News & Politics

No Longer Quiet

The bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran is out with a new book—and this time the subject is very personal

An entry in her diary, “Things I have been silent about,” inspired Azar Nafisi’s surprise bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran. Other entries included “Going to parties in Tehran” and “Watching the Marx Brothers in Tehran.”

Nafisi, who grew up in Iran and now lives in DC’s Foggy Bottom—she teaches literature at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies—took millions of Americans behind the veil with her tale of leading an underground book club in Iran. Now, in her second memoir, which uses that same diary entry for its title, the 53-year-old author tackles a very personal topic: her parents.

Things I’ve Been Silent About delves into Nafisi’s childhood with a focus on her complicated mother—a secretive woman who challenged convention to become one of the first women in the Iranian parliament. The new book, Nafisi says, grew out of an attempt to recapture the two most important people in her life. Nafisi’s mother died in 2003, her father in 2004.

“I just couldn’t leave them behind,” she says.

Nafisi, who stirred up some controversy with Reading Lolita—the memoir is still banned in Iran—never intended it to have any political overtones. Then again, she was surprised, after moving to the States, at the “reductionist” impression Americans have of Iranians, especially Iranian women.

Nafisi, who’s been married to an engineer for 30 years and has two kids—a daughter, 24, and a son, 23—is looking to deliver a tale in her new book about family, one that just happens to be set in the Middle East. She’s also looking, as she says in the book, for a little peace.

“Perhaps the most common of all narratives,” she writes, “is one about absent parents and the urgent need to fill the void created by their deaths. The process does not lead to closure—at least for me—but to understanding.”

This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue of The Washingtonian magazine. For more articles from that issue, click here.