An account of growing up under a chilly, tyrannical parent in a changing Iran, by the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003).
An adversarial relationship with her mother defined the choices she made in her life, writes Nafisi, who now lives in Washington, D.C. Raised amid privilege and wealth in Tehran in the 1950s and ’60s, the author became aware early on that her parents’ marriage, which united two prominent families, was not happy. Both her father and her mother told their children “fictions,” she declares, official versions of the family history rather than the truth. She took the side of her literary-minded father, who became mayor of Tehran, and had scant sympathy for her dictatorial, paranoid mother, who lamented the untimely death of her first husband and her inability to go to medical school because of her gender. Nafisi grew up enjoying education abroad and freedoms her mother had never known. During the five years in the ’60s that her father spent in jail for “consorting with the opposition,” the then-teenaged author agreed to an ill-starred marriage pushed by her mother, simply to get out of the house. While an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, Nafisi divorced her first husband and got involved in the nascent Iranian student movement. “In the seventies it was easy for a young Iranian abroad to be antigovernment,” she writes. “Inside Iran, of course, it was a different story.” She returned to Tehran shortly after the Revolution in 1979 with her new husband, also an Iranian activist. The young revolutionaries had few illusions about the new Islamic regime, however, and Nafisi and her friends were harassed and imprisoned for their subversive activities. She and her husband finally decided to leave in 1997. She sees her writings as part of the same decision to reject the “complicity and silent acquiescence,” whether to a tyrannical regime or a domineering parent, that have plagued her life both personally and professionally.
An immensely rewarding and beautifully written act of courage, by turns amusing, tender and obsessively dogged.