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This is the fourth book I read for Women in Translation Month. I discovered Parinoush Saniee’sI Hid My Voice‘ when I was browsing in the bookshop. The story told in the book goes like this.

The story starts with twenty-year old Shahaab celebrating a party in his home. He finds the noise and the attention too much and yearns for some solitude and goes to the terrace. While enjoying some quiet time there, he looks back on his past. When Shahaab was a four-year old boy, he couldn’t speak. His parents worried about him and took him to specialist doctors. The doctors said that there was nothing wrong with him physically. His father and relatives suspect that he might have psychological problems. But his mother always backs him and defends him. We hear the story from Shahaab’s perspective and so we know that he is smart and he can think. But because he doesn’t speak, the outside world thinks that he is dumb. Because Shahaab is quiet he is bullied. He sometimes takes revenge on his bullies. Sometimes he does nasty things because someone hurts him or his mother, emotionally, or when he mistakenly assumes that someone has hurt him or his mother. Because people around don’t understand him, they just assume that Shahaab has some serious psychological issues and he has a mean streak. His own father feels that way.

What happens to Shahaab? What kind of challenging times does he have to go through in the middle of people who don’t understand him? Is he able to survive the bullies? Is he able to speak, in the end? The answers to these questions are revealed by the end of the book.

I loved ‘I Hid My Voice‘. It is a beautiful portrait of modern day Iran. It is a beautiful love letter to the Iranian family, the relationship between parents and children, husband and wife, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, between siblings and cousins. Parinoush Saniee’s prose is simple and spare and moves the plot along smoothly. There are no long descriptions and philosophical ruminations. I loved most of the characters in the story, especially Shahaab, his imaginary friends Asi and Babi, his mother Maryam, his cousin Fereshteh, the kind strangers Karimi and Soudabeh who take care of Shahaab when he gets lost, Shahaab’s aunt and Fereshteh’s mother Fataneh, and most of all Shahaab’s grandmother Bibi. These are all the nice characters. There are the not-so-nice characters who have their part to play, and there is Shahaab’s father Nasser, with whom Shahaab’s relationship us complicated. That complexity is described beautifully and insightfully throughout the book. ‘I Hid My Voice‘ is a beautiful love letter to a boy without a voice and how the kindness of family members and strangers help him find full and glorious expression to his voice.

I am so glad I read ‘I Hid My Voice‘. I was waiting to read a book set in contemporary Iran which describes everyday Iranian life. I had my heart’s fill. Now I can’t wait to read Parinoush Saniee’s other book ‘The Book of Fate‘.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Back then I didn’t understand why I wanted to swear so badly, but I felt it was a great way for getting even. You didn’t need to be powerful or big and strong to use bad language, you just needed to know how to speak, to open your mouth and say something to make the other person mad. Words could be powerful. If you used the right word at the right time you could make people fume with anger without having to break or destroy anything. It was as if those words had been invented for small, weak people like myself.”

“Words were not just a series of letters to me. They each represented their own world. Over my years of speechlessness, I’d struggled with each word. I knew the weight and colour of each one and felt its volume. How could I express all the qualities of a word just by writing it? This is why writing in a single colour was difficult for me. I needed all my coloured pencils in order to do homework. I had to write ‘blood’ with a red pencil, and black was a more appropriate colour for ‘death’. I used green for ‘love’ and grey for ‘sadness’. In my eyes ‘Father’ was always an unpleasant brown and ‘Mother’ was a dull yellow, like the sun subdued by dark clouds. For a long time my biggest challenge was using white for ‘kindness’, which was hard to do on a white piece of paper. I discovered the solution after several attempts. I found out that if I drew the outline of the word with black and left it white on the inside, it would still be legible. I carefully wrote each word in a beautiful script using the correct colours.”

Have you read Parinoush Saniee’sI Hid My Voice‘? What do you think about it?

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