Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter

Joanna Biggs writes:

Things I’ve Been Silent About is the companion to Reading Lolita in Tehran: the books fill each other’s silences. The title comes from an idea Nafisi had in the first book, of thanking the Islamic Republic ‘for all the things it had taught me – to love Austen and James and ice cream and freedom’. She started a list under the title ‘Things I’ve Been Silent About’ when she began work on her first academic book, a study of Nabokov, and realised that she ‘could not frankly write about the political and social realities of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran’. The list went: ‘Falling in Love in Tehran. Going to Parties in Tehran. Watching the Marx Brothers in Tehran. Reading Lolita in Tehran.’ This book, she writes, is not supposed to be ‘a political or social commentary, or a useful life story’ and it isn’t. It is about mothers and daughters. Specifically it is about the sort of mother who complains that she has given up her career for her family, and then criticises her daughter for neglecting her children for her work; who refuses to let her daughter speak French in her presence because she murders it; who leaves abusive notes insisting she isn’t ‘wanted in this family’; who tells her daughter that she has her father’s ‘rotten genes’; who lords the memory of her perfect dead first husband over her new family until they feel suicidally inadequate. And the sort of daughter who dreams of slipping Valium or a little bit of poison into her mother’s coffee cup – just enough to scare her into appreciating her life.

(LRB 27 May 2010)

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