The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We were a world of two, my mother and I, until I started turning into an American girl That's when she began telling me about The Good Daughter. It became a taunt, a warning, an omen.
Jasmin Darznik came to America from Iran when she was only three years old, and she grew up knowing very little about her family's history. When she was in her early twenties, on a day shortly following her father's death, Jasmin was helping her mother move; a photograph fell from a stack of old letters. The girl pictured was her mother. She was wearing a wedding veil, and at her side stood a man whom Jasmin had never seen before.
At first, Jasmin's mother, Lili, refused to speak about the photograph, and Jasmin returned to her own home frustrated and confused. But a few months later, she received from her mother the first of ten cassette tapes that would bring to light the wrenching hidden story of her family's true origins in Iran: Lili's marriage at thirteen, her troubled history of abuse and neglect, and a daughter she was forced to abandon in order to escape that life. The final tape revealed that Jasmin's sister, Sara - The Good Daughter - was still living in Iran.
In this sweeping, poignant, and beautifully written memoir, Jasmin weaves the stories of three generations of Iranian women into a unique tale of one family's struggle for freedom and understanding. The result is an enchanting and unforgettable story of secrets, betrayal, and the unbreakable mother-daughter bond.
My Take: The trouble with memoirs is the author often forgets the audience and pontificates on the unimportant details like how sad an event felt or a disappointment with a person, etc. Fortunately, this was not the case with this book. The author is a very articulate writer whose skill drew me into her grandmother's then mother's world without getting hung up on the injustices (which there are many). She does include detail that can be skipped like foods served at gatherings and such yet even these descriptions added to the experience.
What I found most compelling about this book, besides the objective way the author paints the pictures of her family, is that it covers many decades and generations. Not only does this give a clear picture of the personalities but provides a political and historical framework. For instance, the author's grandmother was the 9th child in her family and had different expectations than the other children. Her mother was born shortly after Iran and Great Britain were in a conflict. "The Shah" was put into power at that time. The Revolution occurred in 1979 when the author was only 3 years old and immigrated to the United States with her parents. When watching the news at that time, the text at the bottom of the screen would read, "DAY 89" or whatever day it was in the hostage crisis. I remember the text and the tension.
In particular, I enjoyed the strength of the women portrayed in this book. From a society where they had no power, they did the best they could given their circumstances. The patriarchal society was not kind to women or girls. They suffered horrible injustices. On the other hand, when "The Shah" was in power, there were societal changes that empowered women. The reader enjoys the transformation of the author's mother, Lilli, and of her grandmother. Her mother, married at 13, pregnant shortly thereafter, suffered as no child or person should have to endure. 12 years later she stormed back into town as an educated, beautiful, confident woman engaged to a European. A few years later found her in California enduring discrimination yet possessing determination regardless of her weariness. Even as she gave up her veils she was still an Iranian woman.
Even though this is Jasmin's story, she adopts the idea that her story is the culmination of the women before her. She understands that when her mother talks about "The Good Daughter" she really is talking about the daughter she left in Iran. The one who has a completely different story.
Very well written. Surprisingly engaging. Ending is anti-climactic.
Thanks to Hatchette Book Group, one very lucky reader gets this book all to her very own!
Give it to your mother for Mother's Day.
Or your daughter.
Or that "one" sister. You know the one.
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