- Women’s Causes in Spozhmai Zaryab’s Narrative Works
Afghanistani women, because of sociopolitical and cultural conditions, turned to modern narrative literature late in comparison with their male colleagues. Fiction writing, which had previously been the preserve of men, was a new field for women in Afghanistan. Despite some early examples of works of fiction by female writers in the late 1940s, women’s fiction, with its own characteristics, emerged only in the late 1960s.1 In their writing, fiction has become women centered and is the main site for women’s causes. These women authors have contributed to the development of different kinds of fiction, which are without precedent in classical Persian literature.
Spozhmai Zaryab, by depicting in her short stories and novel some of the most fundamental issues concerning women in Afghanistan, is one of the main contributors to the establishment in Afghanistan of women’s fiction, including feminist fiction. In addition, she was the first female novelist in Afghanistan and the godmother of antiwar fiction in the 1980s. Her mastery of writing and distinguished style have made her one of the most outstanding Afghanistani writers. However, her emergence was not a coincidence. She was a product of a new era in modern Afghanistan history. The ratification of a new constitution in 1964 and the emergence of political parties and an independent press paved the way for the greater involvement of women in sociopolitical and cultural fields.2 The political parties, especially the Left, and the independent press devoted many of their pages to the causes of women, demanding equal rights for women and the development of their sociopolitical conditions.
Born in 1950, Spozhmai Zaryab studied in Kabul, where she received a BA from the University of Kabul, and in France, where she was awarded an MA and recently a PhD in comparative literature.3 She worked as a teacher in Isteqlal and Malalai and at Lecce Maslaki Zanan (women’s college) and was an interpreter in the French Embassy in Kabul. She is married to Azam Rahnaward Zaryab, himself a prolific Afghanistani writer, with whom she initially shared her literary outlook and style. She left Afghanistan in the early 1990s for France and is now living in Paris with her three daughters.
Her personal life, from her studies of French language and literature to her career as a teacher (mainly in female schools), marrying and having three daughters, and migrating to France, has had a great impact on her works. For example, teaching at Lecce Maslaki Zanan gave her an opportunity to become more acquainted with young married women’s problems, as at this college only married women were allowed to study. As the mother of three [End Page 260] daughters, she became more concerned with the position of women in Afghanistani society. Studying French language and literature helped her to become familiar with Western literary movements, especially existentialism and feminism. However, being away from her homeland and encountering new challenges in exile have caused her to abandon creative writing, at least for the time being. Since the time she left Afghanistan, Spozhmai Zaryab has not published anything except one short story.4
Zaryab’s main concerns are related to the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Her own life is both a source for her feminist endeavors and a manifestation of her reaction against suppressive authorities. Born into a traditional family but having acquired the highest level of modern education has put her in a situation of two worlds, the traditional and the modern.5 But her works and feminist outlook are deeply indigenous, as Deniz Kandiyoti explains: “Feminism is not autonomous, but bound to the signifying network of the national context which produces it.”6
Zaryab started her career as a writer in the late 1960s.7 She published two collections of short stories, Sharang sharang-i zang-hā (The Jingling of the Bells) and Dasht-i Qābil (Cain’s Desert), and a novel, Dar keshwar-i digar (In Another Country). Sharang sharang-i zang-hā mainly comprises her stories from the 1960s and 1970s, while Dasht-i Qābil contains those from the 1980s.8
Zaryab’s works can be separated...