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SHAHRNUSH PARSIPUR is the author of Touba and the Meaning of Night, among many books. Born in Iran in 1946, she began her career as a fiction writer and a producer at Iranian National Television and Radio. She now lives in exile in California.

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Kissing the Sword

A Prison Memoir
Shahrnush Parsipur

Translated by Sara Khalili

Shahrnush Parsipur was an important writer and television producer in her native Iran until 1979 when the Islamic Republic began imprisoning its citizens. Kissing the Sword captures the surreal experience of serving time without being charged with a crime, and witnessing the systematic destruction of any and all opposition to fundamentalist power. It is a memoir filled with both horror and humor: nights blasted by the sounds of machine gun fire as hundreds of prisoners are summarily executed, and days spent debating prison officials on whether the Quran demands that women be covered. Parsipur, one of the great novelists of modern Iran, known for magic realism, tells a story here that is all too real. She mines her own painful memories to create an urgent call for one of the most basic human rights: freedom of expression.

Born in Iran in 1946, Shahrnush Parsipur began her career as a fiction writer and producer at Iranian National Television and Radio. She was imprisoned for nearly five years by the Islamist government without being formally charged. Shortly after her release, she published Women Without Men and was arrested and jailed again, this time for her frank and defiant portrayal of women's sexuality. While still banned in Iran, the novel became an underground bestseller there, and has been translated into many languages around the world. Parsipur has become known around the world for her literary fiction and for speaking out against abuse. She is also the author of Touba and the Meaning of Night, among many other books, and now lives in exile in Northern California.

"Parsipur's memoir is a powerful tale of a writer's struggle to survive the worst cases of atrocities and injustice with grace and compassion. A terribly dark but truly illuminating narrative; Parsipur forces the reader to question human nature and resilience."

Shirin Neshat

"Kissing the Sword is a deeply moving, closely observed classic of its form. . .when they imprisoned Shahrnush Parsipur, they picked on one of the world's greatest and most determined living authors."

Robert Coover, from the introduction

"Using the techniques of both the fabulist and the polemicist, Parsipur continues her protest against traditional Persian gender relations in this charming, powerful novella."

Publishers Weekly (on Women Without Men)

"Parsipur makes a stylishly original contribution to modern feminist literature."

Marjane Satrapi

"The intricate narrative of the work and its self-possessed female characters challenge traditional notions about gender relations. . . . Parsipur's narration—words, metaphors, intonations, verbal twists—is bold and provocative."

World Literature Today (on Women Without Men)

For the unedited original manuscript, download this pdf. 921.81 KB

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