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My Bird

Fariba Vafi, translated from the Farsi by Mahnaz Kousha and Nasrin Jewell with a foreword by Farzaneh Milani

Publication Year: 2009

In this powerful story of life, love, and the demands of marriage and motherhood, Fariba Vafi gives readers a portrait of one woman’s struggle to adapt to the complexity of life in modern Iran. The narrator, a housewife and young mother living in a low-income neighborhood in Tehran, dwells upon her husband Amir’s desire to immigrate to Canada. His peripatetic lifestyle underscores her own sense of inertia. When he finally slips away, the young woman is forced to raise the children alone and care for her ailing mother. Vafi’s brilliant minimalist style showcases the narrator’s reticence and passivity. Brief chapters and spare prose provide the ideal architecture for the character’s densely packed unexpressed emotions to unfold on the page. Haunted by the childhood memory of her father’s death in the basement of her house while her mother ignored his entreaties for help, the narrator believes she relinquished her responsibility and failed to challenge her mother. As a single parent and head of household, she must confront her paralyzing guilt and establish her independence

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, List of other titles in series

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v

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pp. 1-3

This is Communist China. I have never visited China, but I think it must be like our neighborhood. No, in reality our neighborhood is like China: full of people. They say you can’t see any animals in the streets of China. Anywhere you look, you see only people. That’s why...

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pp. 4-6

Our house is fifty square meters. It’s the same size as a flower garden in an average house in the northern part of the city. That’s why Amir says, “Don’t keep saying, ‘My house, my house.’” This is the ninth house we have moved into, and we have a feeling that we never had in any of our previous...

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pp. 7-8

Amir says, “I am selling the house.” I don’t like surprise announcements. I always need to be prepared. I can’t do anything unexpectedly. That is why I am always a little behind. I am late for weddings and funeral ceremonies. Maman says, “What is the...

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pp. 9-10

I go. He goes. We go. “To go” is the only verb that Amir is constantly conjugating. Damn this luck! We have not quite had a taste of staying in one place, and he is thinking about going again. Shahla says, “Amir’s elephant is dreaming of India...

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pp. 11-13

”The man was stabbing himself when we arrived. By the time people stopped him, he had disfigured himself.” Hosseini and I arrived before any others. They were taking his wife away in an ambulance and saying, “She is finished.” Amir has brought news again. Father also would always...

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pp. 14-16

Amir is in love with Canada. Everybody knows about his passion. Anybody who hears something new about life in Canada passes the news on to him. Sometimes he talks about Canada, as if he has lived there for years. He sighs and says, “I’ll go to Canada and be rid of this place.” When he hits a dead end, he says, “Canada is totally free...

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pp. 17-18

I call Shadi. She doesn’t answer. With all the noise coming from the parking lot, I can’t hear her. I look out the window. Shadi is not there. I send Shahin to look for her. Shahin returns, holding on to her arm tightly, and tugging at her. Shadi is screaming. ”I told you to find her, not to beat her up!”...

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pp. 19-22

Maman left our house without saying good-bye. She was either too sick and forgot to say good-bye, or she thought about it and ignored us on purpose. Right by the door I have hung a rectangular mirror on the wall where I could see Amir’s sneering face. He doesn’t like Maman, and at times...

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pp. 23-24

Maman doesn’t cry only when she is in pain. She cries when the phone rings a lot or the television is too loud. She cries when she is cold and can’t stop her shivers with blankets, or when Shahla comes from work and goes straight to her room. When she goes to the bathroom, you can hear her...

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pp. 25

The problem was that Father’s heart was healthy, but his legs didn’t move. The brain didn’t communicate properly. His speech was troubled, and he was confused. Amidst all this, his heart was like a general who continued to give useless commands in a battle that had already ended....

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pp. 26-28

Aunt Mahboub didn’t have any children. Sometimes she needed a child in her life, and she’d borrow one of us from Maman. Shahla was too old to be a child. Perhaps she had previously played a child for Aunt Mahboub. Mahin was too much of a brat and unruly. I was more suited than anybody...

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pp. 29-32

I tell Amir, “I am not leaving this place.” ”When I leave, you will be leaving with me, and when you come, you’ll be thankful because I have saved you from this place.” His voice is gradually growing louder. As if he is addressing ten people. “Nothing improves by staying.”...

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pp. 33-35

I have seen the big building where Amir spends half of his life, and the people in it. I know their habits. I know who has kids and who doesn’t, and whether the problem is with the man or the woman. I know who is a Turk and who is Isfahani, who is stingy and who is generous, who is complicated...

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pp. 36-37

Shahin is sent to the backyard. He will come in only when he has understood that even if he does not like his sweats, he has to wear them and not run around the house naked. Two hours have passed and Shahin has not figured out yet that he is not a prince. He is the child of a family with...

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pp. 38-39

I am looking for Shadi. She is not in the parking lot. I go through the narrow walkways of the storage rooms. She is leaning against the door to the last storage room, and it is very hard to see her in the dark. ”What on earth are you doing here?” I shout. She puts her finger on her lips. “Shhh. Ida is going...

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pp. 40-42

I don’t enjoy the cool air of the air conditioning because Amir has to work in the hot sun. After lunch, I don’t take a nap because Amir does not have the time to do that. I don’t socialize with my friends because Amir can’t do it. Amir is a slave, a slave who has pre-sold his productive energy for the...

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pp. 43-44

The basement I see in my dreams has no windows. But the basement in my father’s house had windows; four small windows. The basement in Aunt Mahboub’s house had only one window that could be seen from the backyard. Our basement was big and full of old furniture, kerosene...

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pp. 45

Amir has fallen in love. In love with a blond woman. He introduces her to me as “my sister.” The woman is thin and slender, and probably from Canada. She extends her hand and smiles. I can’t tell if she is Iranian or Canadian, but she is a stranger. She can’t be his sister....

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pp. 46-47

The second time Aunt Mahboub sent me back, I smelled like urine. The night before, I had wet my bed, and Aunt Mahboub was fed up with me. Maman told me to go to the basement and wait for her. I was happy to be back at our own house. I did not like Aunt Mahboub’s house. I...

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pp. 48-51

Friday means the rumbling voice of the salt peddler, the basket vendor, and the loudspeaker of the truck that sells guaranteed sweet watermelons. Friday means loud television and Amir’s long yawns. Friday means changing the old faucet and fixing the broken flush. Friday means long...

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pp. 52-54

When Amir has had enough, he walks around the room with heavy steps like a giant. Opening and closing doors noisily. He sings in the shower, and when you least expect it, he recites poetry by Hafez. In the mornings, he puts on his best shirt to go to work. Fixing his hair, he doesn’t mind using my leftover hair color...

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pp. 55-57

Only death can turn life back to its original state. If suddenly I have a heart attack and collapse in the middle of the kitchen, Amir will notice me at last. I don’t want to have an accident and end up with a deformed face. I don’t want to get cancer and become weak and turn yellow. Heart attacks...

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pp. 58-59

I am looking out the window. I tell Amir, “Hurry up.” Amir reluctantly comes to the window, and we both look out at the man who practices tambour in the afternoons, and now he is playing with the lock on the door. Amir says, “I didn’t think he would be so thin. He looks...

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pp. 60-61

Amir wakes up and is asking for the tape that he brought back from Baku. I say, “I’ll find it later.” “No, right now.” “First sit down and have your breakfast.” Amir does not want any breakfast. He wants his tape....

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pp. 62-65

I write: Dear Mahin, Yesterday morning Shadi got your letter from the mailman and brought it home screaming happily. But she got into a fight with Shahin over opening it. I told them whoever opens the letter the other one gets to keep the stamps. Shahin immediately backed down. Shadi opened the letter. Amir said,...

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pp. 66-71

What is the future like? The future must look like the old woman that Amir showed me in the park, like a yellow crumbled envelope. I cannot visualize the future. I don’t know what it is made of. Until now, I could only imagine the future. But now that I am close enough to it, the future is losing...

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pp. 72-74

A woman who cheats on her husband can look like anybody except Manijeh. A woman who cheats cannot pay attention to everybody, the way Manijeh does. A woman who cheats cannot enjoy the scent of her daughter’s hair and kiss her the way Manijeh does. She says, “Why don’t you take...

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pp. 75-76

Shadi is doing her homework. “Maman, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I say, “Don’t chew on the pencil.” She takes the pencil out of her mouth. “OK. Tell me.” “I am already a grown-up.” Now she has put the pencil in between her toes....

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pp. 77-78

”Maman! Amir is leaving.” ”His bird has flown away. He can’t stay here any longer. He has to follow his bird. Let him go.” Maman says that everybody has a bird. When the bird flies away and lands somewhere, it calls out for its owner to follow. Amir’s bird has landed in Baku. It has flown ahead and is...

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pp. 79-82

Shahla is on a diet. I serve her salad without dressing, with lots of dill. She’s talking about the architecture of our house. “The bathroom is out of sight and near the shower. That’s good.” I ask about her coworkers. But Shahla insists on talking...

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pp. 83-84

Maman says, “I can’t take it anymore.” She could not put up with Father. Father did not want to be confined in the basement anymore. He wanted to get out. “I want to go and buy one of those tall black things.” Mahin says, “I will buy you a Coke.”...

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pp. 85-87

”You’re like glue, superglue.” I wait, and when Amir comes I cling to him. “Stay. Don’t leave again. I can’t take it any longer.” Amir is happy and full of energy. He kisses my face again and again. “One day I’ll take you all there.” “Take us now,” I beg. Amir gets...

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pp. 88-89

It’s two days since Amir’s bag is empty. He has no stories or news. He eats his dinner and stares at the television screen. When I talk, he doesn’t listen. He doesn’t even answer when I ask him a question. The third day, he hits Shadi for a petty excuse and yells at me for spending money when everything...

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pp. 90-91

Shahla, Mahin, and Maman want to go home. They came over this afternoon and now its night, the beginning of the night, a little after sunset. Shahin is hanging on to Mahin’s arm. “Take me too.” Shadi is sucking on her finger. Maman has lifted up her...

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pp. 92-93

I feel the tremors of this life. I can smell the whiff of separation. Life will change. We could do anything, but still not be able to stay together as we are. I make a soup. Soup reminds Amir of his mother. A mother who could be summed up in two words: devoted and hardworking. But my mother...

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pp. 94-98

In his letters Amir writes about Azerbaijani people, about Baku, the boulevards, and the underground metro. He writes about museums, statues, and the libraries. In response I write about the weather, the newspaper reports, and the new highways that the government is building, about the...

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pp. 99-100

I am running a fever. Maman was supposed to stop by, but she didn’t. Her feet hurt too much. Shahla called a few times and said I should go to the doctor. She says I shouldn’t have let Amir leave and have fun by himself in Baku while I am left alone with two kids. I don’t say anything....

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pp. 101

Amir says, “You’ve become really fat, like a buffalo. I like the slim girls who stroll in the streets, thin and slender.” I laugh. I gently stroke my arm. It’s silky and smooth. My hand should remain on my arm to feel its softness. If I remove my hand, I might think I have the skin of a rhinoceros...

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pp. 102-104

My belly might get bigger. Mahin’s hips might grow bigger. One day we may look in the mirror, see our faces, and feel sorry for ourselves. One day Mahin may no longer be able to dance so energetically, and perhaps one day I will become less patient and surrender to fate. Destiny can do...

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pp. 105-106

I put the kids to sleep. Leaning on the wall, I stretch my legs as if I have returned from a very long trip and not from Shahla’s house. My back hurts and my mind is preoccupied. I have no choice but to return and live with my kids. I change Shadi’s diaper. Shahla is watching my hands to...

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pp. 107-108

Mahin squeezes Shadi and makes her scream. Then she gets up and plays dodge ball with the kids. Shahla laughs, “Big kid!” Maman watches Mahin and her eyes fi ll with tears. These days Mahin sings. She shops and speaks English. She writes letters. Makes a list of things she wants to take with her, and...

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pp. 109

A love letter has arrived from Amir. He has written that only when you are far from your everyday life do you begin to realize what you actually had. He has written that he is only beginning to appreciate me, and that he misses home and the kids. He can’t work like...

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pp. 110-111

I don’t write Amir about highways and the new construction. Neither do I write about the supermarket that drove away the customers from the very beginning. I write about me and the world around me, about every corner of our new house. I write about the landlord, and Shahin and...

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pp. 112-113

Shahla’s maman says, “A man shouldn’t take off and leave his wife and small children all alone.” But my maman says, “The farther a pest, the less problematic life is.” Shahla’s maman says, “A woman who has an income or a salary doesn’t need a husband.”...

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pp. 114-116

I write: Dear Mahin Maman is sick. Shahla is supposed to get the results of Maman’s tests tomorrow. She thinks it’s better for Maman to lose some weight. Maman quietly says, “She wants to kill me with hunger.” I bring Maman home with me for a few days. The neighbors come to visit her. Amir advises, “Don’t let those people come in the house.”...

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pp. 117

have found my favorite place in the house. I am sitting there and flipping through a book. I go back to the beginning of the line and read the same sentence over and again. My eyes, like magnets that have lost their power, only move on the paper without absorbing the words. I rest my head on...

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pp. 118-119

Maman says, “Promise you won’t tell anybody.” Shahla is opening canned fruit for Maman. “I want everybody to look at my face when I am talking.” I laugh, “At your nose?” Moaning, she says, “Yes, but not at my breasts.” I stare at her face to avoid looking at her chest. Her...

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pp. 120-122

I can’t sympathize with Amir either. ”Although she didn’t continue her education, her life was turned around. If she had stayed here, she would have been an ordinary and uneducated woman, like hundreds of others. But now . . .” Amir is thinking about his friends, and with every sentence...

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pp. 123-124

I scream. ”Don’t I have the right to have anything private for myself in this house?” Amir is quiet. The back of his neck has turned red and that’s a bad sign. I holler again. Amir has read the letter that I wrote to Mahin, and is now waiting like a witness that the judge hasn’t...

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pp. 125-126

Shahla is talking about Maman’s bad temper, and it’ll take some time before she begins to talk about her sickness. I listen quietly and I am preoccupied. Wherever I go, I don’t stop thinking, even when I am changing Maman’s sheets, or when I take Shadi to school and bring her back, or when I...

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pp. 127-128

Shahla comes with her hands full. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” We don’t say anything. She turns on the light and Maman blinks rapidly. I believe Maman has only one light, and when it’s off it gets dark everywhere. Shahla has one extra light. That’s why even when she is weeping and in the middle of...

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pp. 129

I like the basement. Sometimes I like to go back there. Sometimes it’s the only place that you can go from the ground level. It’s been a long time since I realized that I have been carrying a basement within me. Since I have discovered the basement is my starting point, I stop there often. This time...

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pp. 130-131

The woman enters the bedroom and the man, after apologizing, looks inside the room over the woman’s shoulder. They apologize again for checking the bathroom. The real estate man winks at Amir. The sound of the tambourine is heard. The woman and man look at each other. The real...

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pp. 133-150

An unprecedented flourishing of women’s literature—a literary renaissance, really—is one of the collateral, unexpected benefits of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Finally, the pantheon of Persian literature is integrated in terms of the gender of its producers, consumers, and objects of representation

About the Authors

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pp. 151-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651413
E-ISBN-10: 0815651414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609445
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609442

Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Iran -- Fiction.
  • Psychological fiction.
  • Women authors, Iranian -- Fiction.
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