(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“Did that futile look that so frequently came to her mother’s face point to shattered dreams?…Minou could see the sky turning blood-red. Another day lost, bringing her closer to nothing. She floated in time and space. She would wind up like her mother.”
Minou’s mother got married at age fourteen to a man twice her age. Her aunt would remind her, “It’s best not to think of happiness on this earth. This is a place we pass through. Real life begins when we die.” That was the future of women in society. Instead of attending college in the United States like her brother, Minou knew that she would have to get married. Since marriages were arranged-and she didn’t like her father’s earlier prospects- she was even more discouraged.
Late in her last semester of high school, Javad Partovi arrived to her small town of Ahvaz to teach literature. Minou was in his class and constantly fantasized about him and found excuses to seek him out. After all, not only was he handsome, but he took her and her writing seriously. After school ended, he arranged for his mother to ask her parents’ approval for him to marry her. Though they really didn’t know each other, Minou felt a sense of freedom as she would able to choose her own husband and leave Ahvaz to go to his city of Abadan, which lies on the border with Iraq and was slightly more westernized.
Unfortunately, Minou began to feel trapped, but also eventually realized that Javad wasn’t any better off than she was. This was 1978 pre-revolutionary Iran and a fanatical religious movement was brewing. Javad started out very lovingly towards her, but slowly became detached and despondent. He was engrossed in his newspaper that not only exposed the current regime but this radical religious movement, which put him and Minou in danger. His depression was compounded with unresolved feelings for an old flame.
While author Nahid Rachlin takes us straight into the political turmoil sweeping Iran as well as the evils of both the Pahlavi regime and the fundamentalist activists, the riveting Married to a Stranger is more of a personal tale. It centers on a young woman who tries to reconcile her true being and aspirations to that of tradition. Her journey isn’t stagnant; we see her evolve. The story also gives a fair view of other characters, so we can understand how they ended up with the decisions that they have made
Though I enjoyed learning about Iranian traditions, I especially appreciated that many of the insights are universal. Which ones? You’ll just have to read Married to a Stranger.