Song of a Captive Bird
By Jasmin Darznik
Read Jan 2019
Forugh Farrokhzad was a poet born in 1934 in Tehran, Iran. During her short life (she died in a car accident at age 32) Forugh published several volumes of poetry that were highly praised and widely read, and directed a documentary, The House is Black, about a leper colony. Her poetry was quite controversial as she wrote about desire, sin, loss, love, and more from her own perspective. For both her extraordinary poetry and for her very unconventional life (divorced from by her husband who retained custody of her only child and a relationship with cinematographer Ebrahim Golestan, who was the producer of her documentary), she attracted much attention and disapproval. She was hospitalized at one point for an alleged mental breakdown. Her poetry was banned after the Islamic Revolution but remains widely read, now in many languages.
Jasmin Darznik moved to the US in 1978 with her parents when she was five years old and her parents were among many who fled Iran during this turbulent period of Iranian history. In this book, Darznik has provided a fictionalized first-person account of Forugh’s life and brings to life a picture of this extraordinary woman as she fights to break free of the shackles imposed on women by her culture and of the times during which she lived. That Forugh successfully published her sometimes very erotic poems demonstrates her amazing voice and her determination to be heard, and also shows a time when Iran, while even then extremely conservative, also provided an avenue for independent and controversial female voices to be heard.
Forugh’s voice in this book tells us of the struggles with her parents, husband, mother-in-law, editor/lover, Golestan, society, and herself. She recognizes that the choices she makes are sometimes reckless and burn bridges back to a more standard life, but she is firmly committed to live life by her rules and not others, even if at times she is lonely.
While I sometimes struggle with fictionalized accounts of the lives of real people, I fully recommend this one. The first-person voice Darznik presents of Forugh is not inconsistent with Forugh’s poetry that is quoted throughout the book. This is an accessible portal to learn about this remarkable woman whose voice rings strong, loud, and clear 51 years after her death and even when translated into English from the original Farsi.
By Caitlin Macy
Read Dec 2018
Mrs. has some parallels with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities: set in high-end New York City, providing a glimpse of “how the other half lives”, and a crime committed that brings down one of the characters. What’s different: this book is told through the eyes of most members of each of three couples (vs the primary protagonist in Wolfe’s book), supplemented by a “chorus” of unidentified mothers; the binding tie between the characters is St Timothy’s Preschool which all the characters’ children attend; the criminal’s voice isn’t one we hear nor is he apparently concerned about his crime.
Macy is most sympathetic towards Gwen Hogan and her husband Dan. Gwen is a chemical engineer turned stay-at-home mother; Dan works for the measly salary of $150,000 as a lawyer for the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan. They have one child who wowed St Timothy’s enough to earn a big scholarship. Dan and Gwen’s dreams of moving to the suburbs to raise a houseful of children have been destroyed by a gone wrong. Their child attends St Timothy’s because Dan heard it was the best school in town and while Dan and Gwen consider themselves “different from the others”, Dan wanted his daughter in the best school possible as he hasn’t really silenced his ambitions.
Phillipa Lye Skinker grew up in next town over from Gwen, didn’t attend college, and maybe didn’t even finish high school before she started a career in modelling that took her to Japan for a while, although her history isn’t fully clear to the other mothers. She somehow married Jed Skinker, current CEO of the last privately held investment bank who would prefer to be living on the farm in the country he inherited from his uncle. Nonetheless, although they have money coming out of their ears, Phillipa can’t remember to bring her purse with her during dropoff of the kids at St Timothy’s and the other mothers rescue her when she can’t pay for the taxi.
Minnie Curtis left her husband to marry John Curtis, a man aggressively climbing the ranks in finance, although perhaps not always according to Hoyle. Minnie worked at the same law firm at which Phillipa spent a short time before she met her to-be husband Jed in a bar. Minnie and John are clearly eager to become a large splash in high-end society in New York City so have enrolled their (too old?) daughter at St Timothy’s and Minnie pursues Phillipa to get a seat on a foundation board on which she’s a member.
Stage set for something to happen–which I won’t detail.
We do learn through this book that: more money = poorer diet for the kids (daily chicken nuggets vs homemade healthy stews); some wealthy mothers drink in the middle of the day; some wealthy attractive mothers send their nannies to pick up their kids from pre-school, but not chemical engineer-turned-stay-at home moms who are “different”; persons previously desirous of a relationship with wealthy attractive people will have their children be a no-show at a birthday party if the skeleton in that wealthy attractive person’s closest is exposed; even less than wealthy husbands cheat on their wives.
Macy’s book is entertaining. She gives “the rest of us” a particular lens into the “rich and famous”—specifically one that tells us we’re lucky not to be so “rich and famous”.