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

Things I've Been Silent About: MemoriesThings I’ve Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

Nafisi’s intelligent and complicated mother, disappointed in her dreams of leading an important and romantic life, created mesmerizing fictions about herself, her family, and her past. But 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 the classic tales like the Shahnamah, 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.

Reaching back in time to reflect on other generations in the Nafisi family,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 Azar 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, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.

Things I’ve Been Silent About is, finally, a deeply personal reflection on women’s choices, and on how Azar Nafisi found the inspiration for a different kind of life. This unforgettable portrait of a woman, a family, and a troubled homeland is a stunning book that readers will embrace, a new triumph from an author who is a modern master of the memoir.

About fifty pages into this book, I realized I’d read it before. I honestly think that’s the first time this has EVER happened to me and it was the weirdest feeling. But I kept reading, because I remembered almost nothing from the first time which was maybe five years ago. The first time I read the book, I had listened to the audio, and really didn’t care for the experience at all. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my interests have changed over the years, or the audio just wasn’t for me, but I liked the experience of reading Things I’ve Been Silent About this time a LOT better.

Azar Nafisi is a woman who’s experienced a lot in her life, who has grown up with difficult circumstances, all within a very repressive and difficult culture. Her memoir is of course mostly about her life, her family, her relationships, but intertwined with all of it is the background of the culture of Iran and how that culture changed over the years. Growing up in this culture influenced every single thing Nafisi experienced and I have to say that getting to know more about Iran’s history was the best part of the book for me.

I don’t want to make you think that this is a book about Iran’s history or politics because it’s totally not. But because it’s impossible to pull that background away from Nafisi’s life, it’s there woven throughout her narrative. Does that make sense?

I didn’t find Nafisi particularly likable, there’s something aloof and off-putting about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but her writing is beautiful and her story is an interesting one. I definitely want to read Reading Lolita in Tehran now that I’ve read and enjoyed this one.

Recommended for fans of memoirs, especially those from people of a different culture from your own.


5 thoughts on “Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi”

  1. That’s so funny that you’ve read the book before and didn’t even know!

    I haven’t read either of Nafisi’s memoirs though I really enjoyed The Republic of Imagination. She inspired me to read James Baldwin and I do still want to do a re-read of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, too.

  2. Before blogging, I used to have this problem all the time. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read thinking it was the first time only to realize midway that I have read it before. I don’t know whether that is an indication of poor writing or poor reading on my part. I’m glad you enjoyed it much more the second time around!

  3. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few years ago and it took me quite a few tries to get through it. Maybe it was the same thing that you find offputting? Anyway, I ended up enjoying it and really appreciated the background of Iran during the revolution–sounds like this one would be a great companion piece.

  4. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran and didn’t love it. While part of that was because there wasn’t much explanation of the political background, which I knew nothing about, I think part of it is because I also found it hard to connect to Nafisi. In that particular book, it could have been the literary analysis more than her personality that I found off-putting, since I’m so used to discussing books in more casual language online and with friends 🙂

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