Authors: Parinoush Saniee
Translated from Persian by Sara Khalili
Copyright Â© Parinoush Saniee 2003, 2013
Translation copyright Â© Sara Khalili 2013
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All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This edition published in 2013 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
[Sahme man. English]
The book of fate / Parinoush Saniee ; translated by Sara Khalili.
Translation of: Sahme man.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN: 978-1-77089-383-2 (pbk.). ISBN: 978-1-77089-384-9 (html)
1. Iran â History â 1979â1997 â Fiction. 2. Iran â History â 1997â â Fiction.
I. Khalili, Sara, translator II. Title. III. Title: Sahme man. English.
PK6562.29.A55S2413 2013 891'.5534 C2013-902787-4 C2013-902788-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013938680
Cover design: Sophie Burdess
Cover photograph (Face): Rui Vale Sousa / Shutterstock; (Texture): Llaszlo / Shutterstock
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund
Table of Contents
Ahmad â Massoumeh's older brother
Akbar â communist party activist
Ali â Massoumeh's younger brother
Amir-Hossein â old sweetheart of Mrs Parvin
Ardalan â Parvaneh's son
Ardeshir â Mansoureh's son
Asghar Agha â one of Massoumeh's suitors
Atefeh â Massoud's wife and Mr Maghsoudi's daughter
Aunt Ghamar â Massoumeh's maternal aunt
Bahman Khan â Mansoureh's husband
Bibi â Hamid's paternal grandmother
Dariush â Parvaneh's younger brother
Dorna â Siamak and Lili's daughter, Massoumeh's first granddaughter
Dr Ataii â neighbourhood pharmacist
Ehteram-Sadat â Massoumeh's maternal cousin and Mahmoud's wife
Faati â Massoumeh's younger sister
Faramarz Abdollahi â Shirin's fiancÃ©
Farzaneh â Parvaneh's younger sister
Firouzeh â Faati's daughter, Massoumeh's niece
Gholam-Ali â Mahmoud's eldest son
Gholam-Hossein â Mahmoud's second son and youngest child
Grandmother â Massoumeh's paternal grandmother
Granny Aziz â Massoumeh's maternal grandmother
Haji Agha â Mrs Parvin's husband
Hamid Soltani â Massoumeh's husband, communist activist
Khosrow â Parvaneh's husband
Ladan â Massoud's fiancÃ©e
Laleh â Parvaneh's second daughter
Lili â Parvaneh's daughter
Mahboubeh â Massoumeh's paternal cousin
Mahmoud â Massoumeh's oldest brother
Manijeh â Hamid's youngest sister, Massoumeh's sister-in-law
Mansoureh â Hamid's older sister, Massoumeh's sister-in-law
Maryam â nosy classmate of Massoumeh
Massoud â Massoumeh's son and second child
Massoumeh (Massoum) Sadeghi â narrator and protagonist of the novel
Mehdi â Shahrzad's husband and co-leader of communist organisation
Mohsen Khan â Mahboubeh's husband
Monir â Hamid's oldest sister, Massoumeh's sister-in-law
Mostafa Sadeghi (Agha Mostafa) â Massoumeh's father
Mr and Mrs Ahmadi â Parvaneh's parents
Mr Maghsoudi â Massoud's fellow soldier at the war front and later his boss and father-in-law
Mr Motamedi â vice president at the government agency where Massoumeh is employed
Mr Shirzadi â a department director at the government agency where Massoumeh works
Mr Zargar â Massoumeh's supervisor at the government agency
Mrs Parvin â next-door neighbour of Massoumeh's family
Nazy â Saiid's wife
Parvaneh Ahmadi â Massoumeh's best friend
Sadegh Khan â Faati's husband, Massoumeh's brother-in-law
Saiid Zareii â Dr Ataii's assistant pharmacist
Shahrzad (Aunt Sheri) â Hamid's friend and co-leader of communist organisation
Shirin â Massoumeh's daughter and youngest child
Siamak â Massoumeh's son and first child
Sohrab â Firouzeh's husband
Tayebeh (Mother) â Massoumeh's mother
Uncle Abbas â Massoumeh's paternal uncle
Uncle Asadollah â Massoumeh's paternal uncle
Uncle Hamid (Hamid Agha) â Massoumeh's maternal uncle
Zahra â Mahmoud's daughter and middle child
Zari â Massoumeh's older sister who died when Massoumeh was eight years old
Ahvaz â capital city of the western province of Khuzestan and near the IranâIraq border
Ghazvin â a major city in northern Iran
Golab-Darreh â a town north of Tehran, in the Alborz mountain range
Kermanshah â the capital city of Kermanshah province in western Iran
Mashad â a city in north-eastern Iran and near the borders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan; considered holy as the site of the Shrine of Imam Reza
Mount Damavand â the highest peak of the Alborz mountain range, north of Tehran
Qum â a city south-west of Tehran and the centre for Shi'a Islam scholarship. Considered holy as the site of the Fatima al-Massoumeh Shrine
Rezaieh â a city in north-western Iran and the capital of West Azerbaijan province
Shemiran â northern suburb of Tehran
Tabriz â the capital city of East Azerbaijan province in northern Iran
Zahedan â the capital city of Sistan and Baluchestan province, near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan
|Â Â |
â an honorific meaning gentleman, sir, mister.
|Â Â |
|Â Â |
|Â Â |
â obsolescent title of the nobility or tribal chiefs, now used as an honorific corresponding to âSir'.
|Â Â |
|Â Â |
â a fine cloth, often with glittering gold and silver threads, is spread out on the floor and adorned with various foods and objects traditionally associated with marriage. These include a mirror flanked by a pair of candelabra, a tray of multi-coloured spices, an assortment of sweets and pastries, a large flatbread, coloured eggs, a platter of feta cheese and fresh herbs, two large sugar cones, a flask of rose water, a small brazier burning wild rue, and an open Qu'ran or a Diwan of Hafez.
|Â Â |
â Secret Service Police.
I was always surprised by the things my friend Parvaneh did. She never gave a thought to her father's honour and reputation. She talked loudly on the street, looked at shop windows and sometimes even stopped and pointed things out to me. No matter how many times I said, âIt's not proper, let's go', she just ignored me. Once she even shouted out to me from across the street, and worse yet, she called me by my first name. I was so embarrassed I prayed I would just melt and vanish into the earth. Thank God, none of my brothers were around, or who knows what would have happened.
When we moved from Qum, Father allowed me to continue going to school. Later, when I told him, in Tehran girls don't wear chadors to school and I will be a laughing stock, he even let me wear a headscarf, but I had to promise to be careful and not bring him shame by becoming corrupted and spoiled. I didn't know what he meant and how a girl could get spoiled like stale food, but I did know what I had to do to not bring him shame, even without wearing a chador and proper hijab. I love Uncle Abbas! I heard him tell Father, âBrother! A girl has to be good inside. It's not about proper hijab. If she's bad, she'll do a thousand things under her chador that would leave a father with no honour at all. Now that you have moved to Tehran, you have to live like Tehranis. The days when girls were locked up at home have passed. Let her go to school and let her dress like everyone else, otherwise she will stand out even more.'
Uncle Abbas was very wise and sensible, and he had to be. At the time, he had been living in Tehran for almost ten years. He came to Qum only when someone died. Whenever he came, Grandmother, God rest her soul, would say, âAbbas, why don't you come to see me more often?'
And Uncle Abbas, with that loud laugh, would say, âWhat can I do? Tell the relatives to die more often.' Grandmother would slap him and pinch his cheek so hard that its mark would stay on his face for a long time.
Uncle Abbas's wife was from Tehran. She always wore a chador when she came to Qum, but everyone knew that in Tehran she didn't keep proper hijab. Her daughters paid no mind to anything at all. They even went to school without hijab.
When Grandmother died, her children sold the family house where we lived and gave everyone their share. Uncle Abbas told Father, âBrother, this is no longer the place to live. Pack up and come to Tehran. We'll put our shares together and we'll buy a shop. I will rent a house for you near by and we'll work together. Come; start building a life for yourself. The only place you can make money is Tehran.'
At first, my older brother Mahmoud objected. He said, âIn Tehran one's faith and religion fall by the wayside.'
But my brother Ahmad was happy. âYes, we have to go,' he insisted. âAfter all, we have to make something of ourselves.'
And Mother cautioned, âBut think of the girls. They won't be able to find a decent husband there, no one knows us in Tehran. Our friends and family are all here. Massoumeh has her year six certificate and even studied an extra year. It's time for her to get married. And Faati has to start school this year. God knows how she'll turn out in Tehran. Everyone says a girl who grows up in Tehran isn't all that good.'
Ali, who was in year four, said, âShe wouldn't dare. It's not like I'm dead! I will watch her like a hawk and I won't let her budge.' Then he kicked Faati who was sitting on the floor, playing. She started screaming, but no one paid any attention.
I went and hugged her and said, âWhat nonsense. Do you mean to say that all the girls in Tehran are bad?'
Brother Ahmad, who loved Tehran to death, snapped, âYou, shut up!' Then he turned to the others and said, âThe problem is Massoumeh. We'll marry her off here and then move to Tehran. This way, there'll be one less nuisance. And we'll have Ali watch over Faati.' He patted Ali on the back and proudly said that the boy has zeal and honour, and will act responsibly. My heart sank. From the start, Ahmad had been against my going to school. It was all because he himself didn't study and kept failing year eight until he finally dropped out of school, and now he didn't want me to study more than he had.
Grandmother, God rest her soul, was also very unhappy that I was still going to school and constantly harangued Mother. âYour girl has no skills. When she gets married, they'll send her back within a month.' She told Father, âWhy do you keep spending money on the girl? Girls are useless. They belong to someone else. You work so hard and spend it on her and in the end you'll end up having to spend a lot more to give her away.'
Although Ahmad was almost twenty years old, he didn't have a proper job. He was an errand boy at Uncle Assadollah's store in the bazaar, but he was always roaming around the streets. He wasn't like Mahmoud who was only two years older than him but was serious, dependable and very devout and never missed his prayers or his fasting. Everyone thought Mahmoud was ten years older than Ahmad.
Mother really wanted Mahmoud to marry my maternal cousin, Ehteram-Sadat. She said Ehteram-Sadat was a Seyyed â a descendant of the Prophet. But I knew my brother liked Mahboubeh, my paternal cousin. Every time she came to our house, Mahmoud would blush and start stammering. He would stand in a corner and watch Mahboubeh, especially when her chador slipped off her head. And Mahboubeh, God bless her, was so playful and giddy that she forgot to keep herself properly covered. Whenever Grandmother scolded her to show some shame in front of a man who was not her immediate kin, she would say, âForget it, Grandmother, they're like my brothers!' And she would start laughing out loud again.
I had noticed that as soon as Mahboubeh left, Mahmoud would sit and pray for two hours, and then he kept repeating, âMay God have mercy on our soul! May God have mercy on our soul!' I guess in his mind he had committed a sin. God only knows.
Before our move to Tehran, there was plenty of fighting and quarrelling in the house for a long time. The only thing everyone agreed on was that they had to marry me off and be rid of me. It was as if the entire population of Tehran was waiting for me to arrive so that they could corrupt me. I went to Her Holiness Massoumeh's Shrine every day and pleaded for her to do something so that my family would take me with them and let me go to school. I would cry and say I wished I were a boy or that I might get sick and die like Zari. She was three years older than me, but she caught diphtheria and died when she was eight years old.
Thank God my prayers were answered and not a single soul knocked on our door to ask for my hand in marriage. In due course, Father straightened out his affairs and Uncle Abbas rented a house for us near Gorgan Street. And then everyone just sat around waiting to see what would become of me. Whenever Mother found herself in the company of people she considered worthy, she would comment, âIt's time for Massoumeh to get married.' And I would turn red with humiliation and anger.
But Her Holiness was on my side and no one showed up. Finally, the family somehow got word to an old suitor who had since got married and divorced that he should step forward again. He was financially well off and relatively young, but no one knew why he had divorced his wife after only a few months. To me he looked foul-tempered and scary. When I found out what horror lay ahead, I put all ceremony and modesty aside, threw myself at Father's feet and cried a bucketful of tears until he agreed to take me to Tehran with them. Father was tender-hearted and I knew he loved me despite the fact that I was a girl. According to Mother, after Zari died he fretted over me; I was very thin and he was afraid I would die, too. He always believed that because he had been ungrateful when Zari was born, God had punished him by taking her away. Who knows, perhaps he had been ungrateful at the time of my birth as well. But I truly loved him. He was the only person in our house who understood me.
Every day when he came home, I would take a towel and go stand next to the reflecting pool. He would put his hand on my shoulder and dip his feet in the pool a few times. Then he would wash his hands and face. I would give him the towel and while drying his face he would peer at me with his light-brown eyes from over the towel in such a way that I knew he loved me and was pleased with me. I wanted to kiss him, but, well, it was inappropriate for a grown girl to kiss a man, even if he was her father. In any case, Father took pity on me and I swore on everything in the world that I would not become corrupted and I would not bring him shame.
Going to school in Tehran became a whole other story. Ahmad and Mahmoud were both against me continuing my education, and Mother believed that taking sewing classes was more imperative. But with my begging, pleading and irrepressible tears I managed to convince Father to stand up to them, and he enrolled me in year eight in secondary school.
Ahmad was so angry he wanted to strangle me and used every excuse to beat me up. But I knew what was really eating away at him and so I kept quiet. My school was not that far from home and a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk. In the beginning Ahmad would secretly follow me, but I would wrap my chador tightly around me and took care not to give him any excuse. Meanwhile, Mahmoud stopped talking to me altogether and completely ignored me.
Eventually, they both found jobs. Mahmoud went to work at a shop in the bazaar that belonged to Mr Mozaffari's brother and Ahmad became an apprentice at a carpenter's workshop in the Shemiran neighbourhood. According to Mr Mozaffari, Mahmoud sat in the store all day and could be counted on, and Father used to say, âMahmoud is the one who's really running Mr Mozaffari's shop.' Ahmad, on the other hand, quickly found plenty of friends and started coming home late at night. Eventually, everyone realised that the stench on him was from drinking alcohol, arak to be precise, but no one said anything. Father would hang his head and refuse to return his hello, Mahmoud would turn away and say, âMay God have mercy. May God have mercy,' and Mother would quickly warm up his food and say, âMy child has a toothache and he has put alcohol on it for the pain.' It wasn't clear what sort of a tooth ailment it was that never healed. In all, Mother was in the habit of covering up for Ahmad. After all, he was her favourite.
Mr Ahmad had also found another pastime at home: keeping an eye on our neighbour Mrs Parvin's house from an upstairs window. Mrs Parvin was usually busy doing something in the front yard and, of course, her chador would always fall off. Ahmad wouldn't move from his position in front of the living room window. Once, I even saw them communicating with signs and gestures.
In any case, Ahmad became so distracted that he forgot all about me. Even when Father allowed me to go to school wearing a headscarf instead of the full chador, there was only one day of shouting and fighting. Ahmad didn't forget, he just stopped scolding me and wouldn't talk to me at all. To him I was the personification of sin. He wouldn't even look at me.
But I didn't care. I went to school, had good grades and made friends with everyone. What else did I want from life? I was truly happy, especially after Parvaneh became my best friend and we promised to never keep any secrets from each other.
Parvaneh Ahmadi was a happy and cheerful girl. She was good at volleyball and was on the school team, but she wasn't doing all that well in her classes. I was sure she wasn't a bad girl, but she didn't abide by many principles. I mean she couldn't tell good from bad and right from wrong and had no clue how to be mindful of her father's good name and honour. She did have brothers, but she wasn't afraid of them. Occasionally, she would even fight with them and if they hit her, she would hit them back. Everything made Parvaneh laugh and she did so no matter where she was, even out on the street. It was as if no one had ever told her that when a girl laughs her teeth shouldn't show and no one should hear her. She always found it strange that I would tell her it was improper and that she should stop. With a surprised look on her face she would ask, âWhy?' Sometimes she stared at me as if I was from a different world. (Wasn't that the case?) For instance, she knew the names of all the cars and wished her father would buy a black Chevrolet. I didn't know what kind of car a Chevrolet was and I didn't want to lose face by admitting it.
One day I pointed to a beautiful car that looked new and I asked, âParvaneh, is that the Chevrolet you like?'
Parvaneh looked at the car and then at me and she burst into laughter and half-screamed, âOh how funny! She thinks a Fiat is a Chevrolet.'
I was red up to my ears and dying of embarrassment, both from her laughter and from my own stupidity in having finally revealed my ignorance.
Parvaneh's family had a radio and a television at home. I had seen a television at Uncle Abbas's house, but we had only a large radio. While Grandmother was alive and whenever my brother Mahmoud was at home, we never listened to music, because it was a sin, especially if the singer was a woman and the song was upbeat. Although Father and Mother were both very religious and knew listening to music was immoral, they weren't as strict as Mahmoud and liked listening to songs. When Mahmoud was out, Mother would turn on the radio. Of course, she kept the volume low so that the neighbours wouldn't hear. She even knew the lyrics to a few songs, especially those by Pouran Shahpouri, and she used to sing quietly in the kitchen.
One day I said, âMother, you know a good number of Pouran's songs.'
She jumped like a firecracker and snapped, âQuiet! What sort of talk is this? Don't you ever let your brother hear you say such things!'
When Father came home for lunch, he would turn on the radio to listen to the news at two o'clock and then he would forget to turn it off. The Golha music programme would start and he would unconsciously start moving his head, nodding in tempo with the music. I don't care what anyone says, I'm sure Father loved Marzieh's voice. When they played her songs, he never said, âMay God have mercy! Turn that thing off.' But when Vighen sang, he would suddenly remember his faith and piety and yell, âThat Armenian is singing again! Turn it off.' Oh, but I loved Vighen's voice. I don't know why, but it always reminded me of Uncle Hamid. From what I can remember, Uncle Hamid was a good-looking man. He was different from his brothers and sisters. He smelled of cologne, which was something rare in my lifeâ¦ When I was a child he used to take me in his arms and say to Mother, âWell done, sister! What a beautiful girl you gave birth to. Thank God she didn't turn out looking like her brothers. Otherwise, you would have had to get a big cask and pickle her!'