The curious daughter: Darznik reveals Iranian secrets
"Iranians are good at keeping secrets," says Iranian author Jazmin Darznik, wryly alluding perhaps to our common perceptions of the Islamic Republic, while she characterizes the theme of her recently released memoir, The Good Daughter.
An English professor at Washington and Lee University, Darznik moved to Charlottesville just six months ago. She has also taught Iranian literature at UVA but looks too young to be a college professor, though she's coy about revealing her age.
"Let's say I'm in my thirties," she smiles, choosing to keep a secret of her own.
However, the Ph.D from Princeton, the J.D. from the University of California, and bylines in the New York Times and Washington Post quickly put to rest any notion that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive. Though the two together certainly make publishers happy.
"I'm being told people don't want to buy books, they want to buy you," she says, describing the promotional hoopla surrounding the publication of the book, which recently included an appearance on NPR's Diane Rehm show.
Critics have characterized Darznik's memoir as both a family and cultural history of Iran, as it stretches back to include much of her grandmother's story as well.
"It's about the ingenious way in which women survive and remake themselves under these circumstances," says Darznik.
"Jasmin's book is closer to testimonial than memoir," says Professor Suzanne Keen, the W&L English chair who hired her,"as it gives voice mainly to others."
Keen also points out that Darznik clearly has a novelist's touch.
In her mid-twenties and living in California, Darznik discovered an old photograph of her mother as a young bride– only the man standing next to her was not her father.
Darznik had always assumed they left Iran because of the revolution in 1979, but after she questioned her mother about the photograph, a very different story emerged.
After an arranged marriage at the age of 13, Darznik's mother gave birth to a daughter, whom she had to give up under Iranian law when she sought a divorce from her abusive husband. She fled to Germany, where she met Darznik's father, and eventually settled in California.
"Many Iranians in America have stopped going to Iran," says Darznik. "Since the 2009 election, random arrests are more frequent."
As a result, Darznik says that communicating with her half-sister has become impossible.
Still, she says she's not out to make a political statement with her book.
"My hope is that it will convey something beyond the Iran we think we know," she says.
Darznik will be in Charlottesville during the Virginia Festival of the Book, when she'll discuss and read from her book at the New Dominion Bookstore on Thursday, March 17, at 4pm.