Fereshteh Kowssar's "The Outrage
July 3. 2004
All exiles share a single dread: of their loved
ones dying oceans away, back at home in their absence. It's a fear
speak of, lest talking about it would make it come true. But
it's a fear that Fereshteh Kowssar squarely faces in her new
Sokoot" (The Outrage of Silence, 109 Pages, Shahin Publications)
"There is my mother, sleeping, over on the morgue's
platform. And here I am, standing still, under the plane tree whose
are yellowing..." With these lines, Kowssar transports
us to a place that the ordinary Iranian reader least likes to be,
or is accustomed to being -at the foot of death itself. And
that of a mother no less. She stands among other mourners who incessantly,
casually, probe: "'Which is your dead?' She asks, as if asking
an address, inquiring from the dry-cleaning man about a lost skirt,
or the valet about a car." It is these innocuous assaults
that she struggles to keep from advancing, as the reality of her
loss slowly encroaches upon her awareness.
In mothers, the past remains intact and real as the present itself.
In Kowssar's mother, that reality had a twist. Her mother
was deaf, though hardly anyone knew. Too proud to surrender
to disability, her mother taught herself to read lips. Lowering
the flame of a kerosene lantern, with great diligence, she had
watched the shadows of her own lips move to every word on the wall
night after night, until she had perfected her speech.
is among the few who know her secret, and helps her keep it.
Hearing, for this daughter, is not the reflexive exercise of just
sense. It is also a duty, something she does, not only for herself,
but also for her mother. Watching her daughter, in turn, reveals
to the mother everything she can't hear. Their bond, as a
result, has all the qualities of a mother-daughter bond, and
more. It is also a coded dialogue, a clandestine affair between
With the death of her mother, Kowssar has also lost this unique
As if seeing the lifeless body of
her loved one is not punishment enough, the author has to face
several more harrowing questions:
Must she be the one to give her dead a final bathing? Must she
be generous and donate the remaining jewelry, still on her mother's
body, to the morgue worker? Or are these last heirlooms her birthrights
to claim, keep, and cherish? It is routine, she later learns, to
give those few belongings to the workers who have looked after
them. This is an expectation that she detects in the gaze of those
around her, something she hears in their unkind whispers: "She
doesn't know our traditions. She's just returned from
abroad. She's a foreigner."
A foreigner. The author
has spent too many years away from the country to still be considered
an "insider." Standing
in the morgue's main hall, "under the scornful gaze
of everyone," Kowssar realizes that it may not be just a
mother she has lost. Decades abroad have made her unfamiliar to
her native surroundings. It is a barrier which even she, a professor
of Persian, cannot overcome. And now her last link, the reason
for which she had returned to Iran for so many years, is gone.
With the loss of her mother, Kowssar may also have lost her motherland. This
is what the dead do to the exile whose stock of relationships grows
leaner with the passing of every year: they take the few lingering
bonds of the living with them to the grave.
This recognition, the
notion of being out of place, sets in Kowssar's
consciousness in the days that follow. Memories of her mother are
entwined with memories of places that are lost, too. Cafes, restaurants,
or public spaces to which the women had ventured no longer exist.
Grief had already filled her heart. Now, nostalgia fills her days.
She is homesick in the very heart of home. Without her mother,
Tehran proves to be just another bustling, lonely city, in which
relics of her history are fading.
For those who expect an objective
reportage from a book of nonfiction, the "Outrage of Silence" will
be a disappointment. But for those who revel in the privilege of
learning an author's
innermost thoughts and feelings, Kowssar's book will be the
unforgettable soliloquy of an exiled daughter to a disabled mother,
who invented a rich life upon imagination and dignity, yet died
alone in a bleak land.
Sokoot" can be obtained from Persian bookstores,
Ketab Corporation, Los Angeles.
(310) 477-7477) and Karoon Books,
New York. Email firstname.lastname@example.org,
Author of two books of poetry in Persian, Roya Hakakian's
from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran,
will be published by Crown this August. Visit: www.RoyaHakakian.com.
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