Richly detailed memoir by a daughter who, as an adult, learned of her Iranian mother’s secret past: arranged marriage at 13, a baby at 14 and divorce while still a teenager.
After Darznik (English/Washington and Lee Univ.) found a photograph of her mother Lili as a child bride, Lili recorded for her a series of tapes about her family and her life in Iran. Lili’s story begins with her grandmother, whose daughter Kobra is Lili’s mother and a continuing and forceful presence in her life. Darznik’s memoir is not a transcription of audio tapes, however, but an expansion of them into an engaging account of life in Iran in the 20th century, full of memorable characters whose lives take unexpected turns. The author’s portrayal of Iranian society and male-female relations are revealing, and her descriptions of clothing, food and drink are especially engrossing. To escape from her marriage to a sadistic husband, Lili was forced to leave her baby with him. Eventually, she moved to Germany, trained as a midwife and acquired a European husband. Returning to Iran, Lili thrived in her new career, but her husband drank too much and failed in business. Threatened by the Iranian Revolution in the late ’70s, the family fled to the United States when the author was five, settling in California along with hundreds of thousands of other Iranian émigrés. Since divorce was considered as shameful as prostitution, Lili kept her past a secret. While Lili remained Iranian to the core, retaining the values of her native culture, the author grew up as an American, failing to become “The Good Daughter”—the modest, obedient girl with perfect manners that her mother held up as a model. It was only when she learned of her mother’s past and of the existence of her older half sister in Iran that she understood that “The Good Daughter” was a real person, not just a figure in a cautionary tale.
An eye-opening account that disturbs with its depiction of the place of women in Iranian society, but warms the heart in its portrayal of their gritty endurance.