Omid Memarian

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book: Starting a New Conversation About Iran
"Let me Tell You Where I've Been", by Persis karim

Persis karim, the Author of "Let me Tell You Where I've Been", lives in Berkeley. In a gathering of bloggers, last month, I met her. She was calm, a little bit shy, as most of the writers, and also thoughtful. I asked her to interview. she kindly accepted. I did a in depth interview and beside I asked her to answer a few more questions for my blog. Here is the link of my interview with her. Also you can read 4 questions, 4 answers with the author of "Let me Tell You Where I've Been", just for my blog:

Omid- What makes this book different than other books about Iran? It is a collection of more than 100 poems, short stories and essays. How such a huge diversity help the readers to get the sense of Iranian culture?

Persis- This isn't really a book about Iran, as much as it is a book about the experiences of Iranians--many different kinds of Iranians who have a story to tell, something to express. I am not trying to capture a particular image or voice of Iran, but rather, to convey the ways that Iranians are responding creatively to their circumstances, whether they are first, second, or third generation living outside of that country. This collection reflects what I think is a complicated process of coming to terms with departures, arrivals, homeliness in the world. That's interesting to me and it's also a book that gives women, many women a place to speak from. I think Iranian women have a lot to say and they've been made to be silent for a long time. I think this is just the beginning for women of Iranian heritage.

Omid- Is this book aimed at Iranians, Americans or Iranian-Americans? Why?

Persis- This is a book that has something for everyone, but I think it's appeal will be for all three of the audiences you suggest. I think for Americans it's interesting because it enrichs their understanding of Iran/Iranian culture. For Iranians I think it can be very interesting, but also troubling. Many Iranians don't like to see their children lose the Persian language, but the reality is, Iranians live in the West, they're writing in English, and they're able to write effectively about many things, including about their culture. Iranian-Americans, I believe will also see themselves here, because it's capturing something that many of us have felt or observed about Iranian culture--that you can take the person out of Iran, but you can't take the Iranian out of the person. My friend Robert Karimi, a half Guatemalan/half-Iranian guy coined a term I really like--it's really a word that draws on the Spanish use of the suffix "dad" --which is an adjectival modifier. He uses the term, Iranidad--and by this he means a kind of "Iranianness" that he feels, observes, sees expressed among many people. It's not about language or how you look as much is about how you feel about that culture. I'd associate with a kind of" affinity" for Iranian culture. People always ask me, you're half French, half Iranian, grew up in the US. Why do you identify so much with Iranian culture? I can't give straightforward answer, really. But the other day when I was doing a reading in NY city, a Columbian woman came up to me and thanked me for the book, and said, "I'm in love with your culture. I'm in love with all things Iranian--the food, the music, the people, the cutlure." I told her, "Senora, you have Iranidad!" She laughed, but she understood what I meant. This book is as much for her as anyone. And really, I hope this is a book that is more about the literature, the really stupendous writing contained in it than about any kind of essential audience I am looking for. The quality of the literature makes it readable, interesting powerful to everyone. It transcends all cultures, I think.

Omid- What have been the effects of living in Berkeley for such a long time?

Living in Berkeley is both a curse and a blessing. Not a curse really, but sometimes it's easy to think of the blessing as the dominant view. And, it's not. Most of the US doesn't think like Berkely residents....Because you're in a place where there is a high engagement with politics, intellectual discourse, you cannot but be surprised, dismayed, disgusted even, when you go other places and realize how little people know in this country about the world. And that's a difficult thing for me sometimes. I have a friend in Texas who told me the other day that the Christian fundamentalists are rejoicing about the state of affairs in the Middle East, because they think the world is coming to an end and they're sermonizing with vengeance because the day of reckoning is coming and the messiah will return. I can't fathom that kind of thinking in Berkeley (or at least on any kind of larger scale.). I can't fathom how anyone would be celebrating the death of innocent people anywhere. It makes me absolutely sick. Berkeley is a unique place in the world. It can be overly-righteous or groovy, but I think there is a level of civic engagement and concern that I wish was present in more places. I talk about it to my students--and I tell them, in Berkeley, people debate and struggle with real forms of democratic participation.

Omid- What's your plan for the future?

Persis-I am working on a few projects--a collection of poems called "Conversations with Neruda" and a fictional narrative loosely based on my father's life. He had a fascinating life and lived through some fascinating times including the first and second world wars, the coup in Iran, and his own complicated life as an immigrant has inspired so much for me. He was a very interesting man and he gave me many gifts. I promised him I'd finish the writing he'd started in his later life. Some of it was fiction and others of it was memoir. I must write it out of respect for him. The other, more academic project I'm working on is a collection of essys called, "In the Belly of the Great Satan: Art, Literature and the Emergence of a Public Iranian-American Identity." I am absolutely fascinated with how art, literature, music is the place where people come to find themselves, find a home, and create these fusions, spaces of resistance. I think the term Iranian-American has come into greater currency in the last few years, and in part, it's because of art and literature. There's a kind of empowerment to art that is undeniable. I want to investigate that, chart it, and observe it. All of this requires time, and I don't have enough of it. But I am inspired by all this, and I am also interested in never being stuck or placed in a box. So, even while I deploy the term Iranian-American, I am also a little uncomfortable with it. But I think the role of art is to make us uncomfortable. To make us look again at ourselves. That's my goal in any of my work—to create and to be a little uncomfortable.


At 3:23 PM , Anonymous Martin Bebow said...

Aren't the fundamentalist Shias waiting for the hidden Imam? I believe that have a similar view of the Middle East situation as do the fundamentalist Christians.


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