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This fascinates me, because it falls squarely into the tradition of feminist utopia and uses many of the tropes I've seen there, and yet the author is ambivalent about self-identifying as feminist and I have no notion whether she's read any of the works I am thinking of as feminist utopias.

In Iran in 1953, several women converge on a country house. Their circumstances are very different from each other. The house is owned by Mrs. Farrokhlaqa Sadraldivan Golchehreh, who is recovering from the shock of sudden widowhood. After thirty-two years of glaring at her, silencing her, and telling her to shut up, her husband (who was secretly desperately in love with her) tries to smile and say something nice for a change. She's so terrified that he's snapped and is going to kill her that she punches him in the stomach, he falls down the stairs, and he dies. Understandably, she is in need of a country getaway, so she buys a nice house with a garden. Zarrinkolah is a young prostitute who's experienced a religious awakening and run away from her workplace; Faizeh is disappointed and bitter when the man she wants to marry marries someone else, even after she's helped him cover up an honor killing.

And the victim of the honor killing, Munis, wants to see the world, because after thirty-eight years of sitting around, one month of wandering in the streets aimlessly, and death on two separate occasions, she's had enough of trying to make a go of it at home. So she takes Faizeh and, together with Zarrinkolah, they hire on at the house as maids.

The last woman, Mahdokht, was at the house already. The reason the house was up for sale was that Mahdokht planted herself in the back garden and is now living as a tree. Her family were not able to cope with it, even though she's only set down roots and not put out any leaves yet.

In a narrative shot through with a gentle surrealism and a rather more biting sense of cynical humor, the house and garden become, not the place that makes these women good, necessarily, but the place they become their true selves. However much that helps in dealing with the outside world.

I enjoyed this book, although the language of the translation is occasionally rather confusing and never really lovely. For one thing, Munis is a total badass. She learns that everything she thought she knew about the world is wrong, her family turns against her, her brother kills her, her best friend covers up her murder. And she copes with this by remaining awesome and by deciding to travel, because nothing dangerous can frighten her anymore. (And indeed, I think I should warn that there is a rape in this book, with which Munis basically deals by saying 'whatever, my life has been worse', but it bothered me.)

I just-- this reminds me so much of some of Tiptree (specifically 'Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled with Light!', although Women Without Men is not remotely that depressing), and in tone of bits of Monique Wittig, I suspect parallel evolution, honestly, though of course I can't be certain, the kind of parallel evolution in writing produced by looking at similar kinds of oppression with a similar sense of humor. The author herself, in the essay in the afterword, is quoted as saying that she is consciously not a magical realist and does not wish to be associated with that group of writers: the literary work she aligns herself with is One Thousand and One Nights.

An interesting novel, and one which makes me want to read more of Parsipur.


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