A Mirror Garden

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Mirror Garden, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

I really enjoyed reading this book. It begins with the author's account of her life as a little girl in Iran in the 1920's, tells how her eagerness to explore brought her to New York as a young woman, and then her return to Iran. Art, love of family, and adventure were her life's prevalent themes. Her story was highlighted by family portraits, sketches of daily life, and photos of the places she lived.

I admired her adventurous spirit, which began as a tomboy pulling pranks when she was little, and then progressed to her travels to a foreign country as a young woman (she went to New York to study art with her brother, "fiancee", and his friend during WWII), taking the risk of marrying again to a man who she learned was really a prince, and then her travels around rural Iran, becoming a patron of folk art, and then building her life again when she was exiled from Iran after the Revolution. I enjoyed seeing her country though her eyes, and I learned about the diversity of Iran--people groups, geography, cultures, and sadly, economic disparity. I also enjoyed reading about the art that she created, and following her through the creative process.

This book was a perfect counterpoint to "Lipstick Jihad." That book was written by a Generation X-er, and her introspection was quite a contrast with Monir's action. Monir suffered more--her disastrous first marriage, said goodbye to America, and then lost everything when the Shah fell--but Lipstick Jihad read like a pity party comparatively, as the author tried to find her identity as an Iranian or American. Monir's strong sense of self overcame the navel-gazing that many memoirs fall prey to.

I've been trying to find "Persopolis" for several years. It's a graphic novel about a young Iranian girl sent to live in France right before the Revolution. I saw it's being made into a movie, which I'm looking forward to. I hope to read the book first, and see how it compares with the two books mentioned above. In the meanwhile, here's an excerpt from "A Mirror Garden" (p. 201).

The city of Shiraz lies at the hub of the Qashqa'i migration routes, and I had caught glimpes of the tribewomen in the bazaar there. They had an air of freedom that was startling in the narrow passage-ways of the bazaar: tall, unveiled, trailing gauzy scarves in a riot of colors, they walked with long strides that seemed to end with a kick of their many layered skirts in a rhythmic flounce. So when I was introduced to a Mr. Bahmanbegui on a visit to Shiraz and he invited me to see one of his tent schools at a nearby Qashqa'i encampment, I jumped at the opportunity....

(p. 202) I was saddened to learn that even the tent schools were a source of conflict between the tribes and the government, ruffling feathers at the Ministry of Education. Never mind that it was in those breeze-blown classrooms that the Qashqa'i first learned that they too were Iranians...


homeyra said...

Hi Rachel
I just came across your blog. I have a few posts about books written by Iranian women, it might interest you.
For instance:
The blood of flowers, Reading more than Lolita in Tehran Literature for the axis of evil, etc...