"I am twenty-one years old and yet have already been through too many notebooks: wife at sixteen, mother at seventeen, divorcee at nineteen. I published my first poetry collection at twenty, and had a nervous breakdown a few months after. Now I hope to start a new page, in Europe, and am on my way to pick up a visa.”
Those are opening lines from a new novel by the Iranian-born author Maryam Diener (nee Banihashem). Educated at the Sorbonne and at Columbia University, she is the author of two other books (published under her previous name, Maryam Sachs). Her focus, this time, is Forough Farrokhzad -- the pioneering Iranian poet, who was the first woman to evoke female sexuality in Persian verse, and who died tragically in a car accident at the age of 32 in 1967. Farrokhzad is considered one of most important figures in modern Iranian literature.
“The catalyst was my trip to Tehran nine years ago, during which I became aware of how Forough’s voice resonated in the life of young Iranians,” Diener recalled. “Her grave -- a secret place of encounters for lovers, covered with messages and flowers -- is a testimony to the natural respect shown to Forough decades after her tragic death.”
What seemed clear was that the situation of Iranian women today was “not far from where she was 60 years ago,” said Diener, and that women today “need her courage to find a place” in their family lives, in the workplace, and in society at large.
Farrokhzad was a scandalous figure in her lifetime, and after the 1978-79 Revolution, her poetry was banned for at least a decade.
Diener’s novel -- Beyond Black There Is No Color: The Story of Forough Farrokhzad -- is written in the first person, as if narrated by Forough herself, in a loose diary style. It depicts real-life episodes in Forough's life: her marriage as a teenager to a much older man, her early experience of motherhood and divorce, her affair with the married film director Ebrahim Golestan, and her 12-day stay in a leper colony, which became the subject of her award-winning documentary.
For those unfamiliar with the poet, the book is an introduction to her life and legacy. For those who know her well, it is a reminder of the powerful voice that she was and is.
In its "Overlooked No More" series devoted to deserving women who did not get obituaries at the time of their death, the New York Times quoted Farrokhzad as saying: "Perhaps because no woman before me took steps toward breaking the shackles binding women's hands and feet, and because I am the first to do so, they made such a controversy out of me."
For more information: http://www.quartetbooks.co.uk