Day 1: Disoriental

Across the first month of 2020, Sophie Baggott is sharing her thirty favourite books by women from across the world. Find out more about her project to read women writers from every country worldwide here.

One of the earliest novels I picked up for my project, Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (tr. Tina Kover), had me thoroughly gripped on a long bus journey through Slovenia in July. (I was so invested in what happened to Kimiâ that I didn’t even realise we had arrived at our destination.) Mirroring her main protagonist, the author is likewise the daughter of exiled Iranian intellectuals. The book’s themes in fact echoed through many other women writers’ works I’ve read since – ancestry, authority,  liberty, identity – but there was something acutely searing about Kimiâ’s story. 100% recommend.

Me reading Disoriental while visiting Slovenia, 2018
Me reading Disoriental while visiting Slovenia, 2018

In a nutshell: The novel is a spectacular back-and-forth of past and present, jotted down in the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic by an Iranian exile – daughter of dissidents – as she delineates deft and vital contours of family and self.

To pluck out a line: “With the passage of time, the flesh of events decomposes, leaving only a skeleton of impressions on which to embroider”.

If I had to choose one image: For me, the most memorable passage is the filling-in of the narrator’s earlier allusion to a well-meaning yet devastating whisper from her sister.

Sharing a thought: Disoriental reads like an attempt to pluck out and discard one’s place card holder from within an all-consuming family as well as from countries of origin/residence – a thoughtful, often moving investigation of how to be an individual in stringent communities.

Fact: Djavadi digs innumberable wells of fascinating Iranian history in the book’s footnotes, but one fact that stood out to me is that ‘Iran’ is the Persian word for ‘Land of Aryans’; the country was named as such by Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1935.

If you’d like to read Disoriental, visit here.

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