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Writing From Right to Left is my memoir of coming of age in the '80s and '90s in Iran where I kept my private and public life a secret from everyone, and constantly lied about my family--which was unlike anyone else's in the city I lived in.
I was ashamed of my father's profession; a renowned oncologist who ate dinner at 6pm, collected cacti and trapped the neighborhood's stray cats with a bait cage. Some of these things might sound normal to you, but I assure you not in a small Iranian city of the 90s!
By interweaving my personal story with profiles of my family members, friends, classmates, relatives and neighbors who represent different parts of society, my memoir looks behind the lives of elite Iranians in order to explore how ordinary middle class Iranians grappled with every day life concerns such as quest for happiness, meaning of religion, political and social identity and intersecting of tradition with modernity.
From going to witch doctors with my grandmother in order to solve my uncle's womanizing problems, to feeling the fear of smuggling a video player into our house at night, I do more than just remember my past. I question why the L word (Love) was forbidden at home and at school. Why the street sweeper who knocked on our door the beginning of every month to collect his fee was served on plastic plates and utensils. Why during the years of my puberty, I was listening to Leonard Cohen and writing anonymous letters to political prisoners in Evin, the notorious Iranian detention center, while my friends spent theirs making (secret) boyfriends.
My memoir fills the gap between the Iran of the pre-1979 revolution and the modern Iran of Nuclear power that has been written so little about.
Why Do I Need Your Contribution?
Currently I have three chapters and counting, one of which was proofread and edited pro bono. I also have many stories and interviews on tape that need to be written into profiles. Your contribution to this project means ensuring a period of time which is required to, first, edit the pieces I have already written, and second, to complete the book. With your contribution, I will have the means that will ensure at least six months of uninterrupted writing time and budget for research, travel and an editor (see bellow), I can finish the book by the end of 2015.
Remote Research: Contacting individuals in Iran for interviews and research has been costly. I speak to my characters and other related individuals via email, Skype or Oovoo. But, due to the notorious reputation of Iranian government when it comes to journalists and researchers, many of my interviewees are afraid to speak on the Internet, which could be monitored. Some of my subjects who come from lower economic classes don't even have access to the Internet or its free means of communications such as Skype or Messenger. Instead I must call them via phone, which is an extra cost: Calling cards typically cost 20 dollars for less than an hour of talk time.
Travel Means: As a journalist, an ideal method of researching this book is going to Iran to sit down with the people I’m writing about. I can never capture the emotions and reactions of these people via phone or a slow video. Your contribution can fund my travel to Iran and various cities within the country, where my characters reside. These expenses include airfare to and from Iran, internal airfare, and food (for lodging, I can stay with family and friends for free.)
Hiring an Editor: once my research is done, I’ll need the funds to hire a proofreader and an editor with a background in translation. I have always taken pride in the fact that I mastered the English language quickly, but I do not deny that English is my second language and no matter how well I write, there are times that my writing would not read smoothly and will sound rather none-native. An editor who could think in two different languages could understand my text without changing its meanings.
Finding a Publisher: Once the writing part is done, I will start the process of hiring an agent and getting a publisher which will be followed by a final editing, designing of the cover, and acquiring book reviews and testimonials.
Book Excerpts and Writing Samples
Excerpt 1 Part 1
I am eight years old. I ask my father what brain atrophy is. He shows me. He squeezes a walnut in a silver nutcracker. Brown and black, the crushed shells fall on the steel counter. He takes a walnut piece and puts it in my mouth. He cracks another and eats his harvest. The crunchy pieces of walnut tingle the tip of my tongue, but I keep chewing in hope of finding the answer in the dry taste of my mouth.
I wait and follow my father’s movements. He has beautiful hands with long straight fingers. Blue blood runs in his swollen veins that lay beneath his fair skin. He holds half a walnut in his palm and lowers it to my face. The pieces are attached like Siamese twins. The one on the right is deformed, dried, shrunken and black. The other is a whole.
“This is your grandfather’s brain.” He says.
In my cheeks, I feel the rush of heat from horror and amusement. I fear he would notice the hair standing on its end on my bare arms. I smile to look brave, but he knows I’m bothered at the thought of a piece of brain in his hands. He abruptly adds, “this is just a walnut” and breaks off the dead end, throws the healthy piece in the air and catches it with his mouth. As he chews with his mouth closed, he winks at me and smiles before saying, “atrophy means koochik shodan.” I learn my first medical term.
One side of Baba Jaan’s brain is shrinking. When my father finishes explaining the science of this incurable disease, he says it’s Karma. He says grandfather deserves it. I wonder how an atheist could believe in Karma.
The last words grandfather says before losing his ability to speak is, “ba khoda ghahram.” He declares his heresy slowly, but deliberately. My grandmother wails and begs him to repent. She prays for Allah’s forgiveness. My mother doesn’t say much. Her tears roll down her cheeks and drip into her mouth as she bites her lips when she hears it again, “I don’t believe in God anymore.”
He collected his kidney stones in two boxes he kept in the bottom drawer of a nightstand he had taken out of my parent's bedroom and put next to his vintage Denon record player. In the bookshelf, rows of books stood in layers of dust, sometimes interrupted by curious trinkets. A calf embryo in a jar, and a human skull took two separate shelves. Another shelf, held a skull of a lamb he once cooked overnight. We ate the head, then he saved the bones.
The human skull was stolen. Sometimes in the mid-seventies, hoping to present his older brother with a unique gift, my uncle had taken it from an abandoned graveyard in outskirts of Isfahan. He had tried to mail it to Germany, where my father was a medical student, but the post office wouldn't allow it. After he humored the postman by saying it was Hitler's skull, he was chased out of the building by the security guards.
He had a chain-less, silver pocket watch that rested inside a silver bowl on his desk. My father had stopped it, and covered the hands that showed twelve o’clock with a tiny square piece of sticker which read 0. He believed when in referendum election of March 1979, Iranians voted for the Islamic Republic with 98.9% majority, the time in Iran had stopped moving forward.
The summer before my fifth grade class, a pilot relative brought me jar full of clouds. I had asked for it. He had opened the door to his airplane and scooped up a jar of clouds, closed its lid tight and kept it in a cool place till he met me. I took the jar from his hand, studied it for a while and then opened it. The clouds made their way out of the jar, slowly and patiently, first hesitating, then with confidence and filled the air around me. They hung low and float gracefully in a mellow dance and let me run my fingers through them. Fluffy and soft, the clouds between my fingers began to disappear in the air.
"Have you ever had chocolate with mashroob in it?"
I had, but I wasn't stupid to admit it in a public school, in an Islamic country that I've eaten liquor filled chocolates shaped as alcohol bottles. With the rumors going around in the class of thirty-two eleven graders, she was a good candidate for being a spy. Her low grades and many days she missed from school were never challenged. And her family was unlike the most of us.
She said her mother was a police; a member of the Ershad or Guidence branch. It wasn't hard to imagine what she did. Any Iranian at some point in her life is questioned by the morality police. I started getting called around the age seven while going out with my mother. I was tall and looked older for my age. As the age of maturity for girl in Iran is nine, I was often questioned why I'm not wearing the Hijab, or if I were, why my hair is showing.
Her mom found young men and women holding hands and questioned their relationships. If they were neither married nor related, she’d arrest them. If women wore bold color makeup and loose headscarves exposing their hair, she’d offer them a tissue to clean up and helped fix their headscarf. If they resisted, she’d arrest them too.
Adding details to make her story ever more credible, she told us when the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei visits with women, her mother is his personal bodyguard. Her lies (or truth) terrified all of us. If true, it meant the family was associated with the government, the big brother, the source of notorious deaths and tortures of political prisoners, the force behind injustice. If lies, she was smart to take up such controversial topic to humor with; no one would dare to question her.
THANK YOU FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS CONTRIBUTED OR HELPED SPREADING THE WORD. I COULD NOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOU!
The title of this campaign and the nature of these rewards are inspired by a question I'm often asked. "Was learning to write (English) from left to right difficult?"
No! It was my opportunity to write from a different direction--not only figuratively--, but also metaphorically. Just as writing (Farsi) from right to left is different from what English speakers are used to, this book recalls the memoirs of a generation of Iranians who are underrepresented in literature and media. I have illustrated these poems and Farsi words in order to give you a different kind of Thank You.
Risks and challenges
My greatest risk is losing the chance to go back to Iran after the book is published. Iranian government's history of imprisonment, torture and murder of journalists and authors who have written about Iran in other languages regardless of the topic is known to many. Most of whom tell me to write the book under a pen name or write it when Iranian regime changes.
I care about this project more than my own selfish desire to go back home. I must and I will use the credibility of my real identity because I want my reader to know that these stories are not fiction!
My biggest challenge is time! The clock is ticking. Every day in the news there are talks of threats or failed negotiations with Iran. That is why I don't want to wait for a regime change or an attack on Iran. Right now that we are witnessing some political agreements and loosening of some sanctions on Iran is the best time to add my understanding of Iran to the debate.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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