Johns Hopkins Gazette | January 20, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 20, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 18
SAIS Scholar Azar Nafisi Publishes New Memoir on Life in Iran

Photo by S.J. Staniski

By Felisa Klubes Neuringer

Best-selling author Azar Nafisi, executive director of Cultural Conversations and a professorial lecturer at SAIS, has written a new memoir, Things I've Been Silent About, that was released Dec. 30 to rave reviews.

On Monday, Jan. 26, she will discuss the book during a SAIS forum about politics and the challenges of literature. She will be joined at the event by Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday and author of several books, including the best-selling Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan and Windy City: A Novel of Politics. The forum will take place at 7 p.m. in the Nitze Building's Kenney Auditorium

In her 2003 New York Times best-seller, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Nafisi opened up her world to readers around the globe, offering a vibrant portrait of women's lives in Iran. Now she tells her own stunning story in Things I've Been Silent About, a moving narrative of her family's life that crosses all cultural boundaries.

In the memoir, published by Random House, Nafisi delivers a compelling story of a family's life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother and the mesmerizing fictions she created about herself and her past. But Azar, her daughter, soon learned that these narratives of triumph hid as much as they revealed.

Nafisi's father escaped into narratives of another kind, enchanting his children with classic tales like the Shahname, the Persian Book of Kings. When her father started seeing other women, young Azar began to keep his secrets from her mother. Nafisi's complicity in these childhood dramas ultimately led her to resist remaining silent about other personal — as well as political, cultural and social — injustices.

Things I've Been Silent About is also a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans many periods of change leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which turned Nafisi's beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship. Writing of her mother's historic term in parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the remarkable "coffee hours" her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, tell fortunes and silently acknowledge things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution. Lastly, this memoir is a deeply personal reflection on women's choices, and on how Nafisi found inspiration in a different kind of life.

Nafisi also is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels and Bibi and the Green Voice, a children's picture book. Prior to joining SAIS, she 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 the United States. She became an American citizen last month.


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