Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Women Without Men - Shahrnush Parsipur

Read: November 2008

Women Without Men in one tweet sized chunk:

An intriguing story of female unity, Women Without Men is a work of earthy magic unlike anything else I have read.

I first acquired Women Without Men incidentally. It was 2006, I had just started working for Waterstone's at the University of East Anglia and been set loose on the fiction section. I was at that stage of my literary education when every day heralded a new discovery and another book to be added to my Amazon wishlist. Shahrnush Parsipur was invited to Norwich as a participant in New Writing Worlds (alongside the likes of Andrey Kurkov, and Aleksandar Hemon) and so I ordered some of her books in from The Feminist Press in New York for us to sell at bookstalls during these events.

A few weeks later I was flicking through a box of books which I was unpacking and on the back of a book entitled Touba and the Meaning of Light I spotted a quote from Marjane Satrapi, author of the Perseopolis graphic novels which I had just read. “When I left Iran,” it began, “I took three of them was Touba and the Meaning of Night...Parsipur is a courageous, talented women and above all a great writer.” This intrigued me but being a big £20 hardback I filed the information at the back of my mind and waited until I could buy it.

Months passed. Then one day, after applying to return the unsold copies, we received a letter authorising us to TPR (title page remove, a process where you rip out the title page to return to the publisher's and take the now damaged copies off sale) all the copies. Suddenly I not only owned a copy of Touba and the Meaning of Light, but also a far shorter paperback novel entitled Women Without Men. From there it was only a year or so until I actually got around to reading it.

So that is the very boring story of how I discovered Shahrnush Parsipur. It is yet another example of the little discoveries inspired by international authors being invited to Norwich for New Writing Worlds which was why I first developed an interest in working there. And look where that ended...

BUT WHAT OF THE BOOK? Get on with it already.

Women Without Men is a great little read which follows the destinies of five women living in modern Iran. They include a prostitute, a wealthy middle-aged housewife, and a schoolteacher, all sorts of women who by various routes come to live without men in a garden on the outskirts of Tehran. It is a book of escape, a vivid depiction of women's independence and a celebration of nature. Suffused throughout with Islamic mysticism which is mixed with comment on contemporary Iran (she was jailed soon after publication for her frank and defiant portrayal of women's sexuality) this is an incredibly powerful and arresting work, unlike anything else I have ever read. There is one beautiful part which will stay with me a long time. Having arrived by their various routes in the garden one of the women, Mahdokht, decides to become a tree. She plants herself by the riverbank in the fall and her feet are slowly frozen into the ground. Come spring she starts to spout green leaves and from then on as the seasons change so does she. Then one summer she begins to transform into seeds which blow into the water and are scattered across the world.

It is a beautiful image which sums the book up perfectly. If you are looking for a fresh read which will not be found in any 3for2 promotion, then why not give this a go? It really is a worthwhile read.

7.5 out of 10

No comments: