Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Nahid Rachlin’s fiction piece, Three Sharp-Edged Memories
John: Each of these memories has an indelible central image: Fatemeh in chains, Zahra in the desert, Ali with his knife. How did you arrive at these moments? Did you start with these images, or did they arrive later, as the story unfolded?
Nahid: Living far away from my home in Iran, from this distance, certain incidents have been haunting me and then some of them became distilled in these stories—I shaped them in my mind—that took days and days– before I put them on the page.
One of the things that strikes me about “Three Sharp-Edged Memories” is the strong role that story-telling and fantasy plays in each one. Fatemeh drives herself mad searching for a husband who probably never loved her in the first place, Shamsi is so consumed by her fantasy of marriage that she abandons her daughter, Ali is completely consumed by a fable. Each of these characters is damaged in some way by the stories they have chosen to identify with. You have clearly shown that our stories can have a dangerous power. Do we, as writers, have a responsibility to consider the sorts of stories we create?
I don’t feel that we have that kind of responsibility. I think if we try to create a message, the story will come out sounding preachy, didactic.
You have worked in a number of different prose forms: four novels, a memoir, and many short stories. Does your approach vary between each of these? Is there one that you prefer over the others
I prefer short stories, partly because I enjoy condensing various experiences or what I have been told—I feel they have more power that way. But I also, to a lesser degree, like writing novels because that gives me room to explore different themes. I found writing my memoir, PERSIAN GIRLS, to be both rewarding and painful. Painful because I had to recall and focus on what upset me, what was tragic.
You have written both about life in Iran and the Iranian-American immigrant experience. Do you find one easier or harder to write about? Does your writing process change with your choice of subject?
Actually they are all the same. It’s just that at times I become preoccupied by a subject and then try to write about it.
You grew up in Iran, so presumably English was your second language. Do you think that this has given you an outsider’s perspective on the language, that you might see or hear it in a way that a native speaker might not? Have you ever written in Farsi? If so, can you tell us something about the differences there?
I don’t think it is the language that gives me a different perspective; it is more just being from another culture makes me observe things in a different way from a native speaker. I used to write in Farsi when I lived in Iran. During my high school years I would go to my room and write. Just putting certain experiences into words, shaping them into stories, made me feel good, even if the subject was painful. Once I came to America and learned English I preferred to write in English. Because of heavy censorship of books under the Shah’s regime, I found writing in a different language liberating.