I have finished the first of the two books sent to me by Sister Umm Nassim as part of a book swap (review of the second one here) and I quite enjoyed it.
Persian Girls is an autobiographical book written by the author as she looks back over her life as a child in Iran and later as an adult in America. She describes her childhood in Tehran with her widowed childless aunt and her later upbringing in her parent’s home in Ahvaz. Although this part of the book is set during the rule of the last Shah, we see that this is still a very conservative world, where despite superficial attempts at modernisation, women still have little control over their own lives.
Rachlin outlines in clean, clear prose her struggle to reconcile herself with the traditional culture of Iran and her eventual move to America in search of freedom. The second part of the book details her attempt to settle in America and gives us insight into the issues of confused identity that every immigrant faces. We also follow Rachlin as she returns to Iran after the mysterious death of her beloved sister Pari and indeed, this book is partly a eulogy to Pari.
Shia Islam and Iran are two subjects that hold a lot of mystery, and perhaps much misunderstanding, for me. This book is rich in the details of life of that country – the rituals, the traditions and the way people think.
What was also nice to see, was that despite descriptions of the hardships that women faced, religion is not made the scapegoat. Rachlin’s aunt makes clear that Islam affords women rights, but that the patriarchal culture of that time and place takes away those rights completely.
This book does for Iran what Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns do for Afghanistan, give us a history of what that country has endured over the last 50 years through the eyes of those who have experienced the unheaval.