Novelist Nahid Rachlin tells of her life in Tehran and the lives of other "Persian Girls," powerless to control their fate.
- Book: Persian Girls: A Memoir
- By Nahid Rachlin
- 288 pages
Imagine you are 9 again, walking to school with your best friend when an oddly familiar man with a pockmarked face and brush mustache abducts you. The city was Tehran, in the time of the Shah, and the man was Nahid Rachlin’s father. Until then, Rachlin had been raised by a beloved aunt — her mother’s widowed, childless sister, Maryam. But in tradition-bound Iran, 9 was the age at which a girl could be betrothed; Rachlin would need proper male supervision, her father had decided. Rachlin had been a "gift child," generously handed over by a fertile sister with many children, to her infertile sibling. Whatever Maryam or Rachlin’s mother — or Rachlin herself — might wish, they were powerless.
That is only the beginning of Nahid Rachlin's memoir, Persian Girls, which portrays Iran's sexual politics and traditions, as played out in a wrenching personal tale. Once "reunited" with her birth family, Rachlin went on to forge a close friendship with her own sister, Pari — only to once more watch on, helplessly, as Pari is forced into a disastrous arranged marriage with an abusive husband. Rachlin’s route to freedom comes in the form of a scholarship to a tiny Christian women’s college outside St. Louis, where she paints herself as a comically naive non-English speaking foreigner in a homogenized world.
Here, as in her previous four novels and short story collection, Rachlin, a New Yorker now for many years, focuses on the personal and cultural displacements of Iranian Americans living in multiple cultures. Rachlin reveals her story — and that of all the other "Persian Girls" in her family— with a deceptively dispassionate directness that makes her words all the more evocative.
Diane Cole is the author of the memoir After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges.