Familiar and Foreign: Identity in Iranian Film and Literature ed. by Manijeh Mannani and Veronica Thompson (review)
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Reviewed by
Manijeh Mannani and Veronica Thompson, eds. Familiar and Foreign: Identity in Iranian Film and Literature. Athabasca University Press. viii, 266. $39.95

What constitutes modern Iranian identity? This perennial question of Iranian intellectual discourse is addressed in novel ways by the articles in this collection. Its contributors examine the strategies through which notable artists living in Iran or in diaspora construct diverse Iranian identities (cultural, sexual, etc.), either defying the strictures imposed by the Iranian censor or challenging the essentialist perceptions about Iran and Iranians in the west.

The editors' introduction emphasizes the indigenous roots of the search for Self, tracing it back to the spiritual quests in Persian mystical poetry, but acknowledges the role of western modalities of thought in the quest for modern Iranian identity, which gained momentum around the time of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1906–11). This east-west cultural cross-pollination continues to be productive, hold the authors, despite the impediments it encountered after the 1979 revolution, with the rise of Islamist authority. Current Iranian contributions to the study of individual and collective identity-formation are represented implicitly, through broad references to prominent scholars from the Iranian diaspora (Ramin Jahanbegloo, Daryush Shayegan, Kamran Talattof, Babak Rahimi, Abbas Milani, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Janet Afary, Nayereh Tohidi).

The focus on Iranian writers and filmmakers of high visibility and international renown characterizes the articles in the collection as well. Thus Safaneh Mohaghegh Neyshabouri looks at the oeuvre of the iconic Iranian female poet Forugh Farrokhzad (1936–67) through the prism of "confessional poetry" (term coined by M.L. Rozenthal) and examines the evolution of the poetic persona over time – a study not systematically conducted so far. [End Page 289]

Three articles address diaspora life-writing by Iranian female authors. In her overview of the veritable explosion of memoirist literature by Iranian women writing in English, Farideh Dayanim Goldin proposes that the dearth of confessional literature written in Persian may be due to the inhibiting aspects of the Persian language itself, which perpetuates patriarchal taboos through entrenched misogynist phraseology. She also problematizes the label "neo-Orientalist writing" given by some critics to works like Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), and considers it yet another attempt at "silencing" a female voice. The controversy over Azar Nafisi's bestseller, which polarized to the extreme the Iranian-American literary discourse in the first decade of the twenty-first century, is revisited again by Manijeh Mannani. She takes to task in particular Fatemeh Keshavarz's criticism of the book in Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran (2007) – also a memoir, meant to counterbalance Nafisi's representations of post-revolutionary Iran. Mostafa Abedinifard focuses on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis, examining Satrapi's attitudes to mandatory veiling and the artistic strategies conveying the schizophrenic reality in which secularist Iranians live due to its imposition.

Two articles prioritize gendered identities in modern Iranian fiction. In her study of three short stories from the collection Like All Afternoons (1991) by the Iranian-Armenian author Zoya Pirzad, Madeleine Voegeli examines the balance between individual and social self among middle-class Iranians: two housewives, reluctant to venture beyond their "domestic habitats," and a newly retired male administrator who cannot fit in this traditionally feminine domain, highlight the challenges of adopting a personal identity at odds with the socially sanctioned one. Blake Atwood highlights oblique signs of alternative male sexual orientation in the short story "Such" by Ghazaleh Alizadeh and the detrimental influence of overweening homosocial bonds on the formation of autonomous individual identity among the male characters of Goli Taraqqi's Winter Sleep (1973).

Three articles engage the issue of fiction-writing in exile. Babak Elahi's analysis of Kader Abdolah's novel My Father's Notebook (published in Dutch in 2000) explores the dilemmas of a diaspora writer, who struggles with the linguistic polyphony that defines his new life. Elahi focuses on the symbolic significance of the four languages on which the narrator's identity depends: Persian (expressing past national identity), Dutch (the language of the host society), an invented cuneiform script, in which his illiterate father wrote his memoir (symbol of the irretrievably lost past of...


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