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Women Without Men: A Novella (Middle East Literature in Translation) Hardcover – December, 1998

16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Using the techniques of both the fabulist and the polemicist, Paripur (Prison Memoirs) continues her protest against traditional Persian gender relations in this charming yet powerful novella. Imprisoned once for her dissident views, Paripur, a native of Iran, offers her five characters the opportunity to escape the relationships and mores that constrain them. All of the characters are led to the same metaphorical magic garden, a transcendent, timeless place where they are free to decide their fates. In most instances, this amounts to a rejection of men and marriage. Like Ovid's Daphne, Mahdokht transforms herself into a tree in order to prevent the shameful loss of her virginity. Munis, a 38-year-old virgin, is attacked and killed by her brother for refusing to obey him. She rises from the dead a psychic, heads for the garden and is raped along the way. Farrokhlaqa, a wealthy matron, accidentally kills her oppressive husband of 32 years. She then buys the magical garden where the women congregate. Only Zarrinkolah, the prostitute, discovers wedded bliss when she marries the "good gardener." The voices of the five separate narrators--delicately connected by plot and circumstance--give us variations on the theme of the mistreatment of women in contemporary Iran.

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Parsipur here synthesizes the voices of five women in contemporary Iran. Women without men?a prostitute, two unmarried women, a housewife, and a teacher?they all face serious oppression largely because of gender discrimination, cultural traditions, and notions of virginity and women's sexuality. They also seek and find freedom and some solace in the same garden. This garden, located in Karaj, near Tehran, becomes their utopia; the teacher Mahdokht becomes so distraught that she decides to plant herself like a tree in the garden and thus escape reality. Not Parsipur's first work of fiction on women in Iranian society, this novel often reads like a fairy tale, but it launches a strong statement about gender relations in Parsipur's home country. Parsipur currently lives in the United States. Recommended for fiction collections.?Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Middle East Literature in Translation
  • Hardcover: 108 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; 1st edition (December 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815605528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815605522
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,539,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By parent in wonderland on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Though I stumbled upon the novel by accident, I must admit this book was well worth finding. The stories were simply written but were almost deceivingly fully loaded-- full of conflicting values, political ideology and agendas, and societal turmoil. The compilation of separate women's lives, so different from one another, but joined together by a common thread, hearkens back to a similar style of tale-telling found in many other cultures, such as Amy Tan's novel 'The Joy Luck Club' and the popular film 'How to Make an American Quilt'. Rather than choosing to write a politicized essay or thesis which reaches only a certain segment of the educated and politically literate population, Parsipur chooses to write fiction, laced with raw truths and posessing a clear agenda.
Such tales are typical of the kind that are passed down from generation to generation in order to educate the young about their society's morals or possible pitfalls that may entrap those who stray from the accepted norm. This is not dissimilar from urban legends that adults in American society pass amongst themselves or the fairy tales laced with truths that young children are told before bedtime.
Sometimes the most volitile information is passed down and understood by the most simple or innocuous means, and I think that is a conscious choice that Parsipur has made with this book. She chooses to uncover the double standard that both male and female society is guilty of upholding, the notion of virginity (and the understanding of what it is and what it means), and socially-sanctioned ideas of morality, mortality, violence, and inter-gender relationships through stories that allow the reader to look at how different women deal with the society that they live in.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Women without Men is another entry in the growing category of Iranian cultural exports to the U.S., and one of the best. Like the Cannes-winning film The White Balloon, Women without Men presents a much different view of Iranian life than readers might expect based on reports from the evening news--a nuanced, subtle, self-reflexive society much concerned with the role of art in both everyday life and in the turbulent cultural politics of the nation. The story of a group of diverse Iranian women who forge a brief-lived utopian society, Women without Men also addresses, in startling, beautiful prose, the lives of women in any modern society. The fact that these stories can be transposed to, and understood by, Americans, is one of the pleasant surprises of the book; this isn't just a novel for scholars, but for anyone looking for a story that's both entertaining and profound. And, the translators, one Iranian and one American, have done a fabulous job in rendering the Persian into lucid English. I give this book five stars because, even though it's a small book, as one of the very few first rate translations of contemporary Iranian literature, it should be at the top of the reading list for anyone interested in international writing.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Brian H. Appleton on November 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dear fellow readers,

I have become a personal friend of the author, Shahrnush Parsipur recently as fortunately we both reside in Northern California now. We have common interests as I am an Anglo American who lived in Iran before,during and four months after the revolution and really didn't want to leave. I have some understanding of the complexity of Iranian society. There have been a few articles recently like last summer's National Geographic which try to explain how the private side of Iranians remains very impenetrably private and their public image is one of friendship, hospitality and generosity because this is how they have survived centuries of being invaded and conquered....sugar coated lies and taroff (honorifics)...making total strangers feel good and everyone feel important...while hiding from them what you really is bitter sweet, it is something I love and hate...

When I read this "magical realism" or surreal style of writing, I not only recognized Iranian social complexity but in fact a certain universality about human nature and what experts we human beings are at deceit, especially self deception and denile. The aspiring socialite starving for fame and glamourous life, Farrokhlaga finally finds it in the end by marrying an older diplomat and living abroad, no romance but life style she wanted after years of trying to be the hostess of literary salons or become a member of parliament or even write poetry, all without success because other than her sophisticated physical beauty she had no real talent.

Fazieh always in love with Amir, her best friend Munis's brother, finally settles for being his secret second wife on the side with a seperate houshold.

The author on the one hand captures how in real life everything is compromise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on April 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
After the author's monumental novel "Touba," this novella is both as serious and light-hearted as Pedro Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Parsipur's unabashed subject matter is the mindless subjugation of women among tradition-bound Iranians, where fear of losing her chastity keeps a girl in the story from climbing trees and a jealous brother may take a knife to a sister whom he believes has dishonored the family.

As chance would have it in the world of this novel, a murdered and buried woman can come back to life with an even greater appetite for living. A woman may also choose to transform herself into a tree in order to travel the world (you may have to read the book to learn how that works). Or she may take to the road after years as a cheerful sex worker when her customers begin showing up without heads on their shoulders - then after pregnancy with a gifted gardener she may gradually disappear before giving birth to a lily.

Set in 1953 during the CIA-backed ouster of left-leaning prime minister Mossadegh, which figures as little more than a nuisance while domestic discord rules the lives of its characters, the book is a mixture of dark humor, fable, and a call for the release of Iranian women from male oppression and social limitations.
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