A mature perspective

by | Mar 11, 2016 | Book Reviews

Leaving Iran: Between Migration and Exile
Farideh Goldin
Athabasca University Press, 2016
291pp., $22.95(paper)
ISBN 978-1-77199-137-7(pbk)
1-177199-138-4 (pdf)

Leaving Iran, 13 years after Wedding Song, reminds one of a reunion with a college roommate a decade after graduation. Within a few moments it feels as though we had never been apart.

To use the term “love-hate” relationship to describe Farideh Goldin’s bond with her father, her Baba, would just be wrong. Love, yes! Resentment, yes! Guilt, plenty! But a decade does bring change to all concerned. And so it is that, while we recognize many of the people introduced in Wedding Song, we realize they were mostly lightly sketched, while this new memoir rewards the reader with a richly detailed portrait of an entire family. We get to know the mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers—the whole “fameli.”

But most of all we get to know the father, Baba, and we are further privy to the struggles of a dutiful “child,” caught between the desire to be a good daughter while maintaining the life she risked everything for to create in America.

Self-described as a work of creative non-fiction, Leaving Iran draws heavily from the memoirs of Esghel Dayanim (Baba), the author’s father, translated from the Persian and very tastefully molded into a factually accurate narrative. Indeed, most of the book alternates between chapters labeled “Farideh” and “Baba.”

The arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini following the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran prompted Baba to move his family to Israel in 1979—an Israel that didn’t exactly greet his Persian family with open arms. They were forced to live in what was basically a slum and eke out a precarious existence on the fringe of Israeli society.

Baba, then, began his odyssey, driven by intense pride: He felt a great longing for the very conservative culture of religious Jews in Iran; he was determined not to be committed to a penurious existence in Israel; he fiercely needed to recapture some of the wealth he had created in Shiraz. For more than a decade he struggled with the Jew-hating Iranian bureaucracy, suffered humiliation, privation and beatings, pouring his energies and remaining resources into a hopeless quest to regain his property in Iran. Despite the crumbling of his hopes, Baba never really accepted the western ways of the only child who could, and would, really help him, Farideh.

And what of Farideh, known in our very own community as an attractive, educated, accomplished woman in a wonderful marriage with three exceptional daughters? Quite bravely and candidly, the reader will discover, she has opened her life for observation and inspection through the “Farideh” chapters interspersed with “Baba.” We see at first hand her growth as a person, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.

On balance, Leaving Iran, both physically and psychically, is a gripping work. Supplementing Wedding Song, there is additional catharsis. However, the more mature perspective is reflective of the 13 years between books. In 2003, Farideh Goldin was revealed as a rare talent. We looked forward then to more from her. That hope and expectation is not diminished.

One might have wished for the somewhat more elegant production, even in paperback, the book deserves; more and clearer photographs, too.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.