Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin (2007)

 

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Set in the days of the Shah in Iran, Rachlin tells the story of her idyllic childhood where she was raised by a childless, widowed aunt who showered her with love and affection. And then, at the age of nine, her father took her back to her birth family–to her mother who had given her up as a gift to her sister, and to her siblings and her all-powerful father. Their family–and their society–straddled the influence of Western culture while also adhering to traditions which gave women little power or choices over their lives: the new and the old, the secular and the sacred. Nahid grows close to one sister, Pari, and together they dream of careers in writing and acting.  But eventually Pari gives in to an arranged marriage that brings abuse and misery while Nahid manages to talk her father into sending her to college in the US where her brothers are encouraged to study.  This memoir allows us to witness life in Iran, from its rich Persian culture of Nahid’s childhood all the way through its Shia Islamic regime which she experiences when returning to her home as an adult. Her story transported me back to my own childhood memories of the Shah of Iran, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I mostly remember them as names and events without context; Rachlin’s memoir provides the historical and political context while also offering an engaging coming of age story.

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