- Another Sea, Another Shore: Persian Stories of Migration, and: Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, what was once a small population of Iranian expatriates and exiles has steadily grown. As the second and third generations of these non-resident Iranians continue to expand, it has become possible to track the emergence of a sizeable diaspora and its cultural production. Iranian women writing in Persian and other international languages have been particularly prolific in the literary scene, garnering widespread recognition for their work. This is evidenced not only by the growing number of anthologies devoted exclusively to Iranian women's literary output, such as Green and Yazdanfar's A Walnut Sapling on Masih's Grave (1993), Lewis and Yazdanfar's In a Voice of Their Own (1996), and Khorrami and Vatanabadi's first co-edited collection, A Feast in the Mirror (2000), but also by the recent popularity of memoirs written by women of the Iranian diaspora, of which Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) and Satrapi's Persepolis series (2001–04 in French, 2003–04 in English) are the two most internationally acclaimed examples.
The two timely publications under review represent welcome additions to the growing corpus of Iranian diasporic and women's writing, as they bring together a range of diverse texts both by established figures in [End Page 119] contemporary Iranian literature and by some of the most talented voices emerging outside of Iran. Bearing witness to experiences of migration, displacement, and de-territorialization among Iranians who currently reside outside the national boundaries of their ancestral homeland or who have remained there in a state of internal exile, these anthologies speak to the writers' sometimes comforting, sometimes fraught identifications with their lost home as well as to the cultural affiliations they have recently forged with the diaspora community at large.
The stories compiled in Another Sea, Another Shore are for the most part works of fiction originally written in Persian by recent Iranian exiles and first-generation immigrants. Bringing together the work of 21 writers currently residing in eight different countries, the collection boasts what is to my knowledge the broadest geographical scope of any existing volume on diasporic Iranian literature to date: a glance at the contributor biographies at the end of the book reveals that four live in Iran, four in the Netherlands, three each in Canada, France, and Germany, and one each in the United States, England, Sweden, and Denmark. The editors rightfully insist on including works produced in Iran as part of the broader constellation of Iranian diaspora literature, pointing out that migration is never a unidirectional phenomenon, but has an impact on both the home and the host cultures.
In their selection of stories, Vatanabadi and Khorrami have focused on the degree to which writers cultivate new modes of representation in reflecting on experiences of displacement and transculturation. Attempting to carve out "a place for the Iranian literature of migration in the general context of diaspora literature" (vii) and to map the major features of this transnational literary space as it is still forming, Another Sea, Another Shore traces the ways in which the textual contours of that literature have been shaped at home and abroad by what might be called a poetics of exile and dislocation. The organizational logic of the volume reflects these concerns. Rather than arranging the stories chronologically or geographically, the editors divide them into three categories, based on their distinctive thematic and aesthetic approach to the question of migration. Part I presents narratives concerned with the ways identity is constructed in the wake of experiences of rupture, and particularly through a profound preoccupation with the past. Mahasti Shahrokhi's "Hourglass," for instance, is a melancholic character sketch of an...