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Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahrnush…

Touba and the Meaning of Night

by Shahrnush Parsipur

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The author successfully immersed the reader into 1900 Iran so that the Western and modern innovations felt jarring. The characters, culture, and history were very well drawn. Some of the symbolism particularly in the more surreal passages escaped me. ( )
  snash | Jul 23, 2014 |
I’m a white male. And no matter how enlightened I think I am, I will probably never truly realize all the ways in which those two things make my lot in life so much easier. What made me ponder this fact? Lately I’ve been reading a lot of world fiction by women of color or involving characters who are women of color. Books like the amazing Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiongo (1 strike) and Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahruush Parsipur (2 strikes). Books like these remind me how hard life can be for the disenfranchised in general, and for women in particular.

Shahruush Parsipur, the author of TMN, knows a little about those difficulties. She was imprisoned both during the Shah’s regime and later by the Islamic Republic. She now lives in exile and all her works remain banned in Iran. In TMN, she takes us through about 80 years of Iranian history from the Constitutional Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Her heroine, Touba, is named after the mythical tree that is rooted in paradise and shades the houses of the Prophet and the faithful. She is a learned woman, forceful and confident in some ways, but intrepid and powerless in others. Throughout the book she runs into the barriers to women created by the patriarchy and fundamentalism and tries to find ways to live a meaningful life despite them. At one point, she is arranging her own marriage to her father’s nephew save face for her family, even though he is her mother’s age. After she is divorced by him, her family encourages her to marry one of the Qajar princes, with the support of the princes’ sister who hopes it will make him settle down and stop taking her own husband out carousing and womanizing. Another recipe for disaster. He is later force to flee as a new dynasty comes to power and leaves Touba to fend for herself and their children. When he returns it is with another, younger wife and little desire to support her. Throughout her long life, she has the urge to follow a mystic path that is difficult or forbidden for women. Touba’s experiences and even the house she lives in becomes a symbol of the radical changes and crumbling traditions in the society around her. A good read and a great first place for me to start with Persian Literature.

The book is published by the Feminist Press at the City University of New York and contains some very interesting supplemental material. Kamran Talattof provides a piece on Translating Women’s Experience that discusses how the novel was translated with Havya Houshmand. He has this to say about the approach they took in the translation of the novel:

“In all this, we have been hoping that with a practical rendering of all the signs, symbols, and references, the appreciation of this novel in the guest language will also be enhanced by the similarity of women’s experiences worldwide. Touba’s aspirations, agonies, failures, suppression, hopes and life story are too universal to be lost between languages. Concerns about the condition of women, long-lasting sexual oppression, the challenges in accepting one’s sexuality, complexities in the concept of chastity, and resistance to male-dominated culture—all themes that call for a harsh reaction for the advocates of the state ideology in Iran—can also easily find an audience in other parts of the world and in other languages.”

There is also an interesting afterword by Houra Yavari and an informative biography by M. Karim that rounds out the novel.
1 vote jveezer | Feb 4, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shahrnush Parsipurprimary authorall editionscalculated
Houshmand, HavvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Talattof, KamranTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yavari, HouraAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
When her father dies, Touba - a smart and spirited fourteen-year-old - proposes to a middle-aged man to ensure her family's financial security. Her husband is intimidated by Touba's outspoken nature, and they soon agree to divorce. A second marriage to a Qajar prince provides Touba with the tenderness and physical passion she had been lacking, and together they have four children. When the prince takes a second wife, Touba becomes desperately unhappy and divorces him too.
Finding herself alone and without the support of a man for the first time in her life, Touba must weave carpets to support herself and her children. She lives out the rest of her life in her crumbling house as the matriarch of an everchanging household.
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"In the character of Touba, an intellectually intrepid and spiritually gifted woman, Shahrnush Parsipur distills eight decades of Iranian history, including the eras of British and Russian colonialism, the reigns of two shahs, the brief period of democracy in the 1950s, which a U.S.-backed coup ended, and the advent of the Islamic Revolution." "From a distinctly Iranian perspective, Touba and the Meaning of Night reveals ongoing tension between rationalism and mysticism, tradition and modernity, male and female, East and West. Speaking in an idiom unique to its author and indicative of a new tradition in Persian women's writing, the epic also defies Western stereotypes of Iranian women and Western expectations of Iranian literary form."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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