Darznik, J. (2011). The good daughter: A memoir of my mother’s hidden life. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
Hardcover $24.99, Paperback $14.99, Kindle $9.99, 336 pages
Author’s Website and Interviews:
Annotation: The secret of the past resided in the photograph as her mother, too young to be a bride, stared blankly ahead aware of her fate.
Summary: Five weeks after the death of her father, Jasmin discovers an old photograph of her mother Lili when she was thirteen years old. The photo holds shocking secrets about her mother’s past as a child bride in Iran. After confronting her mother about the photograph she begins to receive cassette tapes from her mother, each telling the story of her life in Iran starting with the story of Kobra and Sohrab, Lili’s mother and father. She recounts the mistreatment her mother Kobra suffered at the hands of her father and how due to Iranian law which granted mother’s no maternal rights, her mother was powerless to stop Lili’s arranged marriage at age thirteen to man in his thirties. This cycle of abuse continues into in Lili’s marriage to Kazem and she is forced to choose between her daughter Sara and obtaining a divorce which would ensure her freedom. She makes the difficult choice to leave her daughter in the care of her husband’s family and moves to Germany to pursue a career in medicine. While at school, she meets her husband Johan, Jasmin’s father, and moves the new family back to Iran. When Jasmin is three years old the family moves to America due to the Islamic Revolution. Lili’s tapes recount the couples struggle to acclimate to American culture and the divide caused by Jasmin’s desire to become an “American Girl,” a drastic departure from her “good” and dutiful daughter she left in Iran. After Johan’s death, Jasmin and her mother are reunited after a year long absence from each other lives and begin to heal their relationship through a mutual understanding of each other as women. Through the tapes, Lili gives a part of herself to her daughter and is able to begin her own healing process concerning her past and her current relationship with Sara.
Evaluation: Darznik pens a powerful retelling of her mother’s story which brings to life the plight of Iranian women at that time. I really liked that the book begins by detailing the story of Lili’s mother Kobra as it shows how domestic violence and negative attitudes towards women was a cultural norm passed down from one generation to the next. The book details a history of abuse, sacrifice, and the women’s courage to fight back in the name of freedom. The book is told from both an American and Iranian cultural lens which helps to better understand the central themes from varying points of view. Darznik’s writing is extremely descriptive and captures Iranian culture in a way that makes the reader feel that they are back in 1940’s Iran watching Lili struggle to break free from cultural oppression. My only issue with this book is that there is no closure provided concerning what happened to Sara and the current state of her relationship with her mother and half-sister. That chapter of the mother’s life is shrouded in mystery.
Genre: Non Fiction (Memoir)
Appeal Factors: The writing and storytelling is authentic, honest, and raw. The mother’s plight and courage allow for a deeper connection with the reader. It is a beautifully crafted memoir that captures a dark family truth in a compelling and heart wrenching way.
Read-alike Titles and Authors:
Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi
Borrowed Finery by Paula Fox
The Dress Maker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
New York Times Bestseller
Finalist for the Reader’s Choice Award from the Library of Virginia
Short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
- Dialogue technique: Take a passage from the book where the mother is speaking about having to abandon her first child in order to escape her life as a child bride.
- Empathy: Ask the questions that put the audience in Lili’s shoes. Helps put the audience inside the story. Makes them take on a more active role as reader.
- Address a secret but do not give it away. Keep the audience hanging on and wanting to know more. Could use the secret of Lili’s old life in Iran and the fact that she had been married when she was only 13. A secret her daughter doesn’t discover until she is a grown woman herself.
Book Discussion Questions:
1. Why did Lili choose to narrate her life story on cassette tapes rather than tell it directly to her daughter Jasmin? Does this have any cultural implications?
2. Why do you think the whereabouts of Lili’s first daughter Sara are never fully revealed? How does the abandonment of her first daughter shape the way that she raises Jasmin? Does this impact the expectations she places on her?
3. Who is the young child Jasmin plays with at the hair salon? Do you believe it is Sara? Why do her mother and grandmother not disclose the girl’s identity?
4. What does the mother’s story say about the attitudes surrounding domestic abuse in Iran at that time? Does Lili’s story mirror that of her mother Kobra’s? Does moving to America ensure that she has broken the cycle for her daughter Jasmin?
5. How are Lili and Jasmin alike? How are they different? How has hearing her mother’s story shaped the way Jasmin identifies herself as an Iranian American?
*Here is a link to more in-depth book discussion questions: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/_b2c/media/assets/titlesout/e66ecdd1-8ad0-4a07-ab1b-1ca65ebe98a8/ARG_9780446534987.pdf
I first heard about this book when I was an undergrad but never read more than a few pages due to time constraints from other classes. I decided to read this book because I remembered that it was a story of hope and defying the odds, a theme that is extremely relevant to my life at the moment. After reading numerous reviews on Good Reads, I decided to give it another chance and I am very glad I did. It is a very compelling story that gives great insight into the plight of Iranian women at that time. I also gravitated towards it because it was a factual retelling of Lili’s life as opposed to a novel based loosely on events. The fact that it was real made it more powerful and made it easier to connect with Lili and Jasmin.