Things I've Been Silent About: Memories
by Azar Nafisi

Random House, 2008. ISBN 978-1-400-06361-1.
Reviewed by Rhonda Esakov
Posted on 02/05/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

Azar Nafisi takes us to her childhood home of Iran in her latest book, Things I've Been Silent About: Memories. Since the days of Persian rule, the country of Iran has suffered political and religious turmoil. While growing up, Nafisi experienced first hand the bombings of her town during the long war with Iraq, seeing many family and friends jailed or killed and supposedly trustworthy allies turn their backs. Freedom of any kind seems illusive and never within reach.

Since her youth, Nafisi's family has taught her that you "don't air your dirty laundry in public." Her mother, a complicated but controlling, intelligent woman, took this to the extreme by making up stories and telling lies about their life instead of living with the truth. Indeed, most of the family follows the same pattern—living one life in the public eye while behind closed doors another life exists entirely, where refuge is often found in literature and stories. From an early age, Nafisi did not acknowledge the secrets but kept her thoughts in journals and diaries. In one such diary, Azar decided she needed to reveal her secrets, so she started a page with the heading, "Things I've Been Silent About."

Like many Middle Eastern families, if they could afford it, the Nafisis would send their children out of the country to school as the school systems within their own world was often inadequate or limiting, especially for women. Nafisi attended schools in England, Switzerland and the United States and experimented with finding her voice, that of an educated young woman fighting against political and religious strictures that seemed not only unfair and restricting, but sometimes even horrifying: permitting marriage at age nine and stoning people to death. As a college student and a young woman teacher, Nafisi struggles to find meaning in her life and joins the fight to help set her country to rights—just plain human rights.

Life is not easy for this author—the country is troubled, religion is in question, women's rights (or lack thereof] fluctuate, sexual molestation is almost accepted as normal, her family is dysfunctional at best, her father jailed, a failed first marriage. All are suffered in silence. These threads are woven together with crisp, honest writing that flows smoothly through history and realistically portrays the locations and events occurring in Nafisi's life. No longer willing to keep silent, she states, "Our personal fears and emotions are at times stronger than public danger. By keeping them secret, we allow them to remain malignant. You need to be able to articulate something if you want it to go away, and to do that, you must acknowledge that it exists." This book transcends most cultural barriers and the fine writing will appeal to all.

Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor at the Foreign Policy Institute of John Hopkins University. 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 currently lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children. Her previous book, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, was an overnight best selling success. Visit her web site.

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