Someone recently sent me this list of 46 Books By Women of Color To Read in 2018, so I don’t think that I’ll read all of them, but I’ve been working my way through the ones that sound interesting to me (see Summertime Reading – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore  and Pachinko and When They Call You a Terrorist and I’m currently working on Everything Here is Beautiful and An American Marriage).

Sadly, I have to say I didn’t care for this one, Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik. Which I feel pretty terrible about because well, I know have a bias towards books with American or European main characters, and here’s a beautiful book set in Iran. It’s just so amazingly depressing. Which, if I’d learned anything about Forugh Farrokhzad prior to reading this book wouldn’t have been a surprise, but well, my American public school education followed by an English major in college where I took lots of British and American Literature classes did not lead me to discover her work. It is a beautifully written book and I enjoyed how snippets of her (translated) poems were mixed in.

Farrokhzad was a poet and documentary film maker born in Iran in the 1930’s and Darznik has essentially novelized her life. So… can one spoil a novelization of a life? I mean, my sister-in-law is Brazilian and she went into the film Lincoln with NO IDEA that he got assassinated. She was shocked, like why were you guys so excited for this movie WHEN YOU KNEW HE WOULD DIE??? So maybe she would have liked it better if we’d “spoiled” it for her, and maybe I would have liked this book better if I’d googled Farrokhzad… Anyway, this is me telling you dear reader SPOILER ALERT!

Spoiler alert, this was a depressing book. Being born a woman in Tehran in 1935 and not being that interested in doing exactly what society wants you to do, it doesn’t work out great. Farrokhzad was married off to a cousin because (at least in the book) she met him ONE TIME in public. I’m very glad I’m not married to the first guy I dated as a teenager… Her husband, not that fond of her. She also has affairs (she is eventually divorced by her husband, resulting in never seeing her son again, also, ugggg), and those guys don’t treat her well either! She gets involuntarily committed. She dies much too young for really, no reason.

That is not even every bad thing that happens to her! Maybe this just wasn’t the right Memorial Day weekend book? If this book weren’t beautifully written, if I didn’t come to really like Farrokhzad and enjoy her voice, I would have put it down. But, I liked her, she’s a dreamer, a thinker:

It seems impossible to me now that my neighborhood in Tehran, with its many houses, alleyways, and passages, has disappeared, but I know if I returned after all this time, after the war and revolution, I wouldn’t be able to fine it. Still, I only need to close my eyes to return to my father’s house in Amiriyeh. For year, that house was my only country and the square above my mother’s garden was all I knew of heaven’s blue sky.

And of course, she’s a reader: “[I]t was my preference for books and for the world inside my head that left me so incapable of accepting the usual and the ordinary. The more I read, the more I longed to let loose the words inside me.”

And, she’s a poet. I don’t know how good the translations are, but I really liked her poetry rendered in English, from “Conquest of the Garden”:

We found truth in the garden
in the shy glance of a nameless flower,
found eternity in the moment
when two suns faced each other.

I’m not talking about
fearful whispers in the dark.
I’m talking about daytime
and open widows and fresh air
and a stove where useless things
are left to burn,
a land fertile with different plantings:
birth and evolution and pride.
I’m talking about how our loving hands
built a bridge forged of scent and breeze
across the night.

I also thought it was very interesting at one point, one of Farrokhzad‘s lovers publishes a story that is not at all thinly veiled as being about their love affair, she begs him not to publish it, it’s not going to help her notoriety… He tells her “You don’t own the stories that happen to you.” I think we all feel like we own our own stories (what are human beings but story telling machines, telling ourselves narratives about ourselves all day long every day?), but of course, Farrokhzad didn’t own her story in life — not only does this lover essentially monetize their relationship by telling her story, she was perceived as being a whore, a radical, a bad woman by the press. And now, she’s “telling” the story written by Darznik, but of course, it’s fiction. Farrokhzad told her own story through her poetry I guess, but others felt (and feel) that they can tell it too.

Currently reading: Everything is Beautiful and An American Marriage. Also sort of working on Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin but haven’t really gotten into it.