Disoriental by Négar Djavadi
Stories of lives in exile - voluntary or not - are many and varied and Negar Djavadi’s Disoriental is a worthy, interesting and enjoyable addition to those written primarily by Iranian women many of whom fled their home country as young children in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution and who have now reached an age and maturity that allows for reflective consideration.
Kimia Sadr has fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join their father, an intellectual who opposed the western backed regime of the Shah, welcomed (cautiously) the promise of the new regime of Ayatollah Khomeini only to find his dreams of freedom, equality and prosperity crushed by the heavy handed despotic rule of the mullahs.
Disoriental moves back and forth between Kimia’s life as a young gay woman in France and her family’s history in Iran. The main (and most compelling part) of the book takes place in the northern Iran of her grandparents and the Tehran of her politically active parents. The book not only describes the unravelling of a country with a strong heritage, an ancient culture and a proud people. It also describes the pain of leaving a country you fought for and the challenges of fitting into a new life.
“That’s the tragedy of exile. Things, as well as people, still exist, but you have to pretend to think of them as dead.”
Highly readable, by turns heartbreaking and humorous, the book weaves and layers the history of a country with the struggles of a young woman trying to find her own identity without the aid of the scaffolding afforded by her own culture, heritage and childhood. It’s the story of a young Iranian in Europe with a loving, acute, precise and at times funny sense of the cultural differences.
“Here’s what I learned about the Dutch: each person is free to be who they are, to want what they want, to live how they choose, on the condition that it doesn’t harm the well-being of anyone else, or the general equilibrium. It’s a philosophy of life that’s the exact opposite of Persian culture, where erecting barriers, getting involved in other people’s lives, and breaking the law is as natural as breathing. But it’s also unlike the Judeo-Christian rigidity of French culture, where actions are endlessly hindered by words.”
Disoriental is perceptive and personal, a book about freedom to live, to choose and to love.