MM: What drew you to Iranian poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad?
JD: The longer I write, the more I believe that stories choose us, rather than the other way around. When my family left Iran in the late 1970s, my mother brought just one book: a book of Forugh’s poems. For years I read all I could about Forugh, not knowing it would lead me to write a novel. She wrote about desire, about pain, about courage; reading her was a revelation. The very existence of those poems challenged the stereotype, so prevalent then, and prevalent still, that Iranian women were silent victims of fate. In those poems I found proof of everything America was telling me Iranian women were not and that Iran was telling Iranian women they shouldn’t be. Bold, brilliant, lustful, angry, difficult. Those poems saved me. They still do.
MM: The theme of women is featured in your works. Do you think we’re making progress as a society and around the world?
JD: For too long we’d taken feminism for granted — so much so that it became a dirty word. That said, it’s tricky to make broad pronouncements about women’s lives in America, much less globally. For me it makes more sense to scale it back to a more intimate level. So take my story. My grandmother, who was born in Iran in 1920, never went to school. She was a brilliant woman, but completely illiterate. My mother was pulled out of school and married at 13. One generation later, there’s me, an academic and a writer. I would say for anyone like me who has had the privilege of an education, or any kind of privilege, really, it’s time to pay it forward.
MM: What is your favorite poem by Farrokhzad?
JD: “Sin.” It’s a poem about desire from a woman’s point of view. It landed like a bomb in 1950s Tehran. That poem totally changed her life — no story about her would be complete without it.
MM: After delving into her life in this unique way, what would you say to her, given the chance?
JD: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. I think many people are looking back and trying to make sense of that time and its complex, ongoing legacy. Forugh died in 1967 under somewhat mysterious circumstances. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if she’d lived until the 1979 revolution. For many of us who left Iran, I think the choice to leave — if we had it at all — has been riddled with both loss and possibility, and not just for ourselves, but for the people and country we left behind. So, if I had the chance, I’d ask Forugh what her choice would have been, and if, given all that has happened, she would make it again now.
Local Page Turners
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik (Larkspur), Ballantine Books, $27. In Jasmin Darznik’s spellbinding debut novel, the famed Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad takes center stage in a story set against Iran’s pivot toward Westernization in the 1940s. Writing with the same grace, humor and poignant observational detail that made her best-selling memoir The Good Daughter an unforgettable read, Darznik rightly celebrates Farrokhzad’s role in birthing a feminist movement in Iran. A compassionately written, inspiring work of fiction, Song of a Captive Bird proves Jasmin Darznik is a master of her craft and a modern voice of immense talent. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera February 5, 7 p.m.
Beyond These Walls by Tony Platt (Berkeley), St. Martin’s Press, $29.99. By surveying the history of punishment in the United States, UC Berkeley scholar Tony Platt unveils a telling and troubling side to our country’s past, present and possible future. Platt traces the roots of America’s criminal justice system from its origins to its current state of over-incarceration. Arguing that politics both domestic and international influence our perceptions of danger and thus inform our criminal justice policies, Platt offers a strategic vision for what will be required to achieve justice for all in this era of authoritarian disorder. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera February 4, 7 p.m.
The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler (Mill Valley), Scribner, $26. One certainty of life is that none of us can ever be fully prepared for what — if anything — comes after death. Thankfully, best-selling author Katy Butler has crafted the best possible guide to what comes just before in The Art of Dying Well. By breaking down the dying (and living) process into stages, Butler offers practical and sage wisdom on a number of pertinent issues that range from when to hold off on dialing 911 to the benefits of having a younger doctor. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera February 19, 7 p.m.
Reviews by Book Passage Marketing Manager Zack Ruskin.