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Touba and the Meaning of Night (Women Writing the Middle East) Paperback – January 1, 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Eighty dramatic years in Iran—from the turn of the 20th-century to the 1979 revolution—are witnessed through Touba's chador-covered eyes in this bold, insightful novel, Parsipur's second to be translated into English. After her farther dies when she's 14, Touba—smart and spiritual, but barely educated—proposes, for financial reasons, to a 52-year-old man. Miserably depressed, she divorces him a few years later, and marries a Qajar prince; it is a loving relationship, but when he takes a second wife, she divorces him, too. Alone and impoverished as the prince's dynasty is displaced, she weaves carpets to make money, cares for her children and communes with a dead girl's ghost that haunts her property. As Touba grows older, she seeks truth with a Sufi master, but the demands of her crumbling household intervene. Initially published in Iran in 1989, this ground-breaking novel—which juxtaposes reality and mysticism, becoming especially fantastical toward the book's conclusion—was quickly banned by the Islamic Republic, which had imprisoned Parsipur before and did so again. Her 11 novels remain banned in Iran. Now an exile in San Francisco, Parsipur makes a stylishly original contribution to modern feminist literature. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

First published in Iran in 1989, Parsipur's novel carries the reader on a mystical and emotional odyssey spanning eight decades of Iranian cultural, political, and religious history. Educated by her progressive father, Touba is 12 when he dies. Her subsequent learning comes only in offhand remarks from the men in her family. Touba is intrigued by politics and her country's struggles with British and Russian colonialism but is told that women should remain apolitical. She is drawn to Sufism but is discouraged from personal religious pursuit until her children are grown. In a resolute but never strident voice, Parsipur lets her characters--a young girl drowned by her uncle because her rape by soldiers results in pregnancy, Touba's own daughter rendered infertile from a self-induced abortion caused by shame over her secret marriage to a servant--illuminate feminist issues both before and after the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. Replete with juxtapositions of mysticism and historical fact, Parsipur's novel is a rewarding and enlightening encapsulation of her country's recent past. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Women Writing the Middle East
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY (January 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558615571
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558615571
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,042,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Brian H. Appleton on September 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

This book is an allegory for the complexity of change and resistance to change which has taken place over the past 100 years in modern Iran. The protagonist Touba is witness to and lives through all the changes. Her house is like her fortress protecting the memory of corpses from the outside world. At the same time her desire to find God which successfully manages to elude her all her long life as she fulfilled familial responsibility after responsibility through good economic times and bad is something which many of us despite nationality or cultural orientation can relate to. She is inspired by an elusive Khiabani who personifies progressive democracy for many decades only to be disillusioned by communism and then she pursues a Sufi Sheik who never let's her into his inner knowledge if he actually has any. The mystery and purpose of life has always managed to elude man and womankind since the beginning of time.
At various points in the story, certain characters who are like Bohemian free spirits socially speaking go on a trancelike rift like Prince Gil or his wife Layla, describing in a seemingly endless river of words, past life after past life as if undergoing depth psychological analysis under hypnosis and transcending time and place like disembodied souls skipping over centuries forward and back.
The author has an absolute gift for portraying the way life can be sailing along a steady course and then suddenly what was beauty turns ugly, what was soft, turns harsh. It makes her stories dark and hints at the style of Sadegh Heydayat. When I asked her about that, she admitted his influence on almost every contemporary Iranian writer.
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Format: Paperback
This is a monumental book, maybe a masterpiece of Iranian fiction, but certainly a family saga of considerable dimensions that follows the lifetime of one woman, Touba, from girlhood to old age. During a period of time that reaches across most of a century, she represents the traditional, sequestered world to which Iranian women have been assigned for generations. With one significant difference: she enters that world with the blessings of a father who believes that women are the equals to men and are free to think for themselves and shape their own destiny.

The irony of her situation is that while she makes every attempt to exercise that independence, she is restricted to a domestic life, running a household and raising children, while married to a member of the Royal family and a faithless husband. While self-reliant of necessity, especially as her husband's political fortunes force him to leave the country for a while and his wealth evaporates, Touba fails to escape the most crippling demands that her culture places upon women. She is not only party to the honor killing of a young girl but must hide the girl's body in her very own garden.

It's a compelling story, and this is only the beginning. But a caveat or two for interested readers: 1) At 300+ pages, it is a densely worded novel that reads more like a synopsis of a much longer book. 2) The style is very much in the manner of tell-don't-show. Instead of setting a scene in which characters speak and interact, the narration goes on for paragraph after paragraph, telling instead of showing: "She did this and then she did that, then she thought this, and she said that, etc." If you enjoy a long, complex, multi-character story, it will hold your interest, but not in the way you may be used to. This is no page-turner.
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This book is for anyone interested in Iranian history, culture, or women. Taking place throughout the 1900's in Iran, the book follows the life of a woman who wishes deep in her heart to seek truth, but is caught in a patriarchal society that forces her to follow a life taking care of family, household, and a small business. Parsipur, the author, is incredibly adept at demonstrating the oppression of women in Iran during the 20th Ce. without falling into the dangers of reinscribing negative stereotypes of Middle Eastern women as ignorant passive victims of savage violent men. Touba, the main character, resists against social norms throughout her life and shows how a person so constrained can still struggle to find truth and meaning in life despite oppressive circumstances. This storyline, demonstrating Touba's struggle, makes it an extremely unique work of fiction.

The author has a beautiful language of expressing the characters. The dialogue and narrative are excellent, fluid. The style is very much reminiscent of Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, only told from a Persian woman's point of view, over the course of about 100 years of Iranian history.

It is a shame that only one other title by Parsipur, Women Without Men, has been translated. She is clearly one of the most important authors of our time. I recommed this book fully and wholeheartedly.
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