Author Interviews
2:25 pm
Sat December 7, 2013

'Pomegranate Lady' Depicts The Comedy And Tragedy Of Exile

Originally published on Sat December 7, 2013 3:33 pm

Goli Taraghi writes about life in Iran — about love, loss, alienation and exile. She is particularly equipped to the task, as her own exile from the country began in 1980 at the outset of the Iranian Revolution.

In 1979, she was a professor living in Tehran with her two young children, and initially supported the movement.

"Of course the turmoil started, and then the executions, and the university was closed, and I thought the best thing is to go abroad and stay just one year," says Taraghi.

Little did she know, she would continue living in her adopted city of Paris for the next 34 years.

During Taraghi's period of exile, however, she traveled back to Iran many times, often to gather inspiration for her writing — short stories that have made her one of Iran's most successful and celebrated authors.

She spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about her latest collection of short stories, The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons, which debuted in the United States earlier this year.

Interview Highlights


On drawing inspiration from her home country

Usually, I go to Iran to find a story to write about. Because Iran is so absurd, so contradictory, whenever I go I find something to write about and I have a character... to enter into a new story. The Pomegranate Lady is one of them.

I met her at the airport and she was asking everybody, "Where is Sweden? Where is Sweden?" Because, she said, "My son sent me a ticket and said ... 'Come. Come.' So I'm here with the ticket, and I don't know where or how to go!"

Most of the characters, you know, are tragic and comic. For example, in the story "The Gentleman Thief" ... after the revolution, a new category of thieves appeared. They used to be, for example, an employee of a bank or in the Ministry of Justice or something, but they're out of job and they have no money. So they absolutely need some money.

And they very, very ... apologize for taking something from your house and they promise that they will bring it back. The whole thing goes on in an absurd way.

On themes of movement and exile in her work

I have one story which is not included in this collection, but I hope one day also will be included. It's called, "The Flying Mothers." A lot of Iranian mothers are the victims, the real victims, of the revolution because children — they had to leave. And they couldn't take the grandmothers or mothers with them.

This woman in this story, she has sold her house and given the money to her children so she has no house of her own. And when she comes to Paris to see her son, it's difficult for the son because the apartment is small and he's married and has two children.

So he sends her, after a while, to her daughter in London. The daughter is married to an English man so they cannot keep her long enough, so they send her to Canada, and the only house or home that really belongs to her is her seat on the airline — nobody can take it away from her.

On censorship of her work in Iran

In Iran, it's a very strange game of cat and mouse. The problem is that when I want to submit a book, I automatically do the auto-censoring. ... Sexism is impossible, religion is impossible, politics is impossible.

A second censorship is by the publisher. He takes this sentence, 'no-no-no-no-no.' Finally it goes to the Ministry of the Shah and the stupid man sitting there ... he cuts a paragraph, he cuts a sentence, he cuts a page. Mutilated story finally is published, and I'm happy.

But often what happens then is the book sells well, people are excited about it, and they say, 'What is in it? Maybe we didn't see.' And then they confiscate a book from the bookshops.

In Persian, everything is mingled with poetry. We have a poem which says that if God by his wisdom closes a door, with his grace he opens another door. Iranians are always waiting for this 'another door.' No door is definitely closed.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now to an esteemed writer you've likely never heard of. Goli Taraghi writes about life in Iran, about love and loss, alienation and exile. Her own exile began in 1980. She was a professor living in Tehran with two young children.

GOLI TARAGHI: I must confess that I really believed first in this revolution.

RATH: But it quickly became clear that freedom and democracy were not a part of the revolution.

TARAGHI: Of course, the turmoil started and then the executions, and the university was closed. So I thought that the best thing is for the time being, to go abroad and stay only one year. But little I knew that I will end up 34 years living in Paris.

RATH: During those years, Goli Taraghi returned to Iran many times. Her work made her one of Iran's most successful and celebrated authors. Her latest collection of short stories is called "The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons."

TARAGHI: Usually, I go to Iran to find a story to write about because Iran is so absurd, so contradictory. So whenever I go, I find something to write about. And I have a character, you know, that sits in my - in the waking room of my head to enter into a new story, and Pomegranate Lady is one them, that I met her at the airport, and she was asking everybody: Where is Sweden, where is Sweden, because she said: My son sent me a ticket and said that, Nanny, come, come. So I'm here with the ticket, but I don't know which, where, how to go.

RATH: One thing about her, though, is that, you know, she could be a very sad character. But she's - even though she doesn't speak the language and is completely in an alien world, she's undaunted.

TARAGHI: Yes, it's true. Most of the characters, you know, are tragic and comic. For example, in the story "The Gentleman Thief," that is also - that story is true. Because after the revolution, a new category of thieves appeared. They used to be, for example, an employee of a bank or in the Ministry of Justice or something, but they're out of job and they have no money. So they absolutely need some money. And they very, very, you know, apologize for taking something from your house and they promise that they will bring it back. So the whole thing, you know, goes on a absurd way.

RATH: You know, I read most of this book on an airplane...

TARAGHI: Yes.

RATH: ...and it turned out that was the perfect setting for this, because so much of this - these characters, it's about their movement, their exile and their dislocation.

TARAGHI: Right. Yes, right. I have one story which is not included in this collection, but I hope one day also will be included. It's called "The Flying Mothers." A lot of Iranian mothers are the victim, the real victim of this revolution because children, they had to leave, and they couldn't take the grandmothers or mothers with them. This woman in this story, she has sold her house and given the money to her children, so she has no house of her own.

And when she comes to Paris to see her son, the son - it's difficult for the son because the apartment is small and he's married and has two children. So he sends her, after a while, to her daughter in London. The daughter is married to an English man, so they cannot keep her long enough. They send her to Canada, and the only house or home - real - that belongs to her is her seat in the airplane. Nobody can take it away from her.

RATH: I don't think of these stories as political stories per se, but at the same time, politics intrudes roughly on all the lives of these characters. How - what kind of situation have you faced with censorship of your work in Iran?

TARAGHI: In Iran, it's a very strange game of cat and mouse. And the problem is that when I want to submit a book, I automatically do the auto-censoring, you know. Sex is impossible, religion is impossible, politics is impossible. Second censorship is by the publisher. That he takes this sentence - no, no, no, no, no. no. Finally, it goes to the Ministry of the Shah and the man - stupid man sitting there, you know, he cuts a paragraph, he cuts a sentence, he cuts a page.

Mutilated story finally is published, and I'm happy. But often happens that the book sells well, people, you know, are excited about it, and they say, what is in it? Maybe we didn't see. And then they confiscate a book from the bookshops. In Persian, everything is mingled with poetry. We have a poem which says that if God by his wisdom closes a door, with his grace he opens another door. Iranian are always waiting for this another door, you know? No door is definitely closed.

RATH: That's Goli Taraghi. Her collection of short stories, "The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons," has just been published in English. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: