One of the most compelling and tragic characters in And The Mountains Echoed is a beautiful, intelligent woman named Nila. She's modern and independent, and feels trapped by Afghani society but eventually moves to Paris where she becomes a poet of some renown. This made me curious about other women poets from similar backgrounds, in particular the Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad (pronounced Fur-o Fair-ig-zed) whom Hosseini references in his author's note. Although Farrokhzad was from Iran while the fictional Nila is from Afghanistan, they both come from a time and society where it has long been difficult for women to achieve anything outside of their home without the help and support of male patronage. It is one of the reasons why Farrokhzad's independence was unusual and prized. In the circles of Persian literature, she is a famous contemporary poet, but most Westerners have never heard of her possibly because her work has not been presented broadly to a global audience.
Forough Farrokhzad was born in Tehran in 1935. One of seven children in a middle class family, she attended public school until ninth grade, then was trained in sewing and painting, and married at seventeen. A year later, she gave birth to a son and less than two years after, divorced, relinquished her son to her ex-husband's family and went on to pursue an independent life as a poet.
Her poems are rich with feeling and emotion but also intellectually sophisticated, courageously challenging cultural taboos such as women's rights, women's independence, open sexuality, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Many of her poems address her objections to the confines and restrictions of conventional marriage and the repressed plight of her countrywomen. Beyond her poems, her lifestyle and opinions elicited quite a bit of attraction and disapproval. She had affairs, traveled to Europe and began a relationship with the filmmaker and writer Ebrahim Golestan who supported her independence and inclination to speak her mind.
She produced four volumes of poetry between 1955 and 1963: The Captive, The Wall, The Rebellion and Another Birth. In the early 1960s, she returned to Iran and shot an award-winning documentary in Tabriz about Iranians with leprosy titled, The House Is Black. While working on the documentary, she grew attached to the child of two lepers and ended up adopting him and bringing him to live with her in Tehran.
Forough Farrokhzad died in a car accident in 1967 at age thirty-two.
There are a number of websites dedicated to Forough Farrokhzad where you can read her translated poems. Here are two short poems to give you a taste of her work:
Gift (Persian: Hediyeh)
I speak out of the deep of night
out of the deep of darkness
and out of the deep of night I speak.
if you come to my house, friend
bring me a lamp and a window I can look through
at the crowd in the happy alley.
Translated by Ahmad Karimi Hakkkak, The Persian Book Review
Friday saddening like old alleys
Friday of lazy ailing thoughts
Friday of noisome sinuous stretches
Friday of no anticipation Friday of submission.
house locked against the onslaught of youth
house of darkness and fantasies of the sun
house of loneliness, augury and indecision
house of curtains, books, cupboards, picture.
Ah, how my life flowed silent and serene
like a deep-running stream
through the heart of such silent, deserted Fridays
through the heart of such empty cheerless houses
ah, how my life flowed silent and serene.
Translated by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak. Remembering the Flight: A Parallel Text in English and Persian
This article was originally published in May 2013, and has been updated for the
June 2014 paperback release.
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