Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

By Fatemeh Keshavarz | Go to book overview

4 Women without Men
Fireworks of the Imagination

She walked off the plane tall and curly haired, slightly agitated, and wearing a half-amused smile. I thought, “So much like her stories!” Shahrnush Parsipur was coming to St. Louis to speak to my class called “Writing and Rebellion: Women Writers of the Near and Far East.” I was coteaching the course with two women colleagues, Nancy and Rebecca. Anyway, we had read Parsipur's novel Women without Men, and now she was coming to speak to us in person. The last time I had wanted to invite her, she had been in Utah and had returned to Tehran before a trip could be arranged. This time, she was in California and had the time. I welcomed Parsipur to St. Louis and introduced her to my husband. I guess —given the title of her novel—she was a bit amused that the two of us had come to pick her up together. We walked to the luggage area exchanging pleasantries, asking how her time in California had been. “Fairly quiet,” she answered in a dreamy voice. Then she turned to both of us rather suddenly, saying, “No one climbs up my window—not a thief, not a lover!” We laughed. She had been so serious it was hard to do anything else. I knew she loved to be surrounded by people. When invited to give a talk she would say, “Just don't throw me into one of those hotel rooms. I don't care about the rest.” That is why we had arranged for her to stay with a friend. Now, ten seconds after we had met, she had wrapped the dilemma of her life in a joke and held it in front of our face. And yet her voice was neither disappointed nor bitter. I thought, “So much like her stories.”

Surprising. Excited. Fired up. Sometimes even angry. But not bitter. That is how I would describe Parsipur's stories. And of course, brightly imaginative. Nowhere is this better displayed than in her short novel Women without Men, published in 1989 in Iran. Why would she be bitter? She has personally given herself the “right to free access to imagination,” the article that Nafisi wants to add to the Bill of Rights in her “recurring fantasy” in Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT, 338). No, Parsipur's imagination is not a fantasy. It is real. And it is a phenomenon in contemporary Persian fiction.

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