It started with a wedding photo. It was a picture of her mother on her wedding day standing next to a man in a gray fedora, but the man was not her father. There was a shift, as Jasmin Darznik realized her mother was not just a mom, but a woman ““ a woman who had had a different husband, and with him, another child.
A UCLA alumna of German and English, Darznik is scheduled to visit her alma mater this Friday to read selections from her memoir “The Good Daughter.” The story focuses on the relationships between mother and daughter and between men and women, which all help to reveal how the good daughter, the half sister left in Iran, played a role in everyone’s lives.
The memoir originated as a dissertation for her doctorate in English. Darznik was in a workshop at Book Passage, a bookstore located in Corte Madera, when her instructor, Linda McFerrin, told her that she was in fact writing a book.
“I turned to her and I said, “˜Who are you talking to? I’m not writing a book,” Darznik said. “And she said, “˜This is a book.
You may not know it yet, but what you have here, it’s a book.’”
With that thought planted in her mind, Darznik began to seek out the entire story of her mother’s past and turned her revelations into “The Good Daughter.”
While doing research, Darznik, who is now an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University, found that there were not many books written about life in pre-revolutionary Iran.
“And many of them were also rather evasive when it came to family matters,” Darznik said. “No one was writing about alcoholism or about divorce.”
Subjects such as these caught the interest of Nayereh Tohidi, a professor of gender and women’s studies at California State University, Northridge. Tohidi is the coordinator of the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, which is sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies
“I looked through the reviews of her book and thought that this was very interesting and timely,” Tohidi said. “It … can give our students a different perspective about daily life, the cultural complexity in Iran, especially Iranian women’s lives.”
After piecing together her mother’s story, Darznik realized that she had met her half sister when she was a child in Tehran, Iran.
“She had very long hair and she seemed beautiful to me,” Darznik said. “I had no knowledge of it, but that was my sister. She’d come to visit me, and no one ever told me whom she belonged to, that she was my sister, why she came at all.”
Once Darznik and her family left Tehran in the 1970s, Darznik’s half sister was never mentioned again. The move to America would also put a strain on Darznik and her mother’s relationship.
“Immigration only made my mother more Iranian, not less,” Darznik said. “She would bellow out, “˜You became an American girl,’ and I would say, “˜So what?’ So it was a real battle for years, where I very much disassociated myself from my culture and tried desperately to pass as American.”
Darznik said that part of what helped her claim identity as an Iranian woman was attending UCLA as an undergraduate.
“For the first time in my life, when I was in college, it became the source of something powerful and empowering to be Iranian,” Darznik said.
As an undergraduate, Darznik was a contributor to the Daily Bruin and “Armaghan,” an Iranian student publication. Behzad Tabatabai, Darznik’s editor at “Armaghan,” said he is not surprised she is finding success through her writing.
“The memories I had of her was that she always had a strong voice,” Tabatabai said.
Though Darznik has yet to visit Iran since her immigration, she said she will take a leave of absence from her teaching position to spend a couple of months researching for her next book.
Darznik also plans to meet with her half sister, which will be the first time, apart from the brief encounter at the hair salon, that Darznik will speak to her.
“There have been numerous attempts to reunify, to come together,” Darznik said. “But, there’s a phrase in Persian: Once a vessel is broken, you can (reattach) it, but it will always be broken.”