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Sirdani Looks At Literary Women In Iran

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

In an era when Iranian politics constantly dominates newspaper headlines, contemporary literature can offer more information about Iranian society and culture than most expect. Last Monday, Mahtab Sirdani spoke to a group of students and faculty, analyzing and comparing a graphic novel and a short story in Devlin 425.

Sirdani was invited to speak about her analysis on two Persian authors, Marjane Satrapi and Goli Taraghi. The romance languages, English, and fine arts departments and the Islamic Civilization and Societies program, in addition to the Boston College Muslim Student Association and the Women’s Resource Center, sponsored the event.

The lecture incorporated photos from Iran’s post-revolution era in 1980 and modern-day Iran. The distinction between the way women dressed then, in an age when headscarves were not enforced, and now was made starkly apparent.

The first piece of Iranian literature that Sirdani discussed was a famous graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi titled Persepolis. The novel, which was also adapted into a film, is centered around a 10-year-old girl named Marjane, who lives in Iran in the years after the Shah was overthrown and the country went to war with Iraq. Marjane, Sirdani explained, “has a space between her and the majority.” This protagonist “views things and people in the story as either positive or negative.” Indeed, Sirdani pointed out, stories like Persepolis which hint at “suffering, pain, or repression, would be censored [in Iran] for at least another 30 years.”
“In Iran we had minority religious groups that also took part in the war effort [against Iraq],” Sirdani said. There were women in the war, she said, who took on a variety of roles, including soldiers, doctors, and photographers.

Women taking on these roles of soldiers, doctors, and photographers were, however, very rare. Women in Iran’s post-revolution era, as portrayed in Persepolis, took on more definitive roles and often lacked a background in education. “Women now are actually educated and integrated into society,” she said. Unlike in the early ’80s, Sirdani implied, “women’s role in media and movement is not that black and white anymore.” The protagonist of Persepolis is part of the minority, but her circle of friends is “repressed, and everyone outside [of it] is a stranger or an enemy.” However, in the second novel Sirdani spoke about, Goli Taraghi’s The Grand Lady of My Soul, the main character is “part of the majority” and is a fundamentalist. Taraghi’s novel, which won the Contre-Ciel Short Story Prize in 1982, is a celebration in itself because Taraghi is one of the first published women writers in modern-day Iran.

One of the major differences between Persepolis and The Grand Lady of My Soul is that in the latter, Sirdani pointed out, the “people in the story that introduce different groups are friends and neighbors,” instead of strangers. This fact, Sirdani said, “is a work of art that never goes beyond manifestation of a situation.”
Through the eyes of either books’ protagonist, however, “the reader is put into a complex situation through an artistic creation.” This situation, the struggles of living in post-revolutionary Iran, is reflected through both works of literature. Both demonstrate, as Sirdani displayed, the “illustration of the reconsideration of hope,” the most powerful tool of human strength.

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