Book review
(first published in Habibi, volume 18, number 2)

Suri and Co.: Tales of a Persian Teenage Girl
Mahshid Amirshahi, translated by J. E. Knorzer
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, 1995.
(87 pages)

Copyright © 2001, by Robyn C. Friend. All rights reserved.

I read some of Amirshahi’s Suri stories in the original Persian language many years ago, and am delighted to find this selection available in English.  Amirshahi writes about upper-middle class Iranians living in Tehran before the Revolution of 1979, a group forming a large part of those who constitute the Iranian Diaspora. The stories are told in the first person by Suri, a girl of 16 to 17 years, tyrannized by an obnoxious older brother, and by an Iranian’s traditional obligations to one’s elders.

Some of the subtleties are of necessity lost in translation, and some features of Iranian traditions are simply not translatable. Still, Knorzer makes a valiant effort, and includes footnotes sufficient to appreciate much of the humor of the original. For these are indeed humorous stories, with a dry wit that illustrates that, aside from some specific cultural differences, to be a teenage girl is much the same in the Iranian upper class as in the American middle class. Suri’s elders are, in her eyes, an ignorant lot, never listening to her, or understanding her fully. The ones who pay her the most attention seem to be lecherous older men, and she finds herself in a potentially sticky situation in “The Interview”. In “Big Brother’s Future In-Laws”, Suri’s experiment with whiskey in an attempt to appear grown-up leads to another humorous scene, with potential for scandal and social disaster.

For those interested in understanding Iranian culture and the workings of Iranian society this slim volume is a gem. Many Iranian cultural traditions are discussed (and satirized), including choosing a baby’s name using the Quran, and a women’s mourning ceremony.

— Robyn Friend, Ph.D., 2001.