I found this book in newsletters from Romanian online booksellers about a year ago, but never truly got to reading it, because most of the time I had doubts about whether the book is worth reading or not. I find myself often running into crappy books that are simply too strange to be readable from one cover to the other. I was amazed when I realized that before getting the Game of Thrones collection from my boyfriend, I haven’t bought any books for pleasure in over two years. Now I would rather browse the internet ’till the end of time, looking for a free epub version of the books I would be tempted to read. At least there are no hard feelings if the book is bad, right?
What really caught my attention about this book is the fact that it has been banned in Iran for several years. I thought that if it was banned, then it must be really really good, since they weren’t inclined to let her go on the shelves. You don’t want a book to reach the masses, then it definitely has something there would hit your ass hard. It’s simple as that
I also always kind of had this fascination for the Oriental world and its customs . Especially for the Islamic civilization, which most of us think is a world dominated by rigid customs and rules and where women are opressed and don’t have the same freedom men have to pursue their studies or a career . This book isn’t far from that, it’s just that. But instead of the story of a girl that always complains about how bad women are treated, we have the story of a girl that fights to change something, to make a better world for herself, and later on for her children. Her name is Massoumeh. She was born in the family of a small merchant and led a decent enough life there, with three elder brothers and a small sister. Her life is far from perfect, because her brothers constantly follow her around and torment her, as if by every step she took, she would stomp on her family’s honor. Her hapiness is channeled in going to school, but soon enough, her mother thinks it would be better if she would quit school and take up sewing classes, as they would prove more useful in her true future “career”, as a married woman, of course. According to her mother, marriage, and not school, should be the priority for her and all the other girls. Her father, on the other hand, would allow her to study, but at the same time he doesn’t want to disrupt the harmony of his home, by going against everybody’s desires, but his daughter’s. She was just a girl, after all.
But a very clever girl at that , and she won’t give out without a fight. She even manages to get to the top of her class. Obviously, like any other teenager, she has her best friend, her first crush and her first broken heart. Although she kept a low profile, as she was taught to do, her family finds out about what seems to be a harmless love story, in which the guy would look at her every day through the windows of a farmacy and she looks at him behind her veils . You could not believe how much hope and flutter can be hidden behind a simple hello. She is beaten by her brothers, her mother won’t stop insulting her and her father loses trust in her and doesn’t allow her to continue with her studies. All her dreams are turned to dust, and she is now faced with getting married by force to someone she would secretly despise. Her lover won’t come to ask for her hand after her brothers maimed him and he fled, without a trace, her friend would be taken away from her for being too liberal for her brothers’ tastes and she would be alone. Like cattle, they would sell her to anyone who came asking for her hand in marriage. She brought shame to the family and getting rid of her, would be cleansing their name and making it possible for her brothers to marry well. Nobody cares if her life would be miserable, cause the more miserable she would be, the better.
What saves her from disaster is Mrs Parvin, a woman who understand better than anyone what she’s going through and sees the potential in her. She manages to find her a husband that is smart, well situated in society and even handsome. They are married within a week, but marital life isn’t bliss either. Her husband turns out to be a disident, secretly fighting against the Shah’s regime along with his friends and who is more preoccupied with his political plans than with his family. A wife should not stand in his way, she learns soon enough, but at least he allows her to go to study. even encourages her to go to the University as well. That in itself is considered a blessing by Massoumeh, who thinks that going to school and fulfilling her childhood dream should compensate for the cold relationship with her husband and the lack of love in her marriage.
When the Revolution first shows its teeth, things take an interesting turn, which I’m leaving to you to discover. In the end, Massoumeh is faced with life situations that are hard to bear for most of us, most of them unfair. I was impressed with her courage and perseverence. I was outraged by the abuses and by the ways in which she was treated, both by her family, and by society.
What I liked about this book is how well several human types were described, from the strong feminine heroine to the bruttish insensitive men. Its take on religion was interesting too. In spite of the fact that she was married young to a communist who didn’t see the use of religion, among other things, that she was constantly between contrasting points of view and always tempted to think whatever was politically correct at different times, she stood as a rock, constant in her faith and faithful to her opinions, which she tried to imprint on her children as well. Her family in itself is an illustration of extremes: her brother Mahmoud considered himself the epitome of Islamic virtue, a devout man whose behavior was exemplary, but who, in the name of his religion would draw profits from innocent people in times of great financial difficulty; a.k.a. a hypocrite . Her other brother Ahmed thought he was robbed of his share at everything, and ended up astray, a drunk and a drug addict. Her other brother, Ali, would at times try to help her, but still, he was still under the influence of the values imprinted on him as a child, and couldn’t change at all. Even her mother wasn’t that loving, often saying she hoped to find her at the morgue, so she may rid herself of the hussle of her existence when she was younger. After she grew up, you might think that she wants to make amends for all the terrible things she did to her, but it truth, when Massoumeh most needed her mother, she would still side with her boys, refusing to see what sort of people they’ve become and the obvious truth about them. Tradition was glued to this one.
When you read this book, you are instantly outraged by what you read, because as a person whose freedom was never obstructed by anything and who was lucky enough to have a happy life, it’s hard to digest the absurd events in Massoumeh’s life, without it interfering with what you think is right and just . It makes you think about how lucky you are for having something that other people are still not permited to have, in countries where these traditions you read about are still at work. It is amazing how such simple writing could impact so much on a reader and I invite you to read it and open your eyes and your mind to a whole different world, frozen in a period of time where happiness is a privilege not many can access and pain is innevitable, but not insurmountable. In short, truly inspiring and impressive.
I’d give her 3.5 out of 5.