Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Good Daughter. A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik

Iranian born Jasmin Darznik came to America when she was three years old. The daughter of a German father and Iranian mother, all she wanted was to fit into American culture. She dump her cucumbers and quince fruit into the trash before school. Her father, an alcoholic was unable to cope with American life and it was her mother who ran their motel in California. Her mother Lili admonished her to make something of herself and Jasmin did becoming an attorney and receiving her PHD in English from Princeton. But all through the years of growing up in America, her mother would tell her about the Good Daughter - the Iranian daughters who were polite, quiet and obedient. The Good Daughter was the one who "heeded her mother's words". Jasmin did not want to be her mother's Good Daughter.

As it turned out, five weeks after the death of her German father, while going through her father's belongings, Jasmin discovered a photograph of her mother, Lili, as a young bride, married to a man who is not her father. It was a photograph that "had survived revolution, war, exile, and something else besides: my mother's will to forget the past." When Jasmin asked her mother about the picture, she refused to talk about it. However, months later Lili began sending her daughter tapes, 10 in all, which tell the story of her past. A past that began before the photograph and a past that was very different from the one Jasmin had been led to believe.

What Jasmin discovered about her mother's life led her reconsider her relationship with her mother and her heritage. And that led to the desire to write her mother Lili's story. Lili's story begins with the story of Pargol Amini, Jasmin's great-grandmother, and the birth of her ninth child, Kobra who was Lili's mother. Kobra was Pargol's favourite child and the only child she was able to personally name. Kobra's life is altered forever when she is married to an older man by her brother to pay off his gambling debts. Kobra and Sohrab have a daughter Lili who is married off at 13 to an abusive man. When Lili realizes that she might eventually die at the hands of her husband, she leaves the marriage, giving up her daughter Sarah to be raised by her husband's mother. Lili is eventually able to forge a new life through sheer grit and determination as well as bringing home a damad farangi (foreign groom) from her time studying in Germany.

Kobra and Lili's story is one common to many Middle Eastern women. Both women had difficult lives filled with abuse and sadness but also with much support from other women. They were resourceful, intelligent women who struggled against circumstance and tragedy to make a life for themselves and for their children. What impressed me most was that they still retained the courage to love and live. Lili's story changed Jasmin's perspective of her mother - she was not the Good Daughter. She had a past from which she remade herself - an almost impossible feat considering the culture she came from.

Darznik's family story is gripping, poignant and filled with power. It is a story that women of most cultures can relate too.

Book Details:
The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik
New York: Grand Central Publishing 2011
324 pp.

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