A quarter century in the making, Iranian-American literature has reached its most vibrant and exciting phase ever. And at last we’ve got the book to prove it.
Edited by Persis Karim, Let Me Tell You Where I Have Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora is the first anthology of writing by women of the Iranian diaspora. It contains over a hundred selections of poetry and prose by more than fifty writers. With humor, rage, eloquence, and compassion, its contributors give voice to what it means for Iranian women to live — and write–in the West today.
Karim was among the very first literary scholars to track Iranian literature in the U.S. Her 1999 anthology A World Between: Poems, Short Stories, and Essays by Iranian-Americans was the first anthology of its kind. Soon after its publication, Karim found herself acting as an “accidental literary midwife” to the hundreds of aspiring women writers who began sending her letters and submissions. Let Me Tell You Where I Have Been is the result of this literary midwifery and the first book devoted exclusively to writings by women of the Iranian diaspora.
The book is organized into six sections: “Home Stories,” “For Tradition,” “Woman’s Duty,” “Axis of Evil,” “Beyond,” and “Stories Left Untold.” Some of the names here will be familiar to many readers: Tara Bahrampour, Azadeh Moaveni, Firoozeh Dumas. These are the authors who’ve climbed the best-seller lists in the last few years — the women who’ve made Iran one of the hottest topics in contemporary literature.
But some of the most unforgettable entries in this anthology are by lesser-known poets and writers taking dead aim at all manner of social and literary taboos. In Farnoosh Seifoddini’s poem “Dokhtar-e Irani,” a mother and daughter’s conversation as they clean sabzi becomes a reflection on chastity — and hypocrisy. Marjan Kamali’s short story “The Gift” opens with a mother announcing that she has found the perfect gift for her daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday: “His name is Mr. Dashti. . .Two degrees, a Ph.D. and an M.B.A.” What follows is a hilarious — and heartfelt — tale about a young Iranian-American woman’s adventures in khastegari.
There are also biting political commentaries from a range of perspectives and sensibilities. Karim’s own poem “The Execution of Atefeh” is a searing tribute to a young Iranian woman murdered for the crimes of her “indecent” body and even more “indecent” tongue. In a rather different vein, Beatrice Motamedi’s essay “When Toys Are Us” dares to imagine the day when Iranian-America men stand proudly beside their “bros” in the American military.
And then there are poems like Zara Houshmand’s “Nazr”, which remind us of nothing so much as the value of art in these clamorous times.
In the space of three hundred pages, Let Me Tell You Where I Have Been manages to capture a new ethnic literature engaged not only with the most timely topics of the day, but also with some of the most common and timeless subjects of human life.
by Zara Houshmand
It has been so long,
How will you know me?
I am the one standing still in the rush
scanning the screen again and again
trying to find
a believable destination.
I am the one who has spread her skirts on the grass
Like a picnic cloth, saying:
Here is trust.
I am the one tying poems
To the branches of a tree
whose leaves have fallen.
Let Me Tell You Where I Have Been is available at amazon.com.