Women without Men, by Shahrnush Parsipur
Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran, by Shahrnush Parsipur. The Feminist Press at CUNY (2012), Second Edition, Paperback, 192 pages. Faridoun Farrokh (Translator), Shirin Neshat (Preface)
An exquisite novela by an Iranian woman combining the magic of Arabian Nights with the stories of five women who temporarily escape the rigid control of men to live together in a garden.
Shahrnush Parsipur is an Iranian woman, now living in exile in the United States. Her books are banned in Iran. She returned to Iran after the revolution of 1979, and like other women, she was appalled when the new government required women to return to wearing the veil. In 1989 she was jailed for the publication of this book, in part because she raised sexual issues that leaders wanted to keep hidden.
The women whose stories she interweaves all suffer from the rigid control of men. They are shaped by a strident insistence on virginity outside of marriage, by honor killing, rape, and sheer male hostility. All five escape to an isolated garden where they can reshape themselves. The women’s seclusion from men is not absolute or permanent, but a necessary time of escape from men’s control. The male gardener helps them rebuilt their house and tend their garden. Eventually each of the women transforms herself into a new being or chooses a good, but imperfect husband.
Parsipur writes with a clear, sometimes sparse language about very real problems, yet her stories are interspersed with possibility and magical events. In writing speculatively, she follows her own Persian tradition of stories, rather than borrowing from the magical realism of South American writers. Parsipur declares that she is not a feminist, yet she is enormously sensitive to women’s needs and has challenged the Iranian silence which surrounds them.
The eassys included in this Feminist Press edition provide helpful context. Thanks to Eva for telling me how good this book is.
I heartily recommend Women without Men to everyone simply because it is a charming read. In addition, it conveys particular issues important for Iranian women and a universal hope for moving beyond them.