Category Archives: Persian

Two Parrots by Rashin, inspired by a tale from Rumi

Two ParrotsAccording to a note at book’s end, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī of 13th-century Persia, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, or simply Rumi, “… is currently considered to be the ‘most popular poet in America.’” International award-winning illustrator/writer Rashin wants to make sure that even the youngest readers can access and appreciate the timeless poet. To that end, in a simple, contemporary translation illuminated with captivating pictures, Rashin presents a story about love and freedom from Rumi’s iconic, extensive Masnavi, his six-volume poem of Sufi spiritual lessons.

“Once upon a time, in Persia,” begins this tale of “a wealthy merchant who had everything.” Still, he found himself a bit lonely, and bought a lively talking parrot to keep him company. In spite of all the endless comforts the merchant offers his fine feathered friend, the parrot remains sad in his beautiful golden cage.

As the merchant makes plans for a trip to India, he generously asks all his servants what he might bring back as gifts. Rather than any luxuries, the parrot’s only desire is but a message to a friend: “‘Tell him I would love to see him, but I can’t because I live in a cage.’” The merchant dutifully delivers the missive, only to witness the friend’s sudden death at the news. Upon his return home, how the merchant’s own parrot reacts to his regretful report teaches the merchant “a lesson [he] will never forget.”

Rashin, too, is just as ingenious as her avian characters, as she creates a complementary ‘hidden-in-plain-sight’ narrative in Farsi. In case you’re not lucky enough (like grateful me) to have a literary Persian friend, allow me to share a few tidbits. The three servants’ requests penned on a long scroll, begin with the word ‘sogati,’ the Persian concept of gifts gathered from one’s travels to specifically share with family and friends waiting at home (think souvenirs with purpose) – in this case, items include “perfume, clothes, jewels, sweets, wine, fruits, scarf, fabric.” The merchant is surely indulgent.

Most revealing of all is the parroted epistolary exchange: the sealed envelope at story’s beginning suggests that the Indian parrot’s name is Sina, as he writes, “My dear friend, salaam [hello] …,” to his caged buddy; as the ending nears, the scattered pages around the parrot’s cage show a letter in progress, in which the trapped parrot replies to his friend: “Salaam, my dear friend, I wished I could see you,” and “You are lucky because you are free.”

Love should never be at the cost of freedom, and Rashin-via-Rumi offers an important early lesson about healthy relationships (21st-century helicopter parents – who me?! – might take careful note). Thanks to Rashin’s vivid, empathetic presentation, here’s a teachable moment translated into an enchanting, memorable experience.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Iranian American, Persian

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

Equal of the Sun“Based on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom” seems to be the dominant short-hand description (even on its own back cover) of Anita Amirrezvani‘s historical novel set in 16th-century Persia, now modern Iran. Some might find that description misleading, and expect this to be Princess Pari’s story, told in Pari’s voice. The narrative actually belongs to her chief eunuch and advisor, Javaher, who Amirrezvani reveals in the “Author’s Note” is one of several “invented characters.” Lest you feel deprived, don’t: Javaher makes for an excellent protagonist (especially as voiced by a perennial audible favorite, Simon Vance). He takes immediate control with the very first words – “I swear to you …” – as he declares his unwavering intention to “set down the truth about the princess.” He explains, “As Pari’s closest servant, I not only observed her actions but carried out her orders. I realized that upon my death, everything I know about her would disappear if I failed to document her story.”

Scant documentation survives about Princess Pari who was the favored daughter of Tahmasb Shah (1514-1576), the second ruler of the Safavi dynasty which reigned over one of the most significant Persian empires. In Sun, the few known major events of Pari’s royal existence are a vehicle for Javaher to share his enthralling, detail-laden experiences – and Amirrezvani makes exceptional use her fictional freedom – both inside the carefully-guarded harem and considerably beyond the palace gates.

Javaher joins Pari’s service, personally chosen by the revered, celebrated Shah. In order to prove his loyalty to the same royal court that accused and executed his father on distorted charges, Javaher has shockingly emasculated himself as a young man – much later than his fellow eunuchs who were made so in early boyhood. Javaher is determined to reclaim both his shattered family’s honor … and their former power. When the Shah dies unexpectedly without naming his chosen heir, Pari (and much of the court) knows that as his favored protegé, she is by far the best prepared, most knowing successor … if only she were not a woman. More and more, Pari’s brilliant, dangerous machinations rely on Javaher’s silence, his devotion, his intelligence, and his access to outside connections.

Because this is Javaher’s story, Sun moves beyond his royal service with intriguing subplots that include his personal quest to seek revenge on his father’s accuser, his determination to save his younger sister from their greed-driven aunt, and (with enough detail to make one blush at least a few shades of grey) his surprising romantic liaisons (birth control measures not required). Untethered by recorded facts, Amirrezvani’s fictional hero is a fascinating creation, fully aware of his Machiavellian choices, unbending in his determination to succeed: “If this book were discovered by the wrong man, I could be executed, for I have committed monstrous deeds and made mistakes that I would prefer not to reveal – although what man hasn’t?” he muses. “Man is flawed by his very nature. His ears hear only what they wish; God alone knows the absolute truth.” Amen to that.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Iranian, Iranian American, Persian

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalid

“The authors have chosen anonymity for obvious political reasons.” When you know something like that about a book – that lives were willing to be risked to get a story out – how could you possibly not read it? In the case of Zahra’s Paradise, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Persian activist/journalist/documentary maker Amir and illustrated by Arab artist Khalil making his graphic novel debut, Zahra’s Paradise began as an online serial webcomic. In the name of worldwide access, the series was released simultaneously in English, Farsi, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Korean, Hebrew, Portuguese, German, Swedish, and Finnish. The story – set in the aftermath of Iran’s contested June 2009 presidential elections that declared incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad victor – was considered that important. Now with Iran back in near-daily headlines, the urgency to read Zahra’s Paradise grows ever stronger.

The book opens with a gruesome prologue that will be alluded to again and again throughout the coming pages: a brutal father forces his young son to witness the monstrous destruction of a litter of newborn puppies. In the prologue’s ending panels, the butchered, bagged remains sink down in a watery burial: “Now you too are in the stream touched by all that’s still and waiting. A lost generation buried inside the eye of this blog. Zahra’s Paradise.”

“[T]his blog” is the work of a young man named Hassan desperately searching for his younger brother, Mehdi Alavi, who disappeared from Freedom Square (the irony!) while protesting the outcome of the Iran’s elections. From June 16 to August 19, 2009, Hassan records his family’s desperate search via the technological tools remarkably still available to him – his phone camera, his computer, the internet – first for Mehdi himself, and then, as time passes, any news of Mehdi at all. Hassan and his mother beg, demand, even call in dangerous favors to work through a labyrinthine system of hospitals, prisons, government offices, the morgue, and even the cemetery just outside Iran’s capital city of Tehran known as Zahra’s Paradise, named after the prophet Mohammad’s daughter. What Hassan is able to unveil is worse than any nightmare …

That the resulting panes make for an unforgettable story might be enough, but that so much of this graphic fiction is indeed fact is a sobering, outrageous slap of reality. The creators use a “composite of real people and events,” supported by an appendix-like 40+ pages at volume’s end they label “Glossary” that serves as historical record. Most haunting are those final 13 pages of names – real, true, once-living brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents – that make up the “citizens of a silent city named Omid (‘hope’ in Persian).” Printed in near-blinding tiny type, these names are an ultimate reminder to “[l]et them challenge our conscience so that in the future we will prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Arab, Iranian, Iranian American, Persian

The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen

Hatshepsut of Egypt
Artemisia of Caria
Sorghaghtani of Mongolia
Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman
Isabella of Castile
Nur Jahan of India

Happy birthday to the world’s most famous queen (still!) who turns 85 today, making her son the oldest prince-waiting-to-be-king in British history. Next week, on April 29, Queen E2 will be welcoming another princess into the family when Prince William makes a royal of Kate Middleton.

Let’s hope Princess Kate has some good role models as she figures out her impending future … someone in the royal inner circle might do well to share this refreshing Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses with her! In addition to that fabulous title – no fluffy, wait-for-my-Prince-Charming, shrinking pink Disney princesses here! – this historic series covers the lives of six exceptional, independent women. Girl power all the way!

Written by award-winning Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen using a mixture of photographs, maps, period art reproductions, and original paintings, each of the six titles tells not only the story of a historically important woman-in-charge. but offers a pronunciation guide, a map of where she lived and ruled, as well as contextual information as to what she ate and what she probably wore. Presented in a chatty, contemporary tone to engage today’s younger readers, the series makes these seemingly faraway stories both timely and entertaining.

Move over King Tut and pay homage to Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first woman Pharaoh, who ruled (dressed in Pharoah drag with breasts bared!) for 22 flourishing years. Artemisia defied all gender conventions in ancient Greece and commanded great warships as an admiral. Sorghaghtani was instrumental in uniting and growing the vast empire claimed by her father-in-law, the great Genghis Khan.

Qutlugh Terkan Khatun survived numerous husbands, the last one who left her a Persian kingdom she ruled with renowned wisdom and justice. Isabella (a distant ancestor of our birthday royal … she was Henry VIII’s mother-in-law temporarily while he was married to her daughter Catherine) ruled equally with her King Ferdinand, and not only united Spain but also underwrote that fateful three-ship expedition led by Christopher Columbus. And Nur Jahan (whose niece would be memorialized forever in the Taj Mahal) ruled the Moghul Empire, all the while helping to better the lives of women!

Each book stands alone, but the six together pack a historical girl-power punch. A few minor quibbles: a bibliography or some sort of reference section would have been enriching, photo and art captions would have been appreciated, and some of the reproduced works seem graphically inappropriate for such young readers (eek! two men sawing a prisoner in half from the head down, complete with splattering blood!). And I did wonder why a few of our thinking princesses were so pale: if Artemisia was from what is now southwest Turkey, would she have been so blond and fair-skinned? What about a rather pink Hatshepsut in Egypt many millennia before sunblock? Hmmmm …

If the pictures seems a bit washed out, the writing thankfully is not. Bridges is sure to add the bad and ugly, as needed. Hatshepsut’s post-death mystery, Artemisia’s brutal war tactics, the horrors of Isabella’s Spanish Inquisition, and Nur Jahan’s behind-the-screens political machinations are all included.

Strength and accomplishment certainly came with high prices! Without turning a blind eye, Bridges shows history is filled with inspiring feminist lessons … and not just for princesses, either!

Next up: The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames forthcoming in Fall 2011! Stay tuned!

Tidbit: Back when my teen daughter was a be-bopping little toddler, her favorite song was “Cinderella” – no, no, no, it’s NOT what you’re expecting. If The Thinking Girls ever needed a soundtrack, they’d do well with this one. I was just recalling how great the lyrics were, and this link landed in my inbox for which I am SOOO gleefully thankful:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FHzp9d-l7k .

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Biography, Chinese American, Egyptian, European, Indian, Mongolian, Persian, Turkish

Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel created by Jordan Mechner, written by A.B. Sina, artwork by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland, color by Hilary Sycamore

Prince of PersiaBeing a Luddite, I don’t play video games. Although I should confess that growing up in the 1970s (*gasp!*), ours was the first house in the neighborhood to get Pong, then Atari, then an Apple II. Contrary as I am, all that early technology probably made me the Luddite I am today in old age!

Anyway, if you’re a gamer, you probably know Prince of Persia as a wildly popular adventure game series. Apparently, millions have played endless hours since it became a worldwide bestseller by 1992. Since old-school is sorta trendy again, here comes the first-ever graphic novel version of Mechner’s game, apparently given authentic new life by writer Sina who relied on “the myths and legends of the Persia of his childhood.”

The highlight, of course, is the artwork created by the prolificly talented LeUyen Pham (once again) and her husband Alex Puvilland. Together, they energetically render cross-dressing, 13th-century dancer-in-training Shirin who escapes the suffocating palace and happens to meet a mysterious young man who claims to be Layth, a 3rd-century deposed guardian prince of a crumbling palace. Hormones get the best of them and the two fall in love, but with their forces combined, they save the thirsty village from the greedy rulers.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2008

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Persian

Author Interview: Marjane Satrapi

persepolisMarjane Satrapi on the “Axis of Evil,” Cheese, and Exploring Family History

Marjane Satrapi changed my reading life. Before I picked up Persepolis, her fabulous autobiographical debut about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, I had little clue what graphic novels were. Sure, I had seen some of the manga books filled with too-cute, overly round-eyed characters, but I was convinced those were just for kids. I hadn’t moved beyond the image of Marvel comics – Superman, Spiderman, Archie and Veronica – and that was the extent of my knowledge.

When Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood first appeared stateside in April 2003, it was already a major bestseller in France, where it was originally published – which is also where Satrapi has lived for the last 13 years. Satrapi’s deceptively simple black-and-white images, paired with her candid dialogue bubbles, speak volumes. Her stark comics depict her life as an outspoken young girl living a bewildered existence in Tehran amidst political and social turmoil, protected by her nurturing, liberal parents. The great-granddaughter of a Persian emperor, Satrapi recalls her temporary stint as a 6-year-old prophet for a god who happens to resemble Karl Marx, and remembers her beloved uncle who was murdered by the “authorities.”  …[click here for more]

Author interview: The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2007

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2003, 2005 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Iranian, Persian

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

EmbroideriesFrom the author of the acclaimed two-part graphic autobiography, Persepolis, comes an outrageously entertaining afternoon of stories shared amid close women relatives and friends as they reveal the poignant, subversive, sometimes hilarious details of their most intimate experiences. The term “embroideries” refers to re-virginification – unreasonably important in a male-dominated culture. You’ll have to read it to find out all the delicious secrets …

Review: “New and Notable Books, AsianWeek, May 5, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Persian

Diary of Princess: A Tale from Marco Polo’s Travels by Heather Maisner, illustrated by Sheila Moxley

Diary of a PrincessA fictional diary that the young Princess Kokachin might have written in the late-13th century, when she traveled from the court of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan in her native China to marry the widowed Khan of Persia. Amazingly, she is escorted by none other than the legendary Marco Polo, who served as an ambassador in Kublai Khan’s court, and becomes a surrogate father figure to Kokachin on their two-year journey.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, May 28, 2004

Readers: Children

Published: 2004

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisAlready a bestseller in France, where it was first published, Satrapi’s achievement is capturing her childhood in spare comic book images that speak utter volumes. Satrapi, whose great grandfather was a Persian emperor, recalls her life as an outspoken young girl living a bewildered existence in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution with her Marxist parents, her beloved uncle who was murdered by the so-called authorities, and her God who resembles Karl Marx.

Click here to read my interview with Marjane Satrapi for The Bloomsbury Review.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, May 30, 2003

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2003 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Iranian, Persian

Abandon: A Romance by Pico Iyer

AbandonA British graduate student esconsced in a new life based in Santa Barbara, California, embarks on a labyrinthine worldly journey in search of lost ancient Sufi manuscripts believed to have been smuggled out of Iran.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, January 31, 2003

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, British Asian, Persian