|Photo credit: Hoda Ghods|
The Scribbler is most privileged to have Fereshteh as out featured guest this week. Upon meeting her online through our mutual love of reading and writing, she informed me that she was a previous participant in the Frye Festival in my hometown of Moncton, NB.
I had the pleasure of visiting her website - https://fereshtehmolavi.com/ - and discovering more about her extensive list of publications.
“Born in Tehran in 1953, Fereshteh Molavi lived and worked there until 1998 when she immigrated to Canada.”
She has graciously agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing the synopsis of her latest novel – Thirty Shadow Birds.
Born in Tehran in 1953, Fereshteh Molavi lived and worked there until 1998 when she immigrated to Canada. She worked and taught at Yale University, University of Toronto, York University, and Seneca College. A fellow at Massey College and a writer-in-residence at George Brown College, Molavi has published many works of fiction and non-fiction in Persian in Iran and Europe. She has been the recipient of awards for novel and translation. Her first book in English, Stories from Tehran, was released in 2018; and her most recent novel, Thirty Shadow Birds, has been published by Inanna Publications in 2019. She lives in Toronto.
4Q: Please tell us about your newest work – Thirty Shadow Birds – and its compelling title.
The polysemous title of the book comes up from the roots of the story. While it looks simple and clear, it has a connotation. Those who know something about Sufism and classical Persian poetry, can easily sense the undercurrent. Other readers will gradually get it in the process of reading the novel. The number ‘thirty’ in the title declares the number of birds, however, the Persian equivalent of ‘thirty bird’ implies the literary allegory used in the famous masterpiece of the great Persian poet and sufi, Attar. In his work, The Canticle of Birds, the philosophical concept of ‘unity in diversity’ attends a metaphysical ideal. On the cover of my book, though, the title, first and most, refers the readers to what they may find in the novel.
4Q: You have an impressive list of publications – two novels, a chapbook, short stories, anthologies and journals. One that stood out for me is Dogs and Humans – a short story from a compilation titled - The Shipwrecked: Contemporary Stories by Women from Iran. Can you tell us about it?
FM: So far I’ve published five novels, four collections of short stories, and many chapbooks – not to mention my essays and my translations. The story included in The Shipwrecked is in fact the cover story of a collection published in Persian both in Iran and North America (the latter is available on Amazon). The English translation of it by myself, with the title Of Mutts & Men, is also included in Stories from Tehran. The story is a narrative of a working mom whose little son is ill during the time of war and municipal campaign to kill stray dogs.
4Q: Care to share a childhood memory or anecdote?
FM: If you don’t mind, I’d rather share an anecdote about censorship in my home country, which I ironically call it “wonderland”:
In my wonderland every book should be reviewed by the book censorship office in order to get permission for publication and distribution. Some years ago, while waiting for permit for one of my novels, my publisher informed me he had failed to get it. I felt devastated because a rejected book meant my baby book was stillborn. Later on I was recommended to try my luck by changing the title of the book so that the censorship officers could not recognize it as an already rejected one. Confronting the harsh reality of book censorship, I eventually changed the title and it worked.
4Q: I’m always intrigued by stories from different cultures and upbringing. Let’s talk about your book – Stories from Tehran.
FM: During my first years of living in Toronto, I realized I had nothing in my hand to prove that I was a “real author” back home. I had to redefine myself for those who didn’t know me. So, I started to gradually translate some of my short stories which eventually appeared in this collection years later.
Regardless what Stories from Tehran means to me personally, it includes stories uncovering the voices of Iranian women who resist oppression and marginal identities. The characters find themselves in an in-between zone that shrinks or expands the possibilities of freedom they imagine might be theirs. Nevertheless, they don’t want to leave the impression that their narratives primarily concern their loneliness, suffering, despair, or defeat.
4Q: Please tell us about your participation in the Frye Festival in 2011.
FM: I attended Frye Festival in 2011 with great surprise and pleasure. If I’m not mistaken it was the first year that an immigrant writer was invited to the festival. I was invited because was a member of ‘Writers in Exile’ program of PEN Canada, a fellow of Massy college, and a writer in residence in George Brown College. Participating as a writer in such a great literary festival as well as visiting Moncton for the first time became a remarkable memory for me. The highlight of the memory for me was a panel in which I took part with authors like Jean-Christophe Rufin.
4Q: I’m interested in your writing habits. Where are you most creative?
FM: When it comes to working on a project and writing, I’d like to maintain order and structure. Nonetheless, I’ve lived a life full of commitments and constraints as well as bonds and burdens. In my most productive years of writing, I could hardly develop good habits and get hooked on them. In fact, the biggest challenge was my job obligations or motherly duties prevented me from writing when I felt un urge to write. Having said that, when the need to write insists, nothing matters except finding a way to go into lockdown.
4Q: With your roots in another country, your homeland, has your writing styles or story subjects changed over time with your move to a different country?
FM: Well, I think subjects may change mostly over time rather than place. But moving to North America has brought about a noteworthy change in my writing. Back home, I started with short stories, then I became more inclined towards novels. I discovered the wonders of essay writing, particularly personal essay, in my years of stay in Canada and US. As a matter of fact, living as an immigrant opened up the new realm of possibilities for me, among them, the most amazing one was non-fiction writing. Although I always love crafting stories, I realized that I cannot be a real writer unless I develop and improve my writing skills in all genres.
4Q: What’s next for Fereshteh Molavi, the author?
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
FM: I’d like to take this opportunity to draw your readers’ attention to the complicated situation in which an immigrant writer writes. The dilemma for her is basically the fact that she should live and move in between two languages, two cultures, two worlds. Some years ago I wrote an essay entitled “A Clumsy Little Story” (https://www.openroadreview.com/2016/05/06/clumsy-little-story-fereshteh-molavi/) to describe the double bind of an immigrant writer. For better or worse, it is what it is. But there is also a problem that might be solved. Clearly, it’s much harder for an immigrant or a member of any minority groups to make connections, build a network, and find either an agent, or a publisher. It took twenty years for me to become a traditionally published author in Canada. But accessibility of my book doesn’t mean visibility. If Canadian literati ignore the works of immigrant writers, these books will fail to not only make a splash but also survive.
Twenty Shadow Birds.
To pursue her dream of building a life free from violence for her son and herself, Yalda flees from her nightmarish past as well as her troubled homeland, Iran. But in her new haven, she realizes that nightmares haunt not only her past, but also her present and future. She does what she can to survive, but all her plans dissolve like the shadows and ghosts that follow her. Having fled from an authoritarian regime, and now living in a North America panic-stricken by global terrorism, Yalda is obsessed with all the forms and aspects of violence. She is estranged from her beloved son, Nader, who trains to become an armed security guard, and this means he is wearing a uniform and carrying weapons, prepared to be violent. She cannot forget that her first love was shot and killed by a young prison guard and that her beloved stepbrother also met a violent death. This family history is a wound that makes guns taboo and Yalda yearns to feel safe in a troubled world. The novel is part memory, part dream, and part present, day-to-day struggles for immigrants living in Toronto and Montreal.
Here’s a link to my short reading from the book:
Thank you, Fereshteh, for being our guest this week. Wishing you continued success in your writing journey.
FM: Thank you again for having me, Allan!
For you Dear readers interested in discovering more about Fereshteh and her stories, please follow these links:
Inanna Publications: https://www.inanna.ca/product/thirty-shadow-birds/
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=fereshteh+molavi&ref=nb_sb_noss