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Things I've Been Silent About

Cover of Things I've Been Silent About

Things I've Been Silent About

A Memoir in Moments

BONUS: This edition contains a Things I've Been Silent About discussion guide.

In this stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, Azar Nafisi shares her memories of living in thrall to a powerful and complex mother against the backdrop of a country's political revolution. A girl's pain over family secrets, a young woman's discovery of the power of sensuality in literature, the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by upheaval--these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and "reminds us of why we read in the first place" (Newsday).

BONUS: This edition contains a Things I've Been Silent About discussion guide.

In this stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, Azar Nafisi shares her memories of living in thrall to a powerful and complex mother against the backdrop of a country's political revolution. A girl's pain over family secrets, a young woman's discovery of the power of sensuality in literature, the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by upheaval--these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and "reminds us of why we read in the first place" (Newsday).

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1 Saifi

    I have often asked myself how much of my mother's account of her meeting with her first husband was a figment of her imagination. If not for the photographs, I would have doubted that he had ever existed. A friend once talked of my mother's "admirable resistance to the unwanted," and since, for her, so much in life was unwanted, she invented stories about herself that she came to believe with such conviction that we started doubting our own certainties.

    In her mind their courtship began with a dance. It seemed more likely to me that his parents would have asked her father for her hand, a marriage of convenience between two prominent families, as had been the convention in Tehran in the 1940s. But over the years she never changed this story, the way she did so many of her other accounts. She had met him at her uncle's wedding. She was careful to mention that in the morning she wore a flowery crêpe-de-chine dress and in the evening one made of duchess satin, and they danced all evening ("After my father had left," she would say, and then immediately add, "because no one dared dance with me in my father's presence"). The next day he asked for her hand in marriage.

    Saifi! I cannot remember ever hearing his last name spoken in our house. We should have called him--with the echo of proper distance-- Mother's first husband, or perhaps by his full title, Saif ol Molk Bayat, but to me he was always Saifi, good-naturedly part of our routine. He insinuated himself into our lives with the same ease with which he stood behind her in their wedding pictures, appearing unexpectedly and slyly whirling her away from us. I have two photos from that day--more than we ever had of my own parents' wedding. Saifi appears relaxed and affable, with his light hair and hazel eyes, while my mother, who is in the middle of the group, stands frozen like a solitary centerpiece. He seems nonchalantly, confidently happy. But perhaps I am wrong and what I see on his face is not hope but utter hopelessness. Because he too has his secrets.

    There was something about her story that always bothered me, even as a child. It seemed not so much untrue as wrong. Most people have a way of radiating their potential, not just what they are but what they could become. I wouldn't say my mother didn't have the potential to dance. It is worse than that. She wouldn't dance, even though, by all accounts, she was a good dancer. Dancing would have implied pleasure, and she took great pride in denying herself pleasure or any such indulgences.

    All through my childhood and youth, and even now in this city so far removed from the Tehran that I remember, the shadow of that other ghostly woman who danced and smiled and loved disturbs the memories of the one I knew as my mother. I have a feeling that if somehow I could understand just when she stopped dancing--when she stopped wanting to dance--I would find the key to my mother's riddle and finally make my peace with her. For I resisted my mother--if you believe her stories--almost from the start.

    I have three photographs of my mother and Saifi. Two are of their wedding, but I am interested in the third, a much smaller picture of them out on a picnic, sitting on a rock. They are both looking into the camera, smiling. She is holding onto him in the casual manner of people who are intimate and do not need to hold onto one another too tightly. Their bodies seem to naturally gravitate together. Looking at the photograph, I can see the possibility of this young, perhaps not yet frigid, woman letting go.

    I find in the photograph the sensuality that we always missed in my mother in real life. When? I would say, when did you graduate...
About the Author-
  • Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University. She has taught Western literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and the University of Allameh Tabatabai in Iran. In 1981 she was expelled from the University of Tehran after refusing to wear the veil. In 1994 she won a teaching fellowship from Oxford University, and in 1997 she and her family left Iran for America. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic and has appeared on countless radio and television programs. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.

Reviews-
  • O: The Oprah Magazine

    "Absorbing . . . a testament to the ways in which narrative truth-telling--from the greatest works of literature to the most intimate family stories--sustains and strengthens us."

  • New York Times "Deeply felt . . . an affecting account of a family's struggle."
  • New York Times Book Review "A gifted storyteller with a mastery of Western literature, Nafisi knows how to use language both to settle scores and to seduce."
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "An immensely rewarding and beautifully written act of courage, by turns amusing, tender and obsessively dogged."
  • People "A lyrical, often wrenching memoir."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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