SHIDMEHR, Nilofar




Author Tags: Poetry

Born and raised in Iran, Nilofar Shidmehr came to Canada in 1997 and has earned her MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Before leaving Iran, Shidmehr translated Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, from English to Farsi. Due to Iran's divorce laws, Shidmehr's daughter must remain in Iran. Shidmehr hopes one day to bring her to Vancouver.

Her novella in verse, Shirin and Salt Man (Oolichan $17.95), depicts a contemporary young woman from Kermanshah in the modern Islamic Republic of Iran who is under the thumb of her fundamentalist husband Khosro. To escape from his dominance, she imagines herself to be a princess depicted in an ancient Persian story called Shirin and Khosro. Gradually she decides to emancipate herself by running away from her husband in favour of Farhad, the mythical lover of princess Shirin, who takes the form of a 1700-year-old mummy from the Iranian National Museum in Tehran, the Salt Man. This book was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.

Shidmehr has since earned her Ph.D in Education at the Center for Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education. Her next scholarly project is to investigate "how the lyrical and performative modes of inquiry can be included in discourse analysis, literary criticism, and critical reading and writing practices to integrate and advance literacy."

Her poetry collection Between Lives (Oolichan 2014) brings to light the violence and injustice of women's lives in Iran and in the diaspora. "These poems," writes Rachel Rose, "are the untold stories of contemporary Persian women's lives, lives portrayed with intimacy and lyricism, despite their subjugation. These are poetics meditations that only a poet simultaneously intimate with a place, and exiled from it, can offer. In this book, men and women are like 'fire and cotton,' and must be kept apart; they are 'flammable with the slightest spark.' Nilofer Shidmehr's poems burn with a fierce, haunting fire."

She lives with her husband in Yaletown, Vancouver, where she is writing a collection of short stories about the lives of Iranians in Iran and Canada. Nilofar Shidmehr's first book of poetry in Farsi, Two Nilofars: Before and After Migration, also reflects her concerns as educational activist within the Iranian women’s movement.

[Photo by Laura Sawchuk]

BOOKS:

Shirin and Salt Man (Oolichan 2008) 978-088982-246-7

Between Lives (Oolichan 2014) 978-0-88982-301-3 $17.95

[BCBW 2014] "Poetry"

Shirin and Salt Man (Oolichan $17.95)
Review


from Hannah Main-van der Kamp
Nilofar Shidmehr, who came to Canada in 1997, believes “the way to understand the dilemma which is Iran is through reading and connecting to the intimate stories of Iranians’ lives.”

Consequently Shidmehr’s novella in verse, Shirin and Salt Man (Oolichan $17.95), depicts a contemporary young woman who is under the thumb of her rigidly fundamentalist husband Khosro in the modern Islamic Republic of Iran. To escape from his dominance, she imagines herself to be a princess depicted in an ancient Persian story called Shirin and Khosro.

Gradually the heroine decides to emancipate herself by running away from her husband in favour of Farhad, the mythical lover of princess Shirin, who takes the form of a 1700-year-old mummy in the Iranian National Museum in Tehran, known as the Salt Man.

This is a unique account of the losing and gaining of personal identity equated with the loss and restoration of voice. Salt and milk are mixed together in the narrative just as fantasy and reality are blurred. But if fantasy’s energy restores life and Eros, then what really is reality?

The complex narrative shifts back and forth between the ancient Persian myth of the Shah Khosro, his beautiful mate Shirin, and Farhad the lover, and the contemporary story of Shirin. Even though the narrative is summarized at the beginning, the many strands are woven into a pattern so multilayered it does not reveal itself until a subsequent reading.

It’s a universal tragedy. When reality is too painful, fantasy is a sweet release. Not an escape but a way to survive a harsh existence. The heroine gains a new identity but at enormous personal cost, as Shirin, a story-loving girl, goes on a dangerous journey that includes a brutal rape.

Along the way, Shidmehr freely reconstructs passages from a 12th century Persian classic and writes lovely phrases such as “as vain as mashing water with a pestle.”

We are simultaneously introduced to a country in which a female bare foot, inadvertently displayed, is considered a provocation for which the woman is to blame.

The layered, circling telling with its fantastical elements is a literary form not enjoyed in the West for five hundred years. Oolichan Books deserves applause for publishing this unusual book.

Born and raised in Iran, Shidmehr came to Canada in 1997 and earned her MFA in creative writing from UBC where she is now pursuing a PhD at the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education. Prior to leaving Iran, she translated Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, from English to Farsi.

978-088982-246-7

-- Hannah Main-van der Kamp

[BCBW 2009] "Novella"