three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
By: 
Azar Nafisi
user_rating: 
0

Memories

A-Things Ive Been Silent AboutAuthor of the remarkable international best seller, Reading Lolita in Tehran ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2003), Azar Nafisi reveals her family history in this new memoir.

The Topic: Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Azar Nafisi maintained a list in her journal titled "Things I’ve been silent about." That ledger, along with her father’s journal and Nafisi’s own vivid memories, form the basis of her latest book. Reaching back generations, she focuses on her family, particularly her parents’ embattled relationship. Her mother was a domineering presence: one of the first women members of the Iranian Parliament, she remained bitter about her unfinished education and pressed that discontent onto her strong-willed daughter. Against her tumultuous relationship with her mother, Nafisi found solace in her relationship with her father, also a politician, which centered on the joys of literature and the power of storytelling.
Random House. 368 Pages. $27. ISBN: 1400063612

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"A gifted storyteller with a mastery of Western literature, Nafisi knows how to use language both to settle scores and to seduce. Her family secrets pour forth in a flood of revelations of anger, humiliation and deceit." Elaine Sciolino

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Nafisi’s ability to draw upon literary history is what makes this book a standout. … Things I’ve Been Silent About reads as a testament to the fact that stories—whether their primary substance is fact or fiction—are what see us through." Traci J. Macnamara

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Her writing captures the palpable loneliness and sorrow she experiences as a result of the wall of anger and hostility her mother set between them. The memoir’s historical parameters stretch from the life of Nafisi’s grandmother at the beginning of the 20th century to the birth of Nafisi’s daughter at the century’s end." Carol Memmott

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If disclosures about disappointing parents seem a letdown, rest assured that Nafisi is after something more complex and subtle than Mommie Dearest. … Her angry, frustrated resistance to her mother’s control is inextricably bound up with her angry, frustrated resistance to the totalitarian Islamic Republic that seized control of Iran in 1979." Heller McAlpin

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"Frustratingly brief in this book are  the actual glimpses of life in Iran. … That is what speaks most loudly in this memoir—the guilty feelings of a daughter who sees goodness in both her mother and her country, but cannot love either of them without serious reservations." Marjorie Kehe

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Though her somewhat rambling second memoir lacks the sharp focus of her first, Things I’ve Been Silent About offers a searching account of one woman’s life against the tumultuous historical backdrop of 20th-century Iran." Jennifer Reese

Oregonian 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Memoirs can fly high into luminescence, illuminating the human condition through real stories, but they can also fall painfully into petty angers. Nafisi is a writer of uncommon grace; a story of forgiveness would suit her better." Rene Denfeld

Critical Summary

Family history is almost always messy. When tangled up with revolution, it can get downright chaotic. That Things I’ve Been Silent About is a less-focused effort than Nafisi’s first book, then, is unsurprising. The Iranian exile (she’s lived in the United States since 1997) continues to display a masterful touch that merges the personal with the political. She also deploys her sharp literary sensibilities to inform this hard-to-tell story. Almost all the critics point out the book’s fragmentary nature. Those drawn in by the intimacies in Nafisi’s story judge the book a resounding success; those looking for something else—more about Iran or less judgment about her mother—find it "flawed if beautifully written" (Oregonian).

Also by the Author

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003): After Nafisi was dismissed from her teaching position in Tehran during the late 1980s for studying Western texts and refusing to don a veil, she held a secret class in her home for seven Iranian women. They studied classic Western texts by Austen, James, Nabokov, and Fitzgerald.