or expatriate
Iranians telling their life stories as a plot,
factual or manufactured or a combination of both-most of the time self-serving,
at best an act of narrative therapy, at worst exacerbating "the East/West
divide" and more recently squarely at the service of global neo-imperialism[i].
English translation of Shahrnush Parsipur's Touba
and the Meaning of Night appears
at a time (post 9/11) when
the US and European market has been
flooded by a new genre of English memoirs written by Iranian women and with
publishing houses head over heels signing lucrative contracts with "victimised"
Iranian (or Muslim) women-ranging from Hirsi Ali to Irshad Manji to Azar Nafisi.
As Laila Lalami writes in her review of such works, "Christian
and Jewish women living in similarly constricting fundamentalist settings never
seem to attract the same concern". These types of memoirs seem to have gained
their momentum in the course of the propaganda preparation for the "war of/on
so that, as the distinguished post-colonial feminist Gayatri Spivak says, "White
men [can] save brown women from brown men"[iii].
In the meantime superb Persian novels by authors such as Shahrnush Parsipur,
Moniru Ravanipour, Goli Taraqqi and/or prison memories by committed activists
have had no snow ball chance in hell of getting translated into English,
published or promoted[iv].
One can only hope that with the publication of the English translation of
Shahrnush Parsipur's much-anticipated novel, more high-quality works of
contemporary Iranian literature will become available in languages other than
The first thing that one
notices about this translation is the idiomatic ease and fluent diction with
which the novel reads in English. The translation of Touba
and the Meaning of Night is
quite beautiful. Kamran Talattoff, a scholar of Persian literature, and Havva
Houshmand have done a wonderful job translating one of Iran's greatest
works of literature.
All translations are thankless jobs. The better a translation the more
the translator/s disappear into the prose and diction of the writer they are
transforming into another language.
It is, however, exceedingly important to keep in mind the labour of love
and dedicated scholarship that usually goes into translating a literary
masterpiece. In this respect,
Shahrnush Parsipur has been blessed by exceedingly competent admirers of her
work. This particular translation,
however, is overburdened by too many explanatory accoutrements that in fact slow
down and overtax the literary grace of the text. The novel does not need a foreword, an
afterword and then a biography to introduce it to an English-speaking
readership. To be sure, each one of
these items is quite informative in its own right (especially to students of
literature and history). But their collective imposition on the literary grace
of this novel adds an unnecessary and even distracting succession of alternating
narratives that is damaging to the literary integrity of the work. These
additional narratives project an undue nativist anxiety over the novel-Talattoff
"...every turn of the page of the translation called for
explanations. Parsipur's novel is replete with religious, literary, and other
cultural references. Some readers may not fully appreciate how central to the
narrative is Sufism...fewer are likely to grasp Parsipur's references to the
ethereal girl in Blind Owl by Sadeq Hedayat...They also might easily overlook the
subversion of the symbol of the pomegranate, an image that has symbolized the
feminine in classical works such as those of Nezami Ganjavi...Such footnotes would
have been indeed necessary every time the text refereed too or portrayed
something from the medieval period, or some complex aspect of a society in a
state of transformation from a traditional time to a peculiar mode of modernity.
In the end, we decided that the narrative would have been interrupted too often
if we succumbed to the expedient of footnotes. Instead to the extent that was
possible, we incorporated the necessary information into the
such anxieties may indeed be well-founded, but catering to them is a dubious and
damaging urge. When Gabriel
Gárcia Márquez's works were translated into English, his writings spoke for
themselves and did not need a group of scholars of Latin American literature
putting an explanatory scaffolding around it or contemplating giving it
footnotes or incorporating
"necessary information" into his text or
worrying that the US audience were not going to grasp Latin American concepts
and history. Márquez's words danced freely and spoke volumes to a global
audience-and thus can, I daresay, Shahrnush Parsipur's.
I had read the original Persian of Touba and the Meaning of Night cover to
cover when I was a student in Manchester. At the reception of the Feminist Press for Shahrnush Parsipur I
obtained a copy of its English translation and had her autograph it for me.
Initially, it was a strange feeling to read Shahrnush Parsipur in English. But after a while that sense of oddity
began to fade out and the familiar magic of Parsipur's diction began to work
itself out through the unfamiliar habitat of its English rendition. Touba and the Meaning of Night
simply a stunner (in any language)!
At the conclusion of the reception, I arranged to see Parsipur for lunch
on the following day so I could interview her, and she gracefully agreed. At about noon time the following day,
and over my husband's outstanding Baqali
Polo, we sat down and reminisced about Touba, Mahdokht, Zarrin, Mones,
Farrokh-Laqa and most importantly Shahrnush...
order from amazon
THE TEXT OF THE INTERVIEW WITH SHAHRNUSH PARSIPUR
4th 2006-New York, USA)
Thank you very much for this opportunity to sit down for a
course, with pleasure.
GB: I am interested in your intellectual
topography. I would like to begin to ask you when and how you came to the United
States, and why did you chose this country as opposed to somewhere in
SP: When I wrote Touba
and the Meaning of Night, it
became very successful. I received many invitations from many countries. But the
first country that I came to was the United
States; of course I had invitations from
Sweden as well. But because of my
previous book, Women without Men, I
was arrested. And as a result I could not go to Europe and I came straight to
States. I remained in the United States
for about 9 months and I travelled to a lot places-I delivered many speeches and
saw many cities. At the end of my trip, I went from Iowa to Europe. In
Europe, when I was in England I suffered a mental
breakdown-because I am diagnosed with Manic Depression. I was hospitalised in
England and returned to
Iran in a very bad shape. A year
later, the Germans invited me because of the German translation of Touba and the Meaning of Night-in order
to give a talk in Hamburg. From Germany I called my contacts in the
States, where my other book Blue Intellect [Aghl-e Abi] was about to
come out. Because this book was banned in Iran, my publisher told me why don't you come to
the US to launch the book yourself? I
came to the United
States in order to help publishing my book. I
arrived in New York and one day I was walking
and thinking to myself that I have no future in Iran and they
don't let me work. Last night when we were watching this film about those kids[v],
I thought to myself that all Iranians have to go though this phase, we realise
that we don't have a space in our mother country [jame'ey-e madar] and we have
to leave. I had remained in Iran for about a year, and I could
not make a living. There was absolutely no way for me to make ends meet. No
publisher dared to touch my work. Then I thought about trying to stay and work
in the United
States so I can make a living. It was with this
idea that I came to the United
States and thus a trip that was to last only a month, for
me to just go to Germany and
go back to Iran, turned out to be a journey of
some twelve years. And here too, because of my illness, I have had many
breakdowns and as a result I have not been able to work as I had wished here in
America to make a living. I still
have that dream so I can raise some money and go back to Iran.
Iran, you are best known for your
books The Dog and the Long Winter
[Sag va Zemestan-e Boland], Touba and the
Meaning of Night [Touba va Ma'nay-e Shab] and Women without Men [Zanan bedun-e
Mardan]. How would you divide the various phases of your writing
first phase of my writing is up to The
Dog and the Long Winter, at this period I am a young writer who is either
working or studying and writing. This period begins with the time when I was
fourteen or fifteen years old until about when I was twenty-eight. In this
period, I am writing short stories and I publish them in various periodicals.
But I cannot finish my first novel, The
Dog and the Long Winter, the first section which I had written in fact when
I was eighteen years old. Imagine, at one and the same time I am a university
student, I work for a living and then I married quite abruptly-I have a husband
and a child, I have a lot of customary entertaining that I am obliged to attend
to. In short it's quite a crowded situation.
When I was twenty-eight, I received my bachelors degree. Mind you, I went
to university quite late and attended evening classes which was a six-year
programme. It was two years longer than for those who attended day school. So
then what I did was I summarily divorced my husband [yeh bar-e shoharam ro talaq
gereftam], I completed my degree at university-so two of my problems were
solved. My child and I rented an apartment along with my maternal cousins. It
was there that I began working on The Dog
and the Long Winter. I used to write at night and sleep during the day. This
is the period of my writing during my early youth. Then, I went to
France-during a time of my life when
I was in high spirits. In which period I wrote my book Small and Simple Tales of the Spirit of the
Tree [Majeraha-ye Sad-e va Kochak roh-e Derakht] which I like a lot. It was
after that that the Iranian Revolution happened. The rest of my work is written
during this revolutionary period and after that when I was in prison and upon my
release which is a really terrible period.
So I can consider the period after I turned twenty-eight until the end of
my time in prison and when I left the country, as the second phase of my writing
career. Then I came to the United States and I wrote my Prison Memoir [Khaterat-e Zendan], and
after that I wrote Shiva and after
that I wrote The Proper Etiquette of
Drinking Tea in the Presence of Wolf [Adab-e Sarf-e Chai dar Huzur-e Gorg]
which I had put together earlier. After that I wrote Sitting on the Wing of Wind [Bar Bal-e
Baad Neshastan]. At any rate, I wrote all these books in the United States.
So this would be the third phase of my writing
Which still continues?
Yes, still continues.
your writings I have noted that you are particularly interested in mythical and
ancient cultures and you have extensive knowledge about them, especially in
China, India and Iran. I wanted
to know how and when you become interested in these sorts of subjects and what
has been the influence of this knowledge on your
cannot pinpoint a date in which I can tell you when I became interested in
mythologies. The reason for my interest in mythology was a Chinese book called
I-Ching ...and this book is a
fortune-telling book. But it's a strange book as one of my American friends put
it-this is a book of strategy and tactic. This is a book that consists of
sixty-four tables, each consisting of six lines. Inside this six-line sixty-four
tables, the Chinese do fortune telling, the same thing we do with Hafez by way
of fortune-telling. The Chinese do the same however ordinary Chinese do not use
this book. This book is at the disposal of only the experts. At one point I
noted that these tables resembled a chessboard and chessboard also has
sixty-four squares on which the pieces move with the same logic of probability.
Exactly as in the book I-Ching. This
became very interesting to me, the similarities between these two cultures. I
wondered what kind of relationship could have existed between these two
cultures. Meanwhile I looked at an instrument in Iran called Raml. Raml consists of two cylinders on which
four cubical squares rotate and as far as I could tell that too consists of
sixty-four squares. Because two cylinders times four cubical squares becomes
eight cubical squares, and eight times eight becomes sixty-four, when these
cubical squares rotate. So I discovered something that was very interesting, one
was this book I-Ching, the other
thing was chessboard and the third thing was Raml, which is a small instrument. I had
no doubt that there must be some sort of relationship [khishavandi] among the
three objects and there must be a common ancestor, or parentage for these three
objects. And since the parents are quite close to this phenomenon, we need to
find out their more distant ancestry. It was with these vague ideas that I began
to try to understand Raml. Mind you,
in Iran Raml is a very secretive phenomenon and
not everyone knows about it. Nor do they teach everyone about it. I managed to
find a teacher and brought him home, initially he was playing hard to get and
was reluctant to share his knowledge. In short I was quite baffled as to what
this Raml business is all about. Soon
after that I went to France in 1976. In
France I went to a university, in the
company of a friend. At that university, there was a gentleman-a distinguished
professor, specialising in Occult Science [uloum-e makhfi]. I told that
professor that I have noted these similarities and I really don't know what to
do. He told me to go and study Chinese. So I started studying Chinese. He told
me to study the Chinese Civilisation first, and then proceed to study Indian
Civilisation and then try to connect all of these things together and see what
happens. So I went to the Department of Chinese Languages and Civilisation and
began my course of studies, which in about two years coincided with the Iranian
Revolution. My circumstances in France became rather perilous. In
1980, I returned to Iran. What was your question
question was the influences of...
was through my studies of these three instruments that I was attracted to
mythology. I had purchased a book to translate-it was called Histoire
de Croissance a Des Idea Religieux
History of Religious Belief and Ideas], unfortunately I cannot remember its
author. In that book, I read a number of Sumerian myths. One of which was the
myth of Gilgamesh and other one was
the Sumerian myth of creation. I was deeply influenced by them. From that point
forward, I was deeply enmeshed in mythology and related
What has been the influence of these mythologies on your work? How does it
myths show themselves in part in my Women
without Men, in part in Touba and
Meaning of Night and in a considerable part in my Blue Intellect. Mostly in these three
move to a different subject, I know that you have written extensively about your
prison incarceration. But I wonder if you could tell me now about the reasons
and conditions of your time in prison?
have been to prison four times and I have extensively discussed them in my Prison Memoir [Khaterat-e Zendan]. It is
very difficult for me to explain them again. But I will tell
The first time was because I publicly protested the execution of Khosrow
Golsorkhi and Keramatollah Daneshiyan-they were both poets, on which occasion I
resigned from the Iranian National Television. Because I believed the reasons of
the state for the trial and execution of these poets were not sufficient and it
was wrong. In the letter of resignation that I wrote, I indicated that I was not
opposed to the government [hukumat] or monarchy [maqam-e saltanat], I still am
not opposed to it. But that execution was unjust. At any rate, because of the
circumstances surrounding this resignation, I was arrested and put behind bars
for 54 days. I was incarcerated.
The second time it was in 1981. I had returned to Iran in 1980. I
tried to find a job to earn a living. My sister-in-law had a number of
publications which she used to go and purchase. Both to read and to share with
us. This particular publication was of a leftist leaning. Right now I cannot
remember to which political group it belonged. The name of that publication was
Rahaee [Emancipation]. I used to
borrow it from my sister-in-law and read it. At any rate, a number of this
particular publication had accumulated at my brother's house. When a number of
the leading cadre including Ayatollah Beheshti and his comrades were
assassinated. All of these publications were immediately banned. I went to my
brother's to return my niece. My brother had asked my mother who had at the time
was in the kitchen to get rid of these publications. But my mother had forgotten
and these were left in his car and he had driven to the village of Evin a few days later and these
publications were discovered by the police and the Hezbollah militia. At this
point they arrested all of us. None of us were political activists, neither my
mother, nor my two brothers, nor I. Each one of us was sent to prison for
different reasons and periods. Mine become longer than all of them. It lasted
for four years, seven months and seven day-but I was never officially
On two other occasions, I was arrested after the publication of my Women without Men, when a Hezbollah
affiliated periodical attacked me, claiming that this story is anti-Islamic,
unethical and contrary to this, that, or other things [zede behman]. I was
arrested-I believe in the month of July of 1990. I was in jail for about two
months and my family put my maternal aunt's house as collateral and bailed me
out. After that I reported back to the prison in order to release my aunt's
house from any collateral obligation. These are the four times I went to
Again you have written in considerable detail about your experiences in prison.
Could you just tell me briefly how you reflect back on your prison
During my second term in prison, many executions took place. Large groups of
people were executed. Maybe six, seven thousand people were killed, which later
in addition to the executions that took place in 1988, the number exceeded to
ten thousand deaths. These were exceedingly frightful years. The atmosphere of
prison was terrorising...
Among the books you have written since you came to the United States is
The Proper Etiquette of Drinking Tea in
the Presence of Wolf [Adab-e Sarf-e Chai dar Huzur-e Gorg]. Has your living
in the United
States had an impact on your writing? Do you
consider yourself a writer in exile?
left Iran because I did not have a source
of income. In the United
States, I became a political refugee. Not
initially, because I did not consider it proper to seek political asylum. But
eventually I was forced to do it-because I had no other way of staying in the
States legally. Right now, I live in the
States. I tell you in absolute honesty that my
returning to Iran is an entirely personal question
concerning my family. My son is in Iran and I wish to live with my son.
But I cannot tolerate the atmosphere in Iran-I have become too old to walk in
the streets and a, say, fifteen year-old girl to come and tell me "Hey Sister,
fix your veil" (khahar hejabat-o dorost kon). You know my connections to certain
aspects of Iran have been cut.
Iran is a place where people get on
each other's nerves. It is as if they are striking each other's nervous cords
violently. They create a condition in which one has no choice but sit down and
just cry out loud. The reason for that is simply the fact that the class
differences are quite pronounced. The villagers have invaded the cities. They
are consistently curious to find out how you as an urban dweller live. Thus on
every occasion they grab hold of you and interrogate you. And I for one have no
patience left in me to answer these questions. It is very difficult for me. On
the other hand, I don't really feel at home here in the United States
either. I would have very much liked to have become completely American. But
that is also impossible, because I live in an Iranian domain and about ninety
nine percent of the time, I associate with Iranians. So the expression, choob-e doa sar tala (damned if I do,
damned if I don't), is perfectly applicable to me.
Would you say that your presence in the United States has had an affect on
SP: Yes, right now there is a historicity to my writing. Because I no
longer am in touch with the daily realties of people in Iran. So I am in
effect attending to a history. But I must say that I really wish I could go to
Iran to meet the younger generation.
I mean the young people who are now writing and working. It would be priceless
for me to see them working.
see your point that there is now a certain element of historicity in your
writing but do you also write about the exilic
so far I have not written anything about the United States because if I were to do so I would
have to talk about characters that I have met here in the United
States-bringing them on to the stage. And I
don't think they would want to be dragged to that scene.
Well, I think they would be honoured...My next question concerns the visual
adaptation of your work. Recently Shirin Neshat has adapted certain parts of
your Women Without Men for a video
instillation-in one of which you play a part and I understand that she is also
working on a feature length adaptation of the entire book. I wonder what are
your own thoughts on these visual adaptations of your literary
Well, you see, you write in a certain way and the filmmaker imagines and
portrays your work in a different way. I categorically like and endorse Shirin's
work because she is an artist par excellence and extremely talented and as a
result I believe in this particular work-she is also very successful. Of course
she has made some serious changes in my work but this is the prerogative of any
filmmaker to change the subject in a way that she can turn it into a film. As
for my acting in all honesty, I am not an actress (chuckles). Bringing actors
and actresses from Iran is very difficult. First of all,
Women without Men is banned and the
book itself is quite problematic. The other thing is that the Islamic Republic
does not allow women to appear in movies without a veil so there are these kinds
of problems as well. So the actors and actresses had to be selected in Europe
and the United
States. Well, Shirin was quite limited because
of these restrictions and asked me to come and play the role of the Mother. So I
said fine, I'll do it. And I started acting.
your consider this a positive development-I mean this transformation of your
literary work into a visual work of art.
your work, both in your fiction and in your memoir, you talk quite freely and
frankly about moments of eroticism and sexual intimacy, i.e. you bring rather
private and taboo subjects into the public domain. These I believe are
liberating for your readers. Perhaps preventing women in particular from
experiencing false guilt over these feelings. Where did you find the courage to
write so publicly about these taboo issues?
see, Golbarg jan, from the time I was a young woman I discovered some secrets.
And that was that unless you have sexual experiences you cannot enter the domain
of public work and social activities. Those in power know this fact and thus
transform women to sexual objects. I mean they first and foremost repress and
denigrate women-then they direct them to put a wedding gown on and go to their
husband's home and come out wearing the shroud. I mean to say that they train
women in certain limited roles. So the most important barrier in front of a
woman who has ambitions in creative work and wants to do something important is
to overcome her fear of sexual taboos and matters. It is very funny that in our
society you come across women who are more than seventy years old and still
don't know what an orgasm is. You come across young girls who go to a public
bath and are afraid to sit down for fear of getting pregnant by some semen that
might be floating around. There are some strange fears around which must be
overcome. The way to do so is to talk about sexual matters as much as possible
openly and honestly. In order to make it possible for women to get to know their
own bodies. So she knows who she is and where she stands. Don't get me wrong, I
don't believe in sexual anarchy, not at all. But I completely endorse sexual
freedom. This must come to pass so that women can become somebody. Having said
all of this I hereby declare in this particular historical juncture that in my
judgement the best thing a woman can do is having a husband, live with her
children and carry on a quiet and dignified life!
you concerned that since you left Iran, you may have lost some of your
readership? And would you say that this potential loss may have an influence on
the way you write?
Well, my books keep selling rather well in Iran.
Unfortunately there is no honest publisher in Iran to tell me
exactly how many copies of my books are actually sold. Do you see what I mean?
For example there is a publisher who publishes my Touba and the Meaning of Night or Dog and the Long Winter. I call him
once a year and I ask him, how much have my books sold and when would he give me
my royalties. To which he responds, "I beg your pardon Madame, I still have more
than a thousand copies of your book sitting in my storage". I call him a year
later and he says "would you please Madame, I still have two thousand one
hundred copies of your book collecting dust on my shelves". You see what I mean?
My books instead of getting reduced in number they keep increasing in this man's
inventory. Something fishy is going on. Right now, I have no idea who is reading
me. I have no factual information and this is quite an agonising issue for me.
Because you need to have an active, agile and provocative relationship with your
audience so that you can continue to write. But unfortunately I do not have this
it has had an impact on the way you write now?
That is true.
you have no idea how you are read and understood inside Iran.
That is true.
Right now two of your books have been translated into
Three of my works.
GB: Women without
have a novella called 'Tajrubeha-ye Azad' that appears under the title of Trial Offers in the book that Professor
Heshmat Moayyad has edited and is called Chicago Anthology of Modern Persian
Literature published by MAGE in Washington D.C.
That is right, so those two plus Touba
and the Meaning of Night makes three of your works that have been translated
That is right.
are you now conscious of your English-speaking readership and do you think this
possible attention may have an impact on your writing in the
really don't know my dear-I am sixty years-old. When I write, still,
Iran remains my main frame of
reference. Do you see what I mean? Because I have not experienced the American
society intimately. I do live in the United States but I live amongst the
Iranians. But this is a time for me to discover what Americans say about my work
and how they connect to it. In other words, I will discover what Americans think
of my work. Time will tell.
other words, you are still not conscious of what your English-speaking
readership thinks or does not think of your work?
That is true.
But if you were to become conscious of that audience-it will have an impact on
your work, right?
Perhaps. I don't know.
that would lead you to write about issues in this
Perhaps. So far I have not written anything about the place where I
would also like to ask you about the writers that you have read and admired,
both in the past and right now, and been your
writers more than anybody else have had influenced my work. One is Dostoyevsky
from Russia and Charles
Dickens from Britain. I have read them a lot. I
have been extremely influenced by these two writers. Dostoyevsky, I loved so
much that when I used to attend an Italian school run by catholic nuns-on every
Sunday there used to be a special programme that they would sit us down and
preach to us-I used to think that if I were to become a Christian and I were
asked to wed the Christ, I would wed Dostoyevsky. This is how much I loved
Dostoyevsky. As for Charles Dickens, I read one of his works called Great Expectations thirty-three or
thirty-four times. The last time I read it was in fact when I was in prison in
the Islamic Republic and I noticed that I still loved it-it is yet to tire me.
But the interesting things is that I have not read anything else by Charles
Dickens. I have just read this one book over and over again. Among the French, I
love Honore de Balzac. Two Latin Americans have heavily influenced me-I adore
Gárcia Márquez and
I love Gorge Louis Borges and people like them. I am very sad that I don't know
anything about contemporary Chinese or Japanese literatures. I believe that if I
were to know these two literatures, I would have been influenced by
Have you read all of these authors in their Persian
Yes, I have read them all in Persian.
among Iranian authors have influenced you most?
Sadeq Hedayat. His Blind Owl has had
a tremendous impact on me. I have used Hedayat's Blind Owl in Touba and Meaning of Night. In my Blue Intellect, I have extensively used
the Blind Bowl. There seems to have
been a constant challenge between me and the Blind Owl in these two
know that you say that you are not a political person-but do you follow the
political news for example the issues concerning the women's movement inside
Look, I read this news-but they don't touch me. In other words, I am not
constantly engaged with them.
they do interest you, right?
course they do.
Thank you Ms Parsipur-sorry if I tired you.
Well you know after so much grape juice...
[i] For a critique and
analysis of literature at the service of Empire, see Laila Lalami's The
Nation (June 19, 2006 issue), Negar
Mottahedeh's Off the Grid: Reading
Iranian Memoirs in Our Time of Total War. Middle East Report
(September 2004) and Hamid Dabashi's Native Informers and the Making of the New
American Empire. Al-Ahram
[ii] The term "war of/on
terror" belongs to Zillah Eisenstein, an American
anti-racist feminist activist, professor and author. Her seminal book Against
Empire: Feminisms, Racism and 'the' West is one of the most cogent
feminist critiques of the US Empire.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Cary Nelson
Grossberg (Eds), Marxism and the
Interpretation of Culture. Chicago:
Illinois Press. 1988:
academics, chiefly among them, Farzaneh Milani, Zohreh
Sullivan, Kamran Talattoff and Farzin
Yazdanfar have meticulously translated and analysed contemporary Iranian women's
literature but unfortunately their work is limited to academic circles. For a
foundational text on Iranian women's literature in English see Farzaneh Milani's
wonderful book Veils
and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women.
New York: Syracuse University Press.
[v] Here Shahrnush
Parsipur is referring to a documentary film titled Sound of Silence directed by Amir
Hamz and Mark Lazarz that we saw together on the
evening after her book launch in New
York. This film was screened in the context of the
Tribeca Film Festival in New York
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