Journeys from the past: Diaspora memoirs

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Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations University of Toronto
Academic Bio: 
A member of the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto until her retirement. Presently a Professor Emerita in the Department.

This paper discusses the role of the past in the narration of memoirs by an older generation of Iranian women. A comparative reading of memoirs by two women, one a Native American woman (b.1925--), and the other an Iranian woman (b.c.1934--), brings to light a noteworthy difference in the telling of their stories. The women are born less than a decade apart, both are dancers, and both are exceptionally accomplished.  Each is from a minority background in the American environment. The two women have opened the door to their lives. However how they present themselves and the manner in which they tell their life story is strikingly dissimilar. The native American dancer barely wonders who she is and where she belongs. She uses her memoir to give details about her career; her devotion to dance informs her story. She is reticent about her emergence from the cocoon of her early life. The Iranian woman on the other hand, is forthright and candid about herself. Her frankness comes across as a deliberate choice to negate past censure. She presents herself as a fierce combatant against the demons of her cultural environment which impede her self-expression. The world of the Native American is the rarefied world of dance. The Iranian woman dances across a broad cultural canvass, continually explaining, defining, and placing her stamp on the story of Iran for her reader. Her memoir records her search for the right balance between tradition and innovation in her life and in her art. The comparison of the two memoirs suggests that in the case of the Iranian narrator, the past is neither ignored nor does it fold seamlessly into the present. The past propels the style as well as the content of the narration. The memoirs selected are Shusha Guppy’s The Blindfold Horse (1988) and A Girl in Paris (2007), Nesta Ramazani’s The Dance of the Rose and the Nightingale (2002), and Nachid Rachlin’s Persian Girls: a memoir (2006). A memoir by a younger Iranian woman (Azadeh Moaveni’s Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran (2009)) will be introduced into the discussion in order to explore generational differences in the narration of the past.  

Academic Discipline : 
Literature (Persian)
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