Q+A with Jasmin Darznik

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Jasmin Darznik, the author behind The Good Daughter, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block, which will be released next week (listen to Jasmin's reading). Until then, get to know her a little better with this Q+A, in which she talks about her secret talent, her first concert, and what it was like living in exile from Iran.

Iranians are traditionally quite private about family matters. How has your mother reacted to your memoir, The Good Daughter, which is largely about her hidden past?

Jasmin Darznik: This book takes on subjects rarely talked about in the Iranian community: domestic abuse, divorce, alcoholism, mental illness. My mother had kept her first marriage and her daughter a secret for over fifty years. Even her best friends in America didn't know about her past and are only know discovering it by reading The Good Daughter.

Because my mother and I worked closely in writing this book, there were few surprises when it came out. This is not to say it isn't painful and just plain hard for her to go public with her life story. There are moments, even now, when she howls, "Stop the presses!" At the moment, she's in a kind of literary witness protection program -- she's living in Virginia, where I also live and teach -- and she's glad she's not in Northern California where she'd be running into friends and acquaintances all the time. My mom's one brave, tough woman, though, a woman who has defied expectations and made herself over many times in her life. Sharing her story is just one expression of those qualities.

Your family emigrated from Iran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. What was it like essentially living in exile from your homeland?

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JD: Even though I left Iran as a small child, the world I grew up in was in many ways an Iranian one, perhaps even more Iranian than it would have been in Iran. Of course there was the world of school and work, that greater American world, but, if anything, immigration made my mother more Iranian, not less. Also, since I was an only child, and a girl, I spent hours and hours of my childhood at her friends' houses. Tea parties, dinner parties, wakes, weddings -- they were such a part of my life growing up. Persian was the language of my home and it's still the language of my memories. Exile is often thought as a disfiguring and distancing experience, but I think that living in exile can, in some respects, bring immigrants closer to home.

If you could live inside one movie, which would it be?

JD: La Dolce Vita. For the clothes and for Marcello Mastrioanni. In that order.

What's one novel you wish you had written?

JD: Just one? I'd claim a hundred if I could, so deep does my writer envy run! The one that's coming to mind at the moment is Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. It's both epic and intimate. And just beautifully written. Definitely a novel I covet.

You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?

JD: I'm singing something by Googoosh. She was and still is the goddess of Iranian music. A diva. A vamp. Since this would never happen in real life, I am also wearing one of those gorgeous, crazy '70s costumes she used to wear -- say, a purple caftan embroidered with gold beads -- and I am perfectly executing her sultry dance moves and her alternately dolorous and impish facial expressions.

What advice would you give your younger self?

JD: I'd say, "Be who you are." It's trite, but true. I spent an ungodly number of years preoccupied with pleasing other people and contorting myself into who I imagined they wanted me to be. If there'd been a theme-song to my twenties, it would have been, "Do they like me?" or, perhaps more accurately, "Does he like me?" It just did not occur to me often enough, at 20, to ask, "Do I like them/him?" I've gotten so much more adept at that -- such are the blessings of crossing out of my twenties and into my thirties. So, if given a chance, I'd tell my younger self that you get to be who you are, and that life just gets all the better for it.

Look for Jasmin Darznik's episode of The Writers' Block next Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!