Excerpts from Reviews of published work:
CROWD OF SORROWS:
In "Crowd of Sorrows, Nahid Rachlin weaves a story of displacement and loss, centered on the idea that we build our homes around the people we love. Newly separated from her husband, Zora moves to a seemingly idyllic apartment complex to raise her daughter Anar. From the courtyard, they can see through the wide back windows to the building's young families. Zora imagines play dates and companionship, a place for the family of two to find their footing as the divorce is finalized. Instead, she discovers life at the complex is dominated by jealousies and petty scandals. Just when everything begins to settle, disaster strikes: Anar goes missing. In the search and its aftermath, Zora must come to terms with her ideas about security, independence and motherhood. The writing captures the gasping panic of Anar's disappearance beautifully. In a way, it's a story about the flipside of love: the consuming fear of loss.
NPR: THE WORLD:
Selected by Christopher Merrill, the Director of Iowa International Writing Program as one of the best four books of the year. "If you want to know what it was like to grow up in Iran this is the book to read. Rachlin, the author of five previous works of fiction, including the much acclaimed Foreigner, begins her story at the age of nine, when she was taken away from the only mother she had ever known—her aunt, as it happens—and returned to a family in which the prospects of her becoming a writer were, at best, dim. But her portrait of the artist in an Islamic country on the verge of dramatic change is filled with light."
"Persian Girls reads like a novel -- suspenseful, vivid, heartbreaking. In "Persian Girls, Rachlin chronicles her choices and those made by her sisters, her mother and her aunts, throwing the door to her family's home wide open. Readers who follow her through will be wiser, and moved."
The Plain Dealer:
In her frank, vivid memoir, PERSIAN GIRLS, Nahid Rachlin recounts her life in Iran and her close relationship with her sister, Pari… The stark differences between their lives, as well as Rachlin’s conflicting feelings about the United States, land of freedom but also of parochialism, make this account both riveting and heartbreaking.
The Charlotte Observer:
"Iran again looms large on the world stage. Rhetoric conjures fear of radical Islam and flashbacks to the Ayatollah Khomeini-- images that obscure Iran's rich cultural history as Persia and ignore ordinary people torn between old and new, secular and sacred. In her bittersweet memoir, Persian Girls, Iranian American novelist Nahid Rachlin fills in the blanks."
"Nahid Rachlin grew up in Iran in the days of the shah, and the details of her difficult life in this sorrowful memoir reflect the recent history of that conflicted country. The author recalls an idyllic early childhood, growing up with a widowed, childless aunt who considered herself Nahid's real mother. (In a story that could have come out of the Old Testament, Nahid's birth mother, who had four..."
Times Union, Albany, New York: A poignant, beautifully written memoir… a fine, profound book. Each scene has the shapely aura of memory, hauled back from the deep by one telling detail. A haunting and moving story.”
More Magazine: Rachlin’s sister who never knew life without a domineering father and strict Muslim cultural rules, ends up in a heartbreaking, arranged marriage, while Rachlin escapes to college in the US, becomes an admired novelist and writers this wrenching, beautiful story.
For those who have never been to Iran or who would like a firsthand account of the culture, Nahid Rachlin’s Persian Girls: A Memoir must be added to your reading list.
The book recounts significant aspects of the author’s life in her native country, Iran, and her later adaption to American culture with a focus on the relationships the author shares with other women in her life. As a young girl in Iran, Rachlin seeks to escape a repressive political atmosphere where women’s lives are held in the palms of men. When Rachlin gets the opportunity to study in America, she is overwhelmed with the thought of freedom. Yet, she soon discovers that she cannot run too far from her past... The emotional appeal and the lyrical language bring readers into a world where the author reveals her fondest memories and deepest pains. In addition, readers are given insight into the values and customs of a culture that many do not know firsthand.
Persian Heritage: Once again Nahid Rachlin has given her public a book that will place you at the end of your seat. It is entertaining, informative and interesting. The book is intriguing. Rachlin is a wonderful writer whose words easily paint an image for her readers.
Matt Beynon Rees, author of The Collaborator of Bethlehem and contributing editor, Time:
“Through the touching, tragic story of two sisters, Persian Girls unfolds the entire drama of modern Iran. It’s a beautiful, harrowing memoir of the cruelty of men toward women, and it paints the exotic scents and traditions of Tehran with the delicacy of a great novel. If you want to understand Iran, read Nahid Rachlin.”
"This lyrical and disturbing memoir by the author of four novels (Foreigner , etc.) tells the story of an Iranian girl growing up in a culture where, despite the Westernizing reforms of the Shah, women had little power or autonomy... Exuding the melancholy of an outsider, this memoir gives American readers rare insight into Iranians' ambivalence toward the United States, the desire for American freedom clashing with resentment of American hegemony."
JUMPING OVER FIRE
"If, as Aristotle reminds us, we are our desire, then who are we if the object of our desire is forbidden? What becomes of us if we are born in one world yet long for another? These are just two of the complex and difficult questions Nahid Rachlin explores and ultimately illuminates in this brave, engrossing, and timely novel. I recommend it highly!"
Andre (Dubus III),author of House of Sand and Fog, and In the Bedroom
"I am so impressed with Nahid Rachlin’s style--its purity and sparseness and immediacy. In remarkable few words, she has managed to bring to life an entire small pocket of existence… a rare intimate look at Iranians who are poorer and less educated... I have read (this book) four times by now, and each time I have discovered new layers in it. The voice is cool and pure. Bleak is the right word, if you will understand that bleakness can have a startling beauty."
-- Anne Tyler, NY Times Book Review
"... an accomplished Iranian novel... FOREIGNER avoids political comment. Its protest is more oblique, the political constriction drives the passion deeper, and the novel with all its air of innocence, is a novel of violation, helplessness and defeat."
-- V.S. Naipaul, from Among the Believers
“Foreigner is as spare as Camus’s The Stranger and with some of its enigmatic force. Nahid Rachlin conveys brilliantly and experience of estrangement, alienation on returning to the place of her childhood.”
--Professor Albert Guerard, Stanford University
MARRIED TO A STRANGER:
The New York Times book Review:
"The ecstasies and disillusionments of first love are the stuff of great tragedies and cheap romances but Nahid Rachlin has done something else with this familiar theme, and something more, though her style is elegantly simple... Miss Rachlin shows us not only the tranquil inner courtyards with sweets and gossip exchanged by the fishpond, the flower bedecked bridal chamber, but also the political, social and religious factions contending for primacy in the streets outside... Minou is a dreamy literary girl... like other yearning heroines from Dorothea Brooke to Emma Bovary, she wants more than conventional marriage..."
500 Great Books by Women, A Reader's Guide, Penguin Books:
"... The commonalities of life, wherever it's lived, shine through in these tales of family friendship, love, and war... They are stories of strength and endurance that continually remind us how fragile our outer shells can be, how deeply love can be felt, and how strong the influence of home is, wherever home may be."
THE HEART'S DESIRE:
"What is remarkable about THE HEART'S DESIRE is its even-handedness and painful honesty. Rachlin's characters face each other across a gulf of irreconcilable differences, but she shows them to us with their complexity and dignity intact, their deepest needs as recognizable to our own. In the end, though, Iran is the major character in this novel. By the time we've finished confronting it from very diverse perspectives, each beautifully evoked, we have experienced the potent spell it casts over its people, and the weight of that spell fora Western woman." -- Rosellen Brown
Excerpts from PERSIAN GIRLS:
The day began like any other day. I woke to the voice of the muezzin calling people to prayers, Allah o Akbar. After Maryam finished praying we had our usual breakfast-- sangag bread still warm from the stone oven it was baked in, jam that Maryam made herself with pears and plums, mint-scented tea.
On the way to Tehrani Elementary School I stopped at my friend Batul’s house, at the mouth of the alley, to pick her up. We passed the public baths and the mosques, sights visible on practically every street in the Khanat Abad neighborhood. It was a crisp, cool autumn day. The red fruit on persimmon trees on the sidewalks were glistening like jewels in sunlight. Water gurgled in joobs running alongside the streets. The tall Alborz Mountains surrounding Tehran were clearly delineated in the distance. We paused at a stall to buy sliced hot beets and ate them as we walked on.
At a class recess, as I stood with Batul and a few other girls under a large maple tree in the courtyard, I noticed a man approaching us. He was thin and short with a pock-marked face and a brush mustache. He was wearing a suit and a tie. Even from a distance, he seemed powerful.
“Don’t you recognize your father?” he asked as he came closer.
In a flash I recognized him, the man I had met only once when he came to Maryam’s house with my birth mother on one of her visits.
I was afraid of my father, a fear I had learned from Maryam. Having adopted me informally, Maryam didn’t have legal right to me; even if she did, my father would be able to claim me. In Iran fathers were given full control of their children, no matter the circumstance. There was no way to fight if he wanted me back. To make matters worse, my father was also a judge.
So often Maryam had said to me, “Be careful, don’t go away with a stranger.” Was Father the stranger she had been warning me against? Our worst fears were coming true.
“Let’s go,” he said. “I'm taking you to Ahvaz.” He took my hand and led me forcefully towards the outside door.
“Nahid, Nahid,” Batul and my other classmates were calling after me. I turned around and saw they were frozen in place, too stunned to do anything but call my name.
“Does my mother know about this?” I asked once we were on the street. My heart beat violently.
“You mean your aunt,” he said. “I just sent a message to her. By the time she knows we'll be on the airplane.”
“I want my mother,” I pleaded.
“We're going to your mother. I spoke to your principal, you aren’t going to this school any more. You’ll be going to a better one, a private school in Ahvaz.”
I tried to free myself but he held my arm firmly and pulled me towards Khanat Abad Avenue. Still holding me with one hand, he hailed a taxi with the other. One stopped and my father lifted me into the back seat and got in next to me, pinning my legs down with his arm.
“Let me go,” “Let me go!” I screamed. Through the window I saw a white chador with polka dot design in the distance. It was Maryam. “Mother, Mother!” As the car approached the woman I realized it wasn’t Maryam.
“Don't put up a fight,” my father said as the cab zigzagged through the hectic Tehran traffic. “It won't do you any good.”
Before I knew it we were in the airport and then on the plane. The stewardess brought trays of food and put them in front of us. I picked up a fork and played with the pieces of rice and stew on my plate, taking reluctant bites. Nausea rose from my stomach in waves.
"I have to go to the bathroom.”
"Go ahead,” my father replied.
"The toilet is in the back,” the stewardess said.
I must hold it until I get to the toilet, I said to myself, but my stomach tightened sharply and I began to throw up in the aisle. The stewardess gave me a bag and I turned toward the bathroom with it pressed against my lips.
When I returned the stewardess had cleaned up the aisle.
"How do you feel?" Father asked me. "Better?"
I didn’t answer.
“You’ll be fine when we get home, your real home,” Father said, caressing my arm. “Your mother, sisters and brothers are all waiting for you. And I’ll look after you.”
Finally I fell asleep; when I awoke we were in the Ahvaz airport. I was groggy and disoriented as we rode in a taxi. Flames erupted from a tall tower, burning excess gas from the Ahvaz petroleum fields. A faint smell of petroleum filled the air.
We passed narrow streets lined by mud and straw houses and tall date and coconut palms. But Pahlavi Avenue was wide and full of glittering luxury shops and modern, two-storied houses and apartment buildings. Most of the women walking about were not wearing chadors and were dressed in fashionable, imported clothes. The modern avenue reminded me of the sections in north Tehran where I had ventured a few times.
“Stop right here,” Father said to the driver as we entered a square.
The taxi came to a halt in front of a large modern, two-story house, with a wrap-around balcony and two entrances.
"We’re home,” Father announced. I felt an urge to bolt, but Father, as if aware of that urge, took hold of my hand, and grasping it firmly, he led me into the house.
A woman was sitting in a shady corner of the courtyard holding a glass of lemonade with ice jingling in it. She wore bright red lipstick and her hair in a permanent wave. She looked so different from Maryam who wore no make-up and let her naturally wavy hair grow long.
“Here is Nahid, Mohtaram joon, we have our daughter back with us,” my father said to her.
Mohtaram, my birth mother.
She nodded vaguely and walked over to where we were standing. She took me in her arms, but her embrace was tentative, hesitant. I missed Maryam’s firm, loving arms around me.
“Ali, show her to her room,” Mohtaram said to the live-in servant, who came out of a room in the corner.
"Go ahead," Father said to me. “You can rest for a while.”
**a few pages later in the same chapter
The next morning, Ali called me down to breakfast with my parents and siblings. My mother spoke of the day ahead: the ceaseless chores, something to be bought for this child, something else for another. I had just arrived, and yet it seemed that I was the one she was complaining about, as if I had somehow tipped the scales and now she had far too many children. I looked to my siblings for solace. But none let their eyes rest on me except for my sister Pari, who stared at me with curiosity, a look that would blossom into love.
“Now all my children are here with us,” Father said, trying to pull me in, his stern face brightening.
From another chapter:
My new home was chaotic, filled with a clashing and confusing mixture of traditional Iranian/Muslim customs and values, and Western ones. None of us prayed, followed the hejab, or fast. But my parents believed boys and girls shouldn’t mingle with the opposite sex until they were married by the religious law, that marriages should be arranged by parents, that unmarried girls shouldn’t draw boys’ attention to themselves by wearing make-up or suggestive bright colored clothes, that education was for sons. Daughters should marry as soon as a suitable man came along. Tension from unexpressed desire permeated the house-- desire of any kind-- for more clothes, a different type of clothing, to say certain things, to be with a particular person.
The mixture of values at home mirrored the ones among the people of Ahvaz. Ahvaz’s population, consisting of a few thousand Americans and English, about seventy thousand Iranians and a few hundred Arabs, mainly immigrants from Iraq, was an amalgam of the modern and the old fashioned. There was a great deal of antagonism in the city among people with opposing views. There were the conservative Iranians and the half-westernized ones, like my parents. Then there were the Americans and English employed by the oil companies, not to mention the Arab immigrants who were Sunnis (in the midst of Shiite Iranians). They mingled in uncomfortably. As people lined up in front of the cinema that showed American movies, a mosque across the street broadcast a sermon warning people against worldly pleasures such as seeing movies. Men and women were forbidden to each other and yet romantic songs were always blaring out of radios.
The Shah himself, caught between America’s pressure and the mullahs opposed to his westernization, allowed certain things but not others...
Excerpts from JUMPING OVER FIRE:
On a Friday (the Sabbath in Iran), Jahan went out with his friends. I sat in my room full of vague longings as I read a novel, Manikin. It was just a trashy paperback but I was totally absorbed in it. It portrayed a young girl who comes to New York City from a small town for a career in fashion modeling and succeeds-- I had already looked at the ending. I was distracted by a warm liquid tricking down my thighs. I looked and I saw blood. I had been having cramps all day. It was my period, I knew. Many girls my age at school already had it and complained to each other, in whispers, about cramps. Sadness swept over me. This meant being old enough to marry. Even if I went to the university, I would still have to marry when the "right" man came along and then everyone would expect me to devote myself to domesticity.
Two tall mirrors, facing each other, hung on the closet doors in my room. As I stood between them, the sunlight coming from behind me gave a touch of pink to my skin, a shine to my hair. My breasts, my hips, which had been gradually becoming fuller, looked even more so in that light, the curves more pronounced. I saw multiple images of myself, not quite fitting together. I am a half-American, half-Iranian girl, I thought, and the two halves don=t seem to make a whole. There is a split somewhere in my existence that is hard to mend. I was actually born in America because Maman had been warned that she would have to have a Cesarean since I was lying sideways in her womb. She'd gone to stay with her parents to give birth to me in a hospital in Ohio; she didn't feel the obstetrics were as good in Iran. Baba couldn't leave the refinery hospital, so he stayed on in Iran with Jahan, who was taken care of by a nursemaid, under his supervision. Maman returned to Iran when I was a month old.
Jahan was changing too, growing taller, more muscular, his voice becoming lower. I watched him shaving in front of the bathroom mirror. He often had a musky scent about him now of after-shave lotion. But even his new knowledge of having been adopted, which had changed him and made him more introspective, didn't seem to make him feel as fragmented as I did. Maybe it was his looking all-Iranian, his freedom as a boy. I felt a pang of envy of him. Then, without warning, a surge of strong, irresistible desire for him flooded me. I wanted to hold him and kiss him like the movie stars did in the American movies. What was wrong with me? It was all so painful and confusing that tears collected in my eyes and streamed down my face.
No one was in except Maman. She was in their bedroom. I went over and knocked on the door.
"Come in." She was sitting in bed in her silk blue bathrobe, her hair pulled back in a knot. A thick illustrated book on Persian rugs was open on her lap and she was studying it. It was filled with photographs of rugs-- paisleys, rectangles, medallions, palmettos, birds, and flowers. Next to each photograph was the description of the unique feature of the rug-- the tightness of the weave, the knots, the dyes used for coloring. She already knew a lot about Iranian rugs and could identify what city each one came from.
"These are real works of art," she said, indicating the rugs shown in the book.
"Maman, I think I'm having a period. I'm bleeding."
"Oh darling, you're a grown woman now." She took me to the bathroom and gave me a box of Tampax and showed me what to do. "You can get these at the American Club store whenever you need to. You should start wearing a bra. They have them at the store too."
She went back to her room, and I joined her after a while. I stared at the photograph of her parents on the bureau. My grandmother was wearing shorts and a casual blouse, and was smiling into the camera. My grandfather had on jeans and a T-shirt. They were young then, and standing outdoors with their arms around each other. They seemed full of life. Maman's mother had come to America from Ireland when she was twenty. My grandfather was born in America. They had lived near Columbus on a small dairy farm. They both died before I had a chance to know them.
"Maman I'm so miserable in Masjid-e-Suleiman. Why can't I at least be like the other American girls here?" I sat on a chair, hoping to have a real conversation with her. AI hate all the rules. I can't wear this or that, I can't ride a bicycle. It makes me feel like a prisoner."
AHoney, those girls have American fathers and soon will be returning to America. Your father is Iranian and we live here. Nora, look at me. Don't act like a weird teenager."
"Why can't we go and live in America?"
"This is your father's country and he wants to live here. I married him knowing that. Anyway you have it good here. Do you think girls your age in America have all the luxury you have? I had to work every minute after school to pay for things I needed. I worked, slept, worked, that was my life when I was your age. Girls there have plenty of problems: loneliness, aimlessness, drugs, alcohol. They get pregnant. They are confused and miserable. There's so much competition, so much pressure. We give you everything you need and you still complain."
True our family had a great deal of luxury because of Baba's position. In addition to Golpar, who did the cooking and cleaning, Ali, the gardener, regularly attended to the courtyard. He planted flowers for every season and he had put in shade trees as well as a variety of fruit trees. Khar zahreh plants were scattered throughout. Their bright red flowers and dark thick spiky green leaves supposedly killed mosquitoes. We had someone to take care of the pool, and another man, Ahmad, did odd jobs, fixing things that went out of order, spraying mosquito repellents. A chauffeur-driven dark blue Mercedes limousine was at our service to take us wherever we wanted. A small airplane, holding twenty or so passengers, was available to us once a week free of charge to fly us to Ahvaz, a larger city nearby, twenty minutes by plane. Jahan and I sometimes used it to spend the day there. But none of that compensated for the feelings of imprisonment I had. Anger at Maman, dark and thick, enveloped me.
"I'm in a gilded cage," I said.
"Where did you get that pretentious phrase, gilded cage? You have a lovely home, parents who love each other and you, a wonderful brother, what else do you want?"
But I couldn't trust anything she said. It was always like she was wearing an impenetrable mask, hiding her true self behind it. I looked like her and talked to her in English. When I was little she read English children's books to me. I always helped her set up a Christmas tree (which we observed as well as Norooz, the main Iranian holiday). Yet something was missing between us. She wasn't a mother a girl could confide in. It was true for Jahan too; although she praised him more she wasn't any closer to him. In fact maybe less, since he didn't try to seek out what remained American about her. She did love Baba, that was clear. And he loved her. Yes, they only love each other, I thought, Jahan and I are superfluous to their intimacy...