14 September 2015

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Growing up, I never read any book with Iranian characters in them. So when Christa Desir mentioned Sara Farizan, an Iranian YA author, I searched out her books at once.

IF YOU COULD BE MINE tells the story of Sahar, a girl in Tehran who, at age six, told her mother she one day wanted to marry her best friend, Narsin—also a girl.

Yes.

Sahar is a lesbian, in a country where being homosexual is illegal.

I’ve never been to Iran—all my experience with Iranian culture comes from my interactions with my family and their circle of Iranian friends. The closest I’ve come to visiting has been in movies.

Iranians are a joyous people—at least, all the ones I know are—but Sahar’s Tehran is a melancholy place, and Sahar’s story is a melancholy one.

Certainly, the fact that Sahar is a girl—rather than a boy—affects the prism of her experience. It was deeply rewarding to live in Sahar’s head and see Iran through her eyes.

Despite the melancholy, there were so many ways when reading Sahar’s story felt like being at home: all the little things Sahar mentioned that I recognized from my own life, like how some Iranian women shave off their eyebrows and then get eyebrows tattooed on them. Which has always seemed weird to me.

I knew, going in, that IF YOU COULD BE MINE was going to be sad. How could it not be? But I’m a romantic, an optimist at heart, and I wanted some hope at the end. Maybe I got that. But it also felt like Sahar was stuck in a trap of her own making, and I so desperately wanted her to get out.

There is an Iranian cultural concept—tarof—which is hard to translate. The closest I've ever heard is exalting another by debasing yourself. In everyday life, that means politely refusing food you want a few times before finally giving in; or offering to do something you really don't want to do, because the other person is supposed to decline anyway. But in Sahar's case, it meant putting everyone else's desires before her own.

It was heartbreaking, but I knew exactly where it came from, too.