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Review: Roya Hakakian's Journey from the Land of No

September 21, 2004
iranian.com

"The sorrow of love is but one tale
Yet, each time I hear it, sounds like the first."
-- Hafez

Over the past couple of years, I have enjoyed the occasional pleasure of reading poems by Roya Hakakian in Iranian.com. I had assumed her to be another unknown poet/writer, as I am. Deep down, I empathized with some of her sentiments. In particular, I commiserated with her on the subject of switching languages and the longing for an effortless tongue with which to convey my thoughts.

Hearing Hakakian on C Span TV, I was intrigued by the description of her new book. Not only did I find her to be a well spoken young Iranian, but I wouldn't miss the chance to read a new book by an Iranian-American author. Indeed our stories are, as Hafez said, the same tale of love, yet each is told in a fresh, unrepeated manner. She came across as sincere, and more than anything, a patriotic daughter of Persia. I clicked on Amazon and ordered a copy.

Not a long book, and a very engaging one at that, I finished it in two days. Even though I never had much experience with the revolution in Iran, through her words, I became the child whose day to day life was darkened, and indeed, her dream castle crumbled and fell at her feet. Hakakian has a gift for depicting what was real and her style paints her prose with enough fiction -- not to mention dark humor-- to hook the readers and keep them hooked.

A precautious child, Roya's diverse personality had me puzzled throughout the book. She saw what I didn't expect her to, and missed what should have been obvious to a girl her age. At twelve, she could give sound marital advice to her cousin, Farah, but was oblivious to the basic facts of puberty and what it would entail for a girl.

She read Behrangi's Little Black Fish, attended a Jewish school during the onset of Islamic revolution and even heard about the Savak. Yet, the anti Semitic slogans came to her as a shock. A well read youth, she mentioned many books in her literary review but, when she wrote her diary, she failed to mention Anne Frank.

Some of these contrasts must be due to the fact that as a young girl, and a traumatized one at that, she writes her memoir based on what she remembers now. Decades have passed since the teenager moved to the US. Why else would she misplace Azerbaijan in the Northeast of Iran?

Or why would she be surprised to see the dates change back from 2500s to 1300s when the former had only been a recent attempt by the Shah to upgrade what had always been the norm for the Iranian calendar? Why would she, who shows respect for her Muslim friends, mistake a holy name -- Roghieh --for a wicked witch? Surely these minor errors were a simple oversight.

I would not allow the critical writer in me to spoil the pleasures of reading a good book. For indeed, this is a good book and a must read for those who want to look back and see the changes first hand.

In Hakakian's fine book, I was drawn into the well written story of a sensitive girl in the middle class Iran and became one with her. She touched my heart and once more awakened those deep emotions which I had considered gone and buried. In a country built by immigrants, her book is something we can all relate to -- either directly or through her beautiful writing. It's a cruel world out there and we are each "A Little Black Fish" thrown into a vast ocean.

Journey from the Land of No is a must read. But if we are to proceed toward a more peaceful world, we must acknowledge the fact that this isn't about religion. As the Iranians who have seen better days, we all share the same pain. When the Islamic "sisters" do their repulsive body search at the airport, they don't ask if you are a Muslim or not.

When the guards arrest you with loathsome excuses, the fact that you are born into a Muslim family doesn't make a difference. Roya knows this as she leaves her Muslim friend "Z" behind and carries her unbearable memory across the globe.

We all grew within, and were delivered from, the same womb. But, it was as if many of us were soon given away. In the process of that painful abandonment, some faced the good fortune of an adoption, but many lost everything. Although the cord has been severed, one can not deny the fact that every drop of blood running through our veins is from the same motherland.

The truth is, whether or not that land will ever take us back, our love remains eternal. Roya Hakakian's poetic memoir is like a magic carpet for a journey back to the beloved.

Author
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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