"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
Jasmin Darznik was three when she moved with her parents from Iran to California during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. She grew up ashamed of her mother’s old world ways and resentful of her protectiveness. By the time she was in her twenties, Darznik wanted little to do with her mother. But after her father died, she found a photograph that made her realize how little about her mother she understood. Eventually, her mother unveiled her secrets, including marriage at 13, a baby at 14 and divorce by 15. It is a story that reveals a lot about the complex lives of women in Iran.
- Jasmin Darznik an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is the author of the memoir “The Good Daughter.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. When Jasmin Darznik was in her early 20s, she stumbled across a photo that made her question everything she knew about her Iranian mother. Instead the fierce, strong woman who dominated her childhood, Darznik's mother was pictured as a vulnerable child bride. She discovered her mother had not only kept her first marriage and divorce hidden, she'd also kept her first daughter a secret. Eventually, her mother recorded 10 cassette tapes revealing the full story of her life. Jasmin Darznik turned those tapes into a memoir titled, "The Good Daughter."
MS. DIANE REHMShe's now an English professor at Washington and Lee University, she joins me in the studio. You can join us as well with your telephone calls, your e-mail, your postings on Facebook and your tweets. Good morning to you, Jasmin, it's good to have you here.
MS. JASMIN DARZNIKThank you so much, Diane.
REHMWhen you were growing up, what did your mother tell you then about her life in Iran?
DARZNIKShe had a very nostalgic version of her life that she liked to present back then. She did talk about being the only professional woman in her family. She talked of Iran in the '60s and '70s as a quite Westernized country, but she didn't talk at all about her early life, certainly not to the extent that I would learn of it later, much later. She had, from time to time, a story she would tell me about a good daughter back in Iran. She'd say, if you don't behave, I'll go back to the good daughter I have in Iran.
REHMAnd did you press her about who or what that good daughter was?
DARZNIKWhen I was very little, it terrified me whenever she invoked this good daughter. I thought she was real and I thought she'd steal my mother away from me and I was terrified whenever she'd tell me about this good daughter. As I grew up and became a teenager, I thought, oh, this is just one of those crazy, Iranian ways of trying to keep me in line, of making me behave. So I dismissed it completely as a fiction.
REHMRead for us from the first of the book because it really does set up the dialogue that began between you and your mother.
DARZNIKOf course. "Like all the photographs that came with us when we left Iran, this one was as supple and as thick as leather. Its edges were tattered and a long, white crease coursed through the image. I might easily have mistaken it for just another old photograph, but this one was nothing like the others. The girl in it was my mother, Lily, and though she couldn't be older than 14, someone had rimmed her eyes with coal and darkened her mouth with a lipstick so deep, it looked black in the picture. Her dress was satin pulled taut across her torso and pinched at the waist and her shoulders turned in awkwardly where a wedding veil skimmed her body.
DARZNIKThe man at her side was not my father. I'd never even seen him before. He wore a gray fedora with his tuxedo and his right hand encircled my mother's waist with surprisingly elegant fingers. A bride, I realized with a start. She'd once been this stranger's bride. Nearly as astonishing as this revelation was my mother's expression in the photograph. Eyes fixed on the distance and lower lip pouting, she looked as if the next shot would've shown her crying. I'd never known my proud Iranian mother to look like that. I sat stunned, gripping the photograph between my thumb and forefinger, unable to look away. I was sitting in my mother's house, a house to which I imagined I'd never return.
DARZNIKIt was late in the afternoon five weeks after my father's funeral. I was helping her go through his things and this photograph had fallen from a stack of letters whose Persian script my eyes could no longer follow. A photograph hidden, forgotten and now found. Iranians would likely shrug at such a discovery, lift their eyes up toward the heavens and sum up its meanings as (word?) or destiny. This was a word I'd often hear in the days following my father's death. (word?), my mother told me, had brought me back to California. I hadn't seen her in nearly a year when she called me to tell me my father was in the hospital and that I had to come home now.
DARZNIKI left my apartment on the east coast without even packing a suitcase. My father died before my plane landed in San Francisco, but I returned to my parents' house still unready for tears. My mother and I grieved at a distance, each of us in her own way. Lily's friend encircled her, crying with her and soothing her and praying with her day, after day, after day. I kept to myself. I didn't cry. But then, three days after the funeral, I drove my mother to the airport. Together we watched my father's body, housed now in a black ribbon coffin, being housed onto the plane that would carry him across the ocean to Germany, the home that he had given up when he moved to Iran in the '60s to marry my mother.
DARZNIKThe sky that morning was a rare December blue and nearly cloudless. '(word?),' she whispered as the plane arched out of sight. And at this, finally, I cried."
REHMIt's a beautiful rendition of the beginning of a new relationship based on a photograph. Just beautifully written. Jasmin Darznik, her new book is titled, "The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life." And after you had sent your father's body back to Germany, you went back home with your mother. Did you then begin to talk about that photograph?
DARZNIKBoth of us were completely grief stricken at that time. My father had just passed and it was impossible for me approach her at that moment. I was encountering in that picture a woman I never knew. That little girl in that photograph was someone I could not recognize as my mother at all. I went back home to Princeton. I was in graduate school at the time. And at first, when I spoke to her, it was on the telephone and she refused to say anything. She shut down completely, she said, this has nothing to do with you. You stole this picture, this is not your life, it's mine. But then she did something quite remarkable, which is to send me these cassette tapes. She would send me 10 of them eventually.
DARZNIKAnd in these cassette tapes, over the course of several months, she would reveal to me the story of who that girl once was and how she became the woman I knew.
REHMDid she tell you she was working on those tapes?
DARZNIKShe sent them completely out of the blue. She didn't give me any preface, any warning at all. The first one showed up at my doorstep. In Princeton, I didn't even own a cassette player at that time. I had to go out and buy one. And I sat holed up in my apartment for several weeks listening to these tapes over and over and over again.
REHMYou must have been just stunned.
DARZNIKIt was so confusing to me. I knew nothing of this first marriage. I knew nothing of her divorce and certainly knew nothing about that first daughter, except dimly as the good daughter my mother used to evoke to me in California when I was growing up. It was utterly confusing and also, also very painful to hear of that first marriage and the abuse that she'd suffered.
REHMAnd of course, that first marriage took place because her brother had lost a bet.
DARZNIKThat was actually my grandmother's story. So in fact, my mother begins the tapes in telling her mother's story, my grandmother...
REHMThat's why I got confused, forgive me.
DARZNIK...in the early part in the 1920s in Iran had been given away, in a way, to settle a debt between her brother and the man who would become my grandfather.
REHMAnd she was married at what age?
DARZNIKMy grandmother was actually married later than my mother would be married. She was married at 14, I think she was, when she married.
REHMAnd how did your mother's marriage at 13 come about?
DARZNIKMy mother was brought up in the '40s and '50s in Iran. This was time when Iranian women were being remade. The veil had been outlawed in 1936. She came from a rather pious family. Her father was quite Western and had insisted that she go to school and that she be unveiled, but he'd taken up with a mistress and so her life really fell into the hands of the women of her family who were very anxious to have her out in the streets unveiled and they hastened her marriage. Her first husband was 15 years older than she. She was promised in marriage when she was 11 years old and she was married when she was 13.
DARZNIKWhat was the law at the time regarding the age of marriage of girls?
DARZNIKYeah, Razhah Shah had actually raised the marriage -- the age for marriage from nine to 16, I think, but if a girl's family took her to the doctor and the doctor was able to affirm that her body was mature, she could be married at 13 and this is what had happened to my mother. She'd been promised in marriage, as I said, when she was 11, taken to a doctor. It was affirmed that her body was mature enough and so she was then given into marriage the day after her 13th birthday.
REHMAnd this man whom she married had watched her from across the street for months and months and months.
DARZNIKYes, yes. He was quite a lot older and he used to stand by the gates of her school, an old and all girl school in Tehran and had staked her out as his bride.
REHMJasmin Darznik, she's a former attorney, currently professor of English and Creative Writing at Washington and Lee University. Her new book is titled, "The Good Daughter."
REHMIf you just joined us, Jasmin Darznik is with me. Her new book is a memoir of her mother's hidden life. The book is titled, "The Good Daughter." Her mother was married at age 13 in Iran to a man much, much older than she. What kind of experience did she have with this man who was so much older, Jasmin?
DARZNIKShe scarcely knew him before their marriage. She'd only ever seen him a few times, but the very week of their wedding, the beatings would begin. He was quite abusive to her both emotionally and physically. She was just 13 and really had no one to speak to. She was very afraid of even telling her family about what she suffered and felt quite alone and fearful.
REHMWhy did the abuse begin?
DARZNIKI have a sense from my mother that her first husband suffered some kind of mental instability and that within his family, it was thought it would settle him to marry, that it would make him calmer. And she'd known, of course, nothing. Her family had not known at all about his history of mental illness. And unfortunately, she'd only fully understand it when she became his wife and became the object of his abuses.
REHMHow soon did she become pregnant?
DARZNIKWithin months. She was still 13 when she delivered her daughter, so she would have become pregnant within a few months of her marriage.
REHMAnd how did her husband treat her once the daughter was born?
DARZNIKWas born. He was very volatile in personality. There were days where he could become quite depressive and quiet and she would think that perhaps his illness had ebbed and gone away, but it could flare up at any moment. He would scream, too, at the little girl, at the baby she was just then and she began to fear not just for herself but for her child as well.
REHMHer child's name was?
DARZNIKHer child's name -- I've changed all the names but my grandmother's -- the child's name, in the book, I call her Sara (sp?) is my half-sister, my mother's first daughter.
REHMHave you ever met her?
DARZNIKI did. I knew her when I was a young child myself in Iran. I was born in Iran. My family came at the time of the revolution, but no one told me she was my sister. She would come and visit -- my grandmother was then running a hair salon in Tehran and a girl with hair -- I call her a girl with hair that fell like a veil around her, would come from time to time and play with me at the salon. I didn't know who she belonged to, I didn't know why she came, but she was my sister, the one my mother would never tell me about.
REHMIt's fascinating because from the start, your mother says that in order to understand her story, you must first understand her mother's story. How similar were the two stories?
DARZNIKThe two stories. My mother was very strong-willed. She had to be in order to get a divorce in Iran in those days. She had no legal right to seek a divorce herself. It was only her father who could seek a divorce on her behalf. Divorcees at the time were thought of really as no better than prostitutes. They were shunned. And the sheer will it took for her to go through that process, she would feel -- in later years, she would feel resentment that her own mother had not displayed the same kind of will. She would blame, in fact, her mother for staying with my grandfather and suffering those abuses. It's very complicated.
REHMBecause she herself, your grandmother, suffered the same kind of abuse.
DARZNIKShe did and she was quite brave in her own way, but to my mother, my grandmother had brought on many of those abuses. And she had suffered my grandfather in a way that my mother would never abide, that she refused to abide.
REHMIn whose home did your mother live once she was married?
DARZNIKOnce she was married, she lived with her husband. They lived in a quite poor district of Tehran and it was there that she brought her child when she was first born.
REHMAnd sisters -- were there any sisters of your mother's husband?
DARZNIKOf my mother's husband? He had a large family, but they were really cast out on their own. He was, in some ways, distanced from his own family. He was thought of as, as I said, quite volatile...
DARZNIK...and unstable, so she was really on her own in those early years.
REHMHow did he earn a living to support them?
DARZNIKHe had a job that I think he went to intermittently. He would rely on his grandmother, to whom he was quite close, and who would be actually quite cruel to my mother. She was a volatile woman in her own right, I'd say, but in some ways, her first husband relied and depended on his grandmother financially.
REHMOn his grandmother.
DARZNIKOn his grandmother.
REHMJasmin, how did your mother manage to get away from him?
DARZNIKMy mother overdosed on opium and the circumstances under which that happened are so uncanny, I could not have made this up. If I'd written it as a novel, you would have said to me, this is implausible.
REHMAnd this comes from her own tape.
DARZNIKThis comes from her own tape. This is -- everything I'm learning, I'm learning for the first time on these tapes and I learn that she accidentally overdosed on opium and her family thought that she had done so on purpose and feared that she would take her own life. Her father, the only one who could've sought divorce on her behalf, decides and makes the rather, for him, painful decision to seek a divorce for her, knowing that she's going to be unmarriageable and probably outcast for the rest of her life.
REHMShe has one child or two?
DARZNIKShe has just the one daughter. My grandfather says to my mother, I will only procure this divorce if you promise never to see your daughter again, to not even speak her name. He forbids her utterly to see her daughter again.
REHMWhy does he punish her that way?
DARZNIKI think to his mind, it was a mercy for the two of them. I think to his mind, the only way my mother possibly could have gone on would be without that child.
REHMDid she move back in with her own family?
DARZNIKThis then was the time when she moved back to her father's home. He made her into a girl again in a sense. She was under a kind of house arrest and he had her grow her pigtails out again to give her this sort of virginal look. And when she was again enrolled in school -- she hadn't been in school for two or three years -- it was only under the proviso that she not tell anybody at school that she'd been married, that she maintain that she'd never been married at all and certainly that she had no child. Also, I'd say, at that time in Iran, a private school of that kind and class would not have let a divorcee even in as a student, so they had to maintain the ruse in order for her to even continue her education.
REHMAnd how did your grandfather -- what did he have to do in order to secure this divorce and keep your mother's husband from her?
DARZNIKWell, he sequestered her into the house. He had a number of quite wealthy associates and they were able to finally force my mother's first husband's hands into signing the divorce degree. He had first refused. He said, let her hair get as white as her teeth, I'll never divorce her. But they managed, finally, to bully him into allowing the divorce.
REHMOr pay him?
DARZNIKPossibly some money changed hands as well. And so he was able finally to procure that divorce.
REHMDid he stay away from her?
DARZNIKHe would come to her from time to time, as he had done in those years when she was a girl going to school. He would sometimes scout her out in the streets. He'd wait for her by the alleyways and now he would come to her with photographs of Sara. He would say, look how she's grown, she misses you so, she asks for you all the time.
REHMBecause he had custody of her daughter.
DARZNIKYes. His mother was taking care of Sara at that time, but he would have seen her and he knew that this would break my mother's heart. And how difficult, very painful it was for her to refuse his entreaties with those photographs of Sara.
REHMAnd now we come to your father. How did your mother and your father first meet?
DARZNIKWell, my grandfather realized that there was no place for my mother in Iran, so he does the quite unthinkable. He sends her abroad to Germany. This was not done at the time. Iranians were sending their sons abroad, but very rarely did it happen that an Iranian girl of 15 would be sent abroad. My mother was sent abroad. She studied midwifery and it was in Germany that she met my father.
REHMWith whom did she live in Germany?
DARZNIKHer brother was living in Germany.
DARZNIKHe'd been sent ahead of her. At that time, it was customary, I'd say, for young Iranian men to go and get a foreign diploma and return to Iran. There was a cache in earning a foreign diploma. Her brother had been sent ahead and he was told to keep an eye out on her.
REHMDid she live with him?
DARZNIKShe lived in the same small town...
DARZNIK...as her brother.
REHMAnd so your mother meets the man who will become her husband. He is German.
DARZNIKHe was an ethnic Slav by birth. He was Kashubian and they had been relocated to Germany, but he was European, my father.
REHMHow did they meet?
DARZNIKThey met one night at a -- I think it was a harvest dance, she tells me. And my father was quite quiet and bookish, but managed -- he had a great curiosity about the Orient. He would've thought -- he loved Persian poetry and he was very taken by this -- to him it would've been exotic creature from the Middle East. And he managed to arouse his courage and talk her up that night and they began to court and very quickly afterwards, they became engaged.
REHMBut what's so shocking is that he agrees to go back with her to Iran to live.
DARZNIKYes. And he absolutely infuriated his own family with this. His mother and sisters were devastated, devastated that he'd chosen, first of all, to marry a Middle Eastern woman, a Muslim, too, and as you say, to go all the way to Iran with her. My father, though he was quiet and bookish, he had an adventuresome spirit, I'd say, and a great curiosity.
REHMThe book is titled, "The Good Daughter." Jasmin Darznik is here. It is a memoir of what she calls her mother's hidden life. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How did your father manage to blend in in Iran?
DARZNIKIran in the '60s and '70s was quite welcoming of Europeans, especially my mother's family adored him, especially once he converted to Islam. And he quickly learned Farsi, that endeared him even further. He worked as an engineer in Iran and loved the country. He begged not to leave in 1979. In fact, he would've loved to stay. He adored the architecture and the history of Iran, adored also its literature. So in a way, it was a quite natural home for him.
REHMAnd you were born there.
DARZNIKI was born there. I was born to my parents in the '70s, yes.
REHMAnd then came here to this country when you were how old?
DARZNIKWe were three when I left Iran -- when my parents and I left Iran and we went for a time to Europe and cast about. You know, these were the years -- the early years of what then wasn't even called the Islamic Revolution. We were looking for refuge and came eventually from Europe to the U.S. and circled around the states until we came to California.
REHMTo California, which is where you were raised. And then as soon as you could, you left?
DARZNIKAs soon as I could, I -- my mother held me pretty fast. My parents ran a motel right off the highway. My mother ran that motel almost singlehandedly by herself. And I grew up in a kind of -- in a way, more Iranian than I might have been even in Iran. My mother would become, if anything, more Iranian upon immigrating...
DARZNIK...to the United States. I think this happens a lot with immigrants, that the very act of leaving the country can make home so much more beloved and precious and also a sense, too, of these were the years of the hostage crisis. It was an uncomfortable home to seek out for Iranians in those years. And she held fast and in some ways faster to her Iranian ways here in America.
REHMBut at the same time, just as I did, you had one foot in America and one foot in Iran.
REHMYou went, I presume, to public school?
REHMSo that was certainly part of your upbringing, your education and could've created even more hostility within you toward your mother.
DARZNIKAbsolutely. I felt so much shame at being Iranian. I used to scurry away from her in the grocery store. People would stare her down. Her accent was so harsh to American ears. And I absorbed very early a sense of shame in being Iranian. This became more pronounced as I became a teenager. If ever I could, I tried to pass as American. I tried to keep secret the Iranian parts of my life.
REHMHow did you engage with your friends?
DARZNIKWell, I had almost a double life, I'd say. I would actually change costume. I'd get to school and, you know, my mother forbid me from ever wearing miniskirts or shorts. And by the time I was a teenager, I'd go to school with a pair of jeans on and make a quick change in the bathroom. And this was all -- partly it was teenage rebelliousness and it was in part also chafing against my mother's sensibilities of what was proper and right for an Iranian girl.
REHMHow did your father behave during these years?
DARZNIKMy mother ruled our house, so the rules were hers. He was indulgent of me, but he, more or less, went with my mother's rules and her sense of propriety.
REHMWhat about his own vocation?
DARZNIKAmerica broke my father. America really broke him. He'd been an engineer. He came to America when he was in his late 40s by then and it was impossible for him to practice his profession. He'd been an engineer in Europe and also in Iran. It was impossible for him to take the time to study again, so my parents bought this motel. He was broken by immigration.
REHMJasmin Darznik, "The Good Daughter." And short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking with Jasmin Darznik, that last name spelled, "D," as in "David," A-R-Z, the last letter, N-I-K. Her new book is called "The Good Daughter: A Memoir Of My Mother's Hidden Life." And before we open the phones, would you be good enough to read starting at page 291? Give us a sense of what your life was like here.
DARZNIKOf course. "On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Lily and I would go from room to room at the Casa Buena Motel and while she stripped beds, empty ashtrays and cleaned toilets, I'd sit cross-legged on the floor and watch cartoons. As a treat on the days when I hadn't bothered her too much, she'd run me a bath and arrange wedges of pomegranate along the lip of the tub. A pomegranate, my mother told me, is not a simple fruit. Behind it's leathery hide, it draws a veil over its seeds and when you eat it, it stains your fingers with a juice that's stubborn as ink, but twice as subtle.
DARZNIKI love to sit in the bathtub eating freshly quartered pomegranates and listening to mother, Lily's, stories. I'd work my gingerly through each section, peeling away the milky-white membranes to get to the fruit. Sometimes I bit straight into mounds of seeds as if I were eating an apple and the bitter pith mixed with the sweetness. Other times I plucked the seeds one by one with my fingers and then ground them slowly and delicately between my teeth.
DARZNIKLily would crouch beside the tub and then, as pomegranate juice dripped from my hands and my chin and the bubbles in the tubs slowly turned pink, she'd tell me stories about a place she called Persia. 'Have I told you the story of my wedding? Did you know they called me (word?) Madame Doctor back then?' Yes, Maman,' I'd say. 'And have told you I wore no makeup at all?' She'd continue, 'Not all. Just moments before the ceremony began, my Aunt Zanab came running toward me with a stick of black kohl.
DARZNIKBefore I even knew it, she'd swiped one line across each of my eyelids. She'd pretend to line her eyes with two flicks of the wrist. No other makeup at all,' she laughed. 'I bought the flowers from the best florist in Tehran,' she went on. 'Your grandmother prepared the food, Zanab and Hahnu, my grandmother, assembled the (word?), the wedding spread, and my cousin, who was just a scrawny boy then, but already flirting with me if you can imagine, played the tar while I danced.'
DARZNIKShe'd look at me to make sure I was listening. 'Everyone, but everyone, said I was as pretty as a (word?), a foreign bride, but what they really could not believe and still can't believe was that when I came back from Germany, I brought them a (word?), a European groom.' By this time in the story, I'd dropped the last of the pomegranate skins into a pot beside the tub. The red splotches disappeared into the bathwater, leaving not even a pink hint of my indulgence.
DARZNIKStill smiling at the memory of her wedding, my mother would reach over and flip the drain open. I'd forgotten home. I'd forgotten Iran, but just as some memories linger in spite of our longing to forget them, there are some loves that will take in just about any soil. When my mother, Lily, lined my bathtub with pomegranates, she was giving me an appetite for an unearthly fruit and the stories and secrets incased in its many-chambered heart. And this, she knew, was a pleasure from which not even a small girl could be exiled."
REHMI can see that bathtub. Let's go to the phones. First to Mayfield Village, Ohio. Good morning, Patricia.
PATRICIAGood morning to you and your guest. I would like to be re-educated about the unveiling that her mother had in Iran and is it similar to a coming out party here for a woman to be introduced to -- young girl should I say, introduced to society or was it more for educational purposes and did the author have anything like that here in the States that Mom would introduce to her? Thank you very much for this wonderful story.
REHMGood. Thank you.
DARZNIKThank you. When I spoke of unveiling, I meant the laws by which the Shah of Iran in the '30s made it illegal for women to wear the veil. Within my mother's family, all the women were veiled, but she herself was the first girl of the family to go out of the house without a veil. She was the first girl to go unveiled to school and so the veil would have been something she recognized well within her family, within the rituals of Islam, but it was not something with which she had grown up at all.
REHMThanks for your call. To Clearfield, Utah. Good morning, Gordy.
GORDYHello, how are you?
GORDYOkay, good. I had the blessing of working in Turkey for about a year and they had a vetting process, I observed, for arranged marriages to make sure that there were no skeletons in the closet. Was this not done in your mother's case?
DARZNIKI think that there was some provisional inquiry made. My grandmother really didn't know much about the groom. There was a sense in the family, we need to marry her quickly, she's maturing. There were a lot of anxieties within traditional families, like my mother's, about having their girls out in the world.
DARZNIKAnd so I think there was a hasty process. There wasn't a lot of discussion. They also were seeking to get her away from the scenes and abuses between her mother and father. In a way, she was married to spirit her away from what was a very painful family circumstance between her mother and her father.
REHMI hope that answers it Gordy.
REHMI hope that answers it.
GORDYWell, now would he have been considered a pedophile today?
DARZNIKThis is a very interesting moment in Iranian history. My mother would be the last, in her family, to be married quite so young, so it wasn't all together uncommon for girls to be married at 13. I don't think it was so unusual at the time. I think from the gays of 50, 60 years in America, it would seem quite unusual, but this would not have necessarily struck anyone as particularly uncommon or strange.
REHMThanks for calling, Gordy. And to Auburn, Ala. Ari, you're on the air.
ARIYes, I just wanted to ask the author a quick question. Is that in Muslim countries normally, you know, girls are not allowed to marry non-Muslims. And what I wanted to ask her is that how did her mom's family agree to her mom, you know, marrying a non-Muslim?
DARZNIKYeah, my mother, before my parents even left Europe, she -- I wouldn't, she would say not for us, but she encouraged my father to be , for one thing. She knew it would be impossible for him to become Muslim without undergoing that procedure and she went through quite a lot of trouble. In Iran, at the '60s, very uncommon for a Muslim women, there are many more barriers for a Muslim woman to marry a man.
DARZNIKUsually, when a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim, the woman is automatically made Muslim through the marriage rites. My parents went through, I think there were 16 requirements, he, my father had to formally convert to Islam. There were many documents needed to be signed by the men of her family asserting that he could take care of her, so it was rather unusual and my father was -- he was willing to go through these many, many complicated steps.
REHMHe clearly adored your mother.
DARZNIKHe did, he did love her quite passionately and I think had a great tenderness and sense of compassion for what she had suffered. He had a great sense of compassion.
DARZNIKI hope that answers it, Ari.
ARIYeah, thank you very much.
REHMThanks for calling. You talk about your father's sense of compassion, what he went through to marry your mother. In the end, he became an alcoholic. He had given, perhaps, more than he could?
DARZNIKMy father, I think, from a very early age had been an alcoholic. My mother didn't fully recognize it when they first married, but he did drink quite steadily in Iran and he drank very heavily when we came to the United States and this was a tremendous taboo in the writing of this book. My mother was pretty resistant to my writing about his alcoholism. Within her own family, no one ever spoke of my father's alcoholism and she was quite cautious in telling about those parts of our life and a bit resistant to my telling it in the book.
REHMBut you went ahead and told it.
DARZNIKMaybe it's an American attitude, but I've always thought of his alcoholism as an illness. He suffered, we suffered, it wasn't a moral failure. And in the end, my father became sober and I have so much respect for the tremendous strength it took for him to become sober.
REHMHow old was he when he died?
DARZNIKHe was 70 when he died, yeah.
REHMSo not that long ago?
DARZNIKNot that long ago.
REHMAll right. To Reston, Va. Good morning, Jennifer.
JENNIFERThis has been so interesting and I really am interested in your story. I have a lot of Persian friends here in northern Virginia and my father's family is also from Kashubia. Yeah, I understood that that was part Poland because my dad talks about his grandparents speaking Polish, but I was wondering if you have any connect still with your father's relatives and if you ever visited that part of the world, because I would love to go there, too, and I don't know much about it.
DARZNIKYes, it was at the time under Germany's sovereignty, but then after the Second World War, it's now Poland, the part of Dunzick (sp?) is now under Poland, of course. And unfortunately, my father died before I could sit with him. I had this marvelous opportunity to sit with my mother and learn about her life, but my father died before I was mature enough to sit down and begin that conversation with him and it's a source of a lot of sadness for me.
REHMI can certainly imagine. What about your half-sister? Did your mother reconnect with her and did you come to know her?
DARZNIKMy mother and my half-sister have been in touch. There were many attempts over the years to -- you know, to seek reunion, but as you can imagine, so much pain and resentment on the one side and guilt on my mother's side for having given her up as a baby. She stayed in Iran. After we left, she lived through the Iran-Iraq War, she lives in Iran still. My mother and she talk on the telephone, but it's very painful, painful divide between them.
REHM"The Good Daughter" and Jasmin Darznik is the author. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Have you ever talked with your half-sister?
DARZNIKI have not. I've had contact with her through my mother, through her children, actually, recently. It's a relationship I can only really imagine beginning by going back to Iran. I can't imagine picking up the telephone. I can't imagine making a cassette tape for her as my mother did for me. I think to know her, I have to go to Iran and spend time with her there.
DARZNIKI would love to. I've been fearful in some ways. It's -- Iran had become very unfamiliar to me and in some ways, forbidding and strange. In the last few years, I've thought very often of returning. It's becoming increasingly complicated to go back to Iran in the last year, year and a half, so I find myself fortifying myself emotionally for a journey, but finding it evermore difficult to make that trip.
REHMAnd to Manill in Indianapolis. Good morning.
MANILLYeah, good morning, Diane, I love your show.
MANILLI'm so happy to be on air today. This is my first time on air.
MANILLOkay. I have comment for your guest, please, if you could ask her that, you know, I feel so sorry for her mother and everything she has gone through. I'm an immigrant myself and I have children and I feel the constant conflict that her mother's going through. And I understand that her husband, the first husband, was mentally sick when he had dated her, but the thing that irks me a lot is the feeling of shame that she has for her mother. I bet that's hurt the mother the most of all, which is the message I want to send to her.
DARZNIKIt is -- it's -- I imagine it's very painful for my mother to have, over the years, seen me repudiate something so dear to her, her culture, her traditions. But we've had an extraordinary opportunity to grow close to each other. She's told me now about this whole life I didn't know and through that process, I've met, again, a country that I'd lost, in a sense, as well. So I think many of those ruptures have been repaired just in the process of collaborating and working together and putting her story out into the world.
REHMThere's an e-mail here from Kirk, who asks, "How typical do you believe your mother's situation was?"
DARZNIKI think domestic abuse was -- I cannot say it was common, I cannot say it was uncommon. Within in my own family, I know there were many women who suffered it. What seems to me so extraordinary, though, is that generations of women, even those who didn't suffer domestic abuse, even those who didn't divorce, lived with a near certainty that if they sought to divorce their husbands, they'd have to give up their children. So while for many women, this would be, this would've been extreme and it's not a typical story, the specter, the fear of giving up your children is something I think many Iranian women of my mother's generation knew very well.
REHMWell, it's quite a story, Jasmin. I congratulate you for putting it down on paper. It's a beautiful book.
DARZNIKI thank you, Diane.
REHMThe book is called, "The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life." Jasmin Darznik is the author. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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