Parsipur, Shahrnush 1946-

views updated

Parsipur, Shahrnush 1946-


Born February 17, 1946, in Tehran, Iran; immigrated to the United States, 1994; daughter of Ali (a lawyer) and Fakhr-Ol-Moluk (a homemaker) Parsipur; married Naser Taghvai (a film director), 1967 (divorced); children: Ali Taghvai. Education: Teheran University, B.A., 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Films, yoga, tai chi, socializing with friends.


Home—Richmond, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer and translator. Associated with Radio Zamaneh, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award, Fund for Free Expression, 1994; International Writer' Project Fellowship, Brown University, 2003.


Sag va Zimestan-i Buland (title means "The Dog and the Long Winter"), 1974.

Avizah'ha-yi Bulur (title means "Crystal Pendants"), Raz, 1976.

Tuba va ma'na-yi Shab, Intisharat-i Ispark (Tehran, Iran), 1989, published as Touba and the Meaning of the Night, Feminist Press at the City University of New York (New York, NY), 2006.

Tajrubeh'ha-yi Azad, 1989, Entesharat Zamaneh (San Jose, CA), 1992.

Zanan bedun-e mardan, 1990, translated by Kamran Talattof and Jocelyn Sharlet as Women without Men: A Novella, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1998, also published as Women without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran, Feminist Press at the City University of New York (New York, NY), 2004.

Adabe-e Sarf-e Chai dar Hozur-e Gorg (title means "Tea Ceremony in the Presence of a Wolf"), Tassveer/Zamaneh (Los Angeles, CA), 1993.

Aql-i Abi (title means "Blue Wisdom"), Baran (Spanga, Sweden), 1994.

Mardan dar Barabar-e Zanan, Baran (Spanga, Sweden), 1999.

Shiva, Baran (Spanga, Sweden), 2000.

Bar Bale Bad Neshastan (title means "Sitting on the Wing of Wind"), Baran (Spanga, Sweden), 2002.

Mardan, dar bara bar-i zana, Nashr-i Shirin (Tehran, Iran), 2004.

Garma, dar sal-i sif, Nashr-i Shirin (Tehran, Iran), 2004.

Also author of a work titled Prison Memoirs; contributor to the anthologies Stories by Iranian Women since the Revolution, 1991, and Stories from Iran: A Chicago Anthology, 1991. Author of stage play The Guest, Opera Piccola.

Author's works have been translated into Dutch, Malayalam, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Swedish.


Women without Men was adapted for film by Shirin Neshat and as a play by Diana Bigelow and Jim Stapleton.


Despite the constraints of censorship in her native country, Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur, who has been imprisoned four times for political dissidence, has written fiction and criticism that openly confronts issues of cultural and gender oppression. Though Parsipur now lives in the United States, much of her work is not yet available in English. This fact, according to William L. Hanaway in World Literature Today, is unfortunate because Parsipur is among those leading contemporary Persian writers "pushing generic boundaries ever wider and participating actively in the literary movements of today's world."

Born in 1946, Parsipur was raised in Tehran and earned a bachelor's degree in social science from Tehran University. Interested in writing since childhood, she published her first short story at age sixteen, and after completing her education she began to publish fiction, literary criticism, and translations. In much of her work, her subject is Iran's oppression of women. In Touba and the Meaning of the Night, a novel that breaks with conventional male narrative patterns, Parsipur presents the life of Touba, a privileged woman who comes to understand that, according to translator Kamran Talattof in her introduction to Women without Men: A Novella, "women have suffered throughout history mainly because they live in a world that does not belong to them, a world where they do not even have a chance to enjoy nature." Touba serves as narrator, offering readers a survey of the history of Iran from the early twentieth century until 1979 and the revolution, uniquely viewed through a woman's point of view. The story begins when Touba is just fourteen, forced through financial circumstances to propose to a man nearly forty years older than herself to secure her safety after the death of her father. The marriage serves as a mere stepping stone for Touba, who puts up with the unhappy relationship for years before divorcing and moving on to a prince of Qajar. Although this marriage is happy, Touba finds herself eventually displaced when her second husband takes another wife. Again, Touba moves on. Her life continues to be filled with hardship, as without a husband she has no true place in society, and it is only as time passes that she understands that it is this societal oppression of women that ultimately causes her suffering. In many ways this understanding reflected Parsipur's thoughts while working on the book, most of which she wrote while in prison. Poverty stricken, Touba eventually ends up weaving carpets just to support herself and her children. But throughout her life and experiences, Parsipur has woven a type of mysticism. Touba tries to discover the truth of her life's path at various stages of her journey, even approaching a Sufi master and spending time talking to a spirit who haunts her house. This sense of home and spiritualism led to the book's banning shortly after it was first published in Iran. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the work "a stylishly original contribution to modern feminist literature." Azar Nafisi, in a review for Social Research, commented that Parsipur's effort, "published ten years after the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran, demonstrates the degree to which Iran's past dilemmas are still very much alive within its present historical and political context."

In Tajrubeh'ha-yi Azad ("Free Experiences"), Parsipur's main character is a woman who, in seeking personal freedom, experiences such an emotional crisis that she finally rejects all civilization. And in her first work, Sag va Zimestan-i Buland ("The Dog and the Long Winter"), Parsipur writes about a young woman's attraction to revolutionary ideas while she remains trapped by restrictive customs.

Her frank consideration of sexist and gender politics led to difficulties for Parsipur while she was living in Iran. She was arrested, though she contends she was never charged with any crime, and imprisoned for four and a half years. This experience was the foundation of her Prison Memoirs, in which, according to Talattof, she "exposes the political conditions in which Iranian women writers must struggle in order to continue their literary work."

In the United States, Parsipur is best known for her 1990 novella Zanan bedun-e mardan, published in English as Women without Men. The book, which Hanaway calls a series of linked stories but other critics consider a novel, follows the lives of five female characters, each of whom narrates a section of the book. Each character seeks to escape the punishing expectations of Iran's patriarchal culture. Farrokhlaqa, married for many years to an abusive husband, accidentally kills him and then buys a magical garden. This becomes a refuge for the characters, among whom are Mahdokht, a teacher, who in an act that echoes the desperation of Ovid's Daphne, transforms herself into a tree to avoid losing her virginity; Munis, a single woman in her thirties who is killed by her brother when she disobeys him, is resurrected as a psychic, and is later raped; and Zarrinkolah, a prostitute. In their Edenic garden, the women are free to reject cultural expectations and make their own choices. Though one character finds happiness in marriage, the others decide to reject men.

Several reviewers found Women without Men imaginative and powerful. They appreciated the book's juxtaposition of fairy tale and fabulist elements with polemical material, and were affected by its forceful message about the oppression of women in modern Iran. A critic for Publishers Weekly praised Parsipur's skill in connecting the five narrative voices, and commended the book as a "charming yet powerful" novella. Faye A. Chadwell, in Library Journal, noted that the book "often reads like a fairy tale, but … launches a strong statement about gender relations in Parsipur's home country."

Commenting that sets of linked stories are "a form that allows innovation and continuity to play against each other with equal force," Hanaway argued that Parsipur uses this technique to impressive effect throughout her work. The twenty short stories and articles collected in Adabe-e Sarf-e Chai dar Hozur-e Gorg, he observed, exhibit "a wide range of styles and modes: echoes of Robbe-Grillet, Calvino, and Garcia Marquez" as well as more autobiographical fiction and "relaxed, eloquent, playful, and very personal" observations on being a writer. Hanaway found the collection's most interesting fiction in its middle section, comprised of nine linked stories. Set amid ancient civilizations, these pieces explore themes of displacement that scholar Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, in the book's introduction, relates to the present-day situation of Iranian exiles throughout the world. Hanaway agrees with this analysis. "Probing various aspects of the exile's pain," he writes, "the author collapses time and space in an almost fairy-tale manner that reveals the lack of roots, the bewilderment, and the cultural distance felt by Iranians unable, or unwilling, to return to Iran."

Parsipur, whose writings have been translated into English, French, and German, has lectured widely throughout Europe and the United States. The significance of her work, according to Talattof, "transcends the realm of literary activities. Her works were among the first feminist-conscious enunciations that appeared in the post-revolutionary period in response to limitations imposed on women by the state ideology…. She helped the rise of a new discourse that sought, before anything else, an end to women's oppression."

Parsipur once told CA: "In this era of ours, when the world, with the help of the public media, has become small like a watermelon, I would like to imagine it to be as large as the Chinese Taoist sages, in the book of I Ching, used to illustrate it. This is a book for all the seasons, conceived 5,000 years ago, and living in its final version for the last 2,500 years. Today it is the turn of small people to demonstrate (by the help of the computer), how the earth is in danger, contaminated and dying. Women are also categorized as small people. As a woman, I seek a universal God."

Parsipur later added: "I was always under the influence of Dostoyevsky, the Russian writer, and when I read one of his novels at the age of eleven I decided to become a writer. But I was also under the influence of Charles Dickens, English writer. I began to write a novel at the age of fifteen, but I couldn't finish it. The process of my writing: I begin to write with vague ideas, then the characters help me to find the way.

"The most surprising thing that I have learned is that we can create a new thing…. I hope my books can help people to live better."



Milani, Farzaneh, Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1992.

Parsipur, Shahrnush, Women without Men: A Novella, translated by Kamran Talattof and Jocelyn Sharlet, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1998.


Library Journal, January, 1999, Faye A. Chadwell, review of Women without Men, p. 156.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of Women without Men, p. 44; March 27, 2006, review of Touba and the Meaning of Night, p. 58.

Social Research, fall, 2003, Azar Nafisi, "The Quest for the ‘Real’ Woman in the Iranian Novel."

World Literature Today, summer, 1994, William L. Hanaway, review of Adab-e Sarf-e Chai dar Hozur-e Gorg, p. 628.

About this article

Parsipur, Shahrnush 1946-

Updated About content Print Article