Halfway through writing an article, which is to appear on the next issue of Persian Book Review, I came across a rather unfair criticism aimed at the very book I was working on. So I figured since the next issue of PBR is not due for a couple of months, as someone who has read the book cover to cover — I should put my two-cents’ worth into the discussion.
I hope the esteemed writers who have criticized the editors, namely Persis Karim, of Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been, took the time to read this book with care [See: Sudabeh Siavashan's “Selling out to sell a book” & Yalda Hakimian's “”], for only then do their comments deserve attention.
The book is less than a month old and at 350 pages and even after devoting my entire reading time to it, I barely managed to finish it last night. This makes me wonder if Ms. Hakimian and Ms. Siavashan’s comments were based on full knowledge of this book. I’m not a slow reader, but the study of literary prose and poetry takes time since one can’t afford to skip passages.
I have not heard Ms. Karim’s interview on KQED, nor do I know anything about the editors’ personal life or her political stance. When I read, it is for the sole pleasure of enjoying good literature and I treat each book as a stand-alone entity. In my appreciation of writing as a form of art, I don’t see the need to approve of the artist’s lifestyle or political agenda to enjoy the beauty in her work. Therefore, regardless of the editor’s social or political position, I must admit, I enjoyed reading the contents of this fine collection by the new generation of Iranian-American women.
When we discuss a book, it would be only appropriate to focus on the content rather than what is said or done outside a book. For example, an author may be quite patriotic, but it his book shows signs of a sell out, that is what the reader sees and vies-a-versa.
Let me clarify again that I do not personally know any of the fifty-three contributors, nor have I had the privilege of meeting them, so there’s nothing to be gained by my humble support of their fine work. But as a writer, and one who has finally reached a comfortable position among her peers, I know just how important it is to stand behind our own. Only those who have gone through this painful process would know how impossible it is for a young writer to get started and you can double that hopelessness when one is at a social or political disadvantage.
Having devoted my life to the written word, I have come to appreciate the warm support and nurturing attitude of my writer’s community. We understand each other’s dilemmas, share the agony, and stand behind one another. As a result, the usual competitive edge is transformed into a sense of camaraderie. We may critique each other’s work, even strongly disagree on some issues, but in the end there is a sense of unity. Based on such ethics, I find the attack against more than fifty innocent writers and shaming someone based on a comment during an interview unfair and unprofessional.
Hard as I have tried to keep track of contemporary Iranian literature, if it weren’t for the efforts of Ms. Persis Karim and Mr. Al Young, I might not have come across the works of many of these fine writers. Three decades ago, the same women would have had little problem in getting published, but today they would not survive Iran’s harsh censorship. As it stands, were it not for these editors, their work might have equally suffered the American publishing industry and would have vanished into oblivion.
One of the hardest decisions an author must make concerns the title of her book. Titles change just to change again before they are approved for being “catchy”, accurate and conveying the essence of what is in the text. Perhaps readers should pay closer attention to this book’s title. This isn’t about what goes on in Iran, nor is it about the UN, human rights, or the tragedy that ended Kazemi’s life. If it were, it might have an entirely different title. Let ME tell you where I have been, is a personal narration of women in exile, what they have endured, how they feel; therefore, readers need to see where they have been and “let” them tell their stories before they jump into irrelevant debates.
Not only did I enjoy familiar passages by Gelareh Asayesh, Tara Bahrampour, Roya Hakakian, Persis Karim, and numerous other known writers, the book also acquainted me with new writers and reminded me of a few I had meant to read but somehow never did. For example, I had read great reviews about Farnoosh Moshiri and had intended to read her books. Having enjoyed her eloquent style from the one sample in this book, I now look forward to her three novels that have just arrived from Amazon.com.
Anyone who knows the first thing about publishing industry in this day and age, also knows that money is in publishing romance, chick-lit and mystery, but it certainly is not in an anthology by Iranian women! So perhaps Ms. Siavashan should reconsider her implication that the editor has “sold out to sell a book.” For many of these young writers, this book is their début and hopefully a key to open other doors. How harmful it would be if anyone attempted to spoil that chance; and how ironic that such harm should come from none other than a female Iranian-American writer.
Some of the writers featured in this book are already enjoying literary success, but for many it is their first break — so to speak. As a writer who understands the crazy roller coaster of publication, I salute these editors for taking a chance, offering support, and promoting good work by good writers. In a world where books are sold based on being “market friendly”, and when your grandmother’s cookie recipes are more likely to succeed than her war time memoir, standing behind writers who deserve more recognition is a noble act.
The variety of prose and verses in this book invites readers of all genres to find something enjoyable and overall it is a beautiful anthology. Understandable as people’s diversity in politics may be, one should define such issues and deal with them separately. Because frankly, if we were to only read books that are written and edited by those we agree with and approve of, there wouldn’t be much left to read. On the other hand, to damage a good body of literature isn’t all that different from book burning.
I would like to close with the same fine quotation used by Ms. Hakimian but maybe in a more literal interpretation: “I do not aspire your contribution, just don’t harm me!”
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is “Sharik-e Gham” (see excerpt). Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com