Author to discuss memoir on her mother’s childhood to reveal life in pre-1979 Iran
By Joe Tash
Jasmin Darznik was helping her mother sort through her father’s things shortly after his death when a photo slipped from a stack of letters written in Persian.
She was stunned — the photo showed her mother, then 13, on the day of her wedding to a man Darznik had never seen before. The revelation touched off a series of events that led to the publication in January of “The Good Daughter,” Darznik’s memoir about her mother’s childhood and early adulthood in the family’s native Iran.
Darznik, who will give a reading and sign copies of her book at Warwick’s at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22, asked Lili, her mother, about the photo. Lili later sent her 10 cassette tapes on which she recounted being physically abused, forced to give up her infant daughter, tricked into taking a near-fatal opium overdose, and other secrets she had never shared with Darznik or her closest friends in America.
“This is all unknown to me, completely shocking, as if I was meeting another woman entirely,” said Darznik in a telephone interview about her reaction to her mother’s taped account. “She was very unsentimental. Listening to her revealed a woman I had never known.”
Among her mother’s reasons for keeping the story secret is that in Iran, especially when her mother was growing up, divorce was considered shameful and on a par with prostitution, even when the woman’s husband beat her.
Darznik, a professor of English and creative writing at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., said she decided to write the book because little has been written about the lives of ordinary Iranians during the 1950s and 1960s.
“What I can offer is a true story that hasn’t been told and hopefully break down the shame and secrecy that we’ve preserved even in America in the Iranian community,” Darznik said.
At the time her mother sent her the tapes, Darznik and her mother were barely on speaking terms. Darznik said her mother’s harsh rules and restrictions during her own childhood had led to her to reject both her mother and the Iranian culture.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with this Iranian world of hers,” Darznik said. “Iran was my mother, my mother was Iran.”
In fact, during her own youth and young adulthood, in the aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis and later the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Darznik said she intentionally hid her heritage and sought to “pass” as another nationality.
Darznik used her mother’s tapes as a jumping off point — she spent a year meeting with her mother and interviewing her about her life and also conducting research.
An example is a passage describing how 13-year-old Lili was prepared for her wedding night: “The Khorammis rented the whole bathhouse, and it was there that her aunts and cousins commenced to groom her from head to foot. First they washed her body with a mixture of milk and honey, lathered her hair with yogurt, and rinsed it clear with rose water… They scrubbed Lili vigorously with kiseh, the rough woolen mitts that drew out every impurity from the skin. They worked quickly, two of them tending to each part of her body, and when they finished rinsing and toweling her off, they rubbed her all over with a mixture of Vaseline and rose essence… After a lunch of pomegranate-and-walnut stew, they slapped their copper bowls against the tiles to make music and danced for each other in turn.”
“I wanted to flesh out the textures of life in Iran, especially in the years before the (1979 Islamic) revolution; the sights and smells and sounds and feel of that old Tehran that really doesn’t exist anymore,” Darznik said.
While the book details the painful reality of life in pre-revolutionary Iran, including the mistreatment of women, Darznik’s appreciation for the culture shows through. And she said writing the book has helped her appreciate the positive side of her heritage, to the point where she speaks in Persian to her son.
If you go
What: “The Good Daughter,” author visits
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22
Where: Warwick’s Books, 7812 Girard Ave.
Contact: (858) 454-0347
On a related note: Journalist to discuss her captivity in Iran at UCSD
Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi will discuss her book, “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran,” 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25 at UCSD’s Price Center West Theater. Her topics for the free, public lecture will include human rights, Iran’s prisoners of conscience, and the lessons she learned from cellmates about overcoming adversity.
Saberi moved to Iran in 2003 to work as the Iran correspondent for the U.S.–based Feature Story News. She filed reports for NPR, BBC, ABC Radio and Fox News, and was working on a book about Iranian society when she was arrested on Jan. 31, 2009 and held until May 11, 2009.
Saberi grew up in Fargo, N.D., the daughter of Reza Saberi, who was born in Iran, and Akiko Saberi, who is from Japan. She was chosen Miss North Dakota in 1997 and was among the top 10 finalists in the Miss America Pageant in 1998.
She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., with degrees in communications and French. She holds her first Masters Degree Journalism from Northwestern University, and her second Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Cambridge.
Parking is $2/hour in the Gilman Parking Structure, closest to Price Center (about 1/4 mile away to walk over). The entrance is at Villa La Jolla Drive and Gilman Drive. (858) 534-4223.
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