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November 12, 2004 - Image 81

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-11-12

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non-Muslim to use separate water
fountains and bathrooms.
"Throughout 1984," she writes,
"Roya, the dream, had only night-
Toward the end of her account, she
revisits a childhood friend who is a
Muslim, in whose house she heard
"Allahu Akbar" for the first time. The
friend lost a brother to war, a sister to
prison, an uncle to grief and her
mother to insanity, and she told
Hakakian that she was lucky, for she,
as a Jew, could leave and have some-
where to go.
"I never wanted to leave," the
author admits. It wasn't a choice that
I made. That's not to say that things
didn't turn awful. I thought of coun-
tries like families: When things turn
difficult, you don't abandon the fami-
ly. You don't abandon a country. I had
to surrender to leaving. It was what
my parents wanted to do, and I had to
Actually, her parents, her father in
particular, had faith that things would
work out, but he too lost that faith
amidst the killings and persecution.
One day, she returned home to find
her father in her room, burning all of -
her old notebooks, books of poetry,
novels by Jane Austen, leather-bound
copies of Dostoevsky's work. It had
become too dangerous to keep them at
home. It was then that her father told
her that it was time that they left for
Hakakian left with her mother, and
her father followed three years later.
She now lives outside of New Haven,
Conn.; her three brothers are scattered
over the East Coast, and her parents
live in Forest Hills, N.Y.
Her father still writes poetry
although his eyesight is failing; some-
times he reads it on exile radio sta-
tions. She says that their choice not to
live in heavily concentrated Iranian
neighborhoods has enabled them to
grow, to experience America in more
Some reviewers have compared
Hakakian's experience to that of Jews
in Germany in the years leading up to
World War II. When asked about this,
she says that she always hesitates to
make analogies. But she points out
that indeed something devastating has
taken place; that the Jewish communi-
ty is on the verge of disappearing.
"What I'm trying to convey, on the
other hand, is that in Iran the general
public didn't turn against the Jews.
Our neighbors still loved us. What
pushed us out was a fundamentalist
government coming into power, mak-


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Roya Hakakian:
"The clergy weren't
the only people who
thought that Iran could be a
different place. There were also
vast numbers of secular; edu-
cated, urban people who want-
ed the revolution, who wanted
Iran to be a democracy."


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ing it difficult for people who were
different than they were from all walks
of life."
Although Persian is her native
tongue and the language of her early
writings, Hakakian writes here in
luminous English. She explains that if
she wrote in Persian, she would have
relived the memories rather than re-
examining them.
"Persian could summon the teenager
at sea," she writes. "English sheltered
the adult survivor, safely inside a light-
house. I did not know how to use the
language of the censors to speak
against them; to use the very language
by which I had been denied so much
as a Jew, as a woman, a secular citizen
and a young poet."
For Hakakian, the journey from
Iran was not so much a physical one as
a journey from perpetual demands,
from "no." When she arrived in
America in 1985, the English language
became "the vessel of my flight to vast
possibilities." 1-1

Roya Hakakian speaks 11 a.m.
Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Jewish
Community Center in West
Bloomfield and 3 p.m. Sunday,
Nov. 14, at the JCC in Oak Park.
(248) 432-5577.

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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004

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Wgdnesday, Jan. 12, 2005
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