Touba and the Meaning of Night
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  • Paperback Edition
  • ISBN: 978-1-55861-557-1
  • Publication Date: 01-01-2008
  • Page Count: 368
  • Categories: Fiction, Middle East

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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Touba and the Meaning of Night

Shahrnush Parsipur

Translated by Havva Houshmand & Kamran Talattof. Afterword by Houra Yavari. Other Contributors Persis M. Karim.

A major literary event, the publication of Touba and the Meaning of Night introduces English-speaking readers to the masterpiece of a great contemporary Persian writer, renowned in her native Iran and much of Western Europe. This remarkable epic novel, begun during one of the author's several imprisonments, was published in Iran in 1989 to great critical acclaim and instant bestseller status—until Shahrnush Parsipur was again arrested a year later, and all her works banned by the Islamic Republic.

In the character of Touba, Parsipur explores the changing fortunes of Iranian women through eighty years of turbulent history. After her father's death, fourteen-year-old Touba proposes to a fifty-two-year-old relative in order to ensure her family's financial security. Intimidated by her outspoken nature, Touba's husband soon divorces her. She marries again, this time to a prince with whom she experiences tenderness and physical passion and has four children—but he proves unfaithful and unreliable. Touba is granted a divorce from him, and lives out the rest of her long life as matriarch to a changing household of family members and refugees.

Touba and the Meaning of Night explores, from a distinctly Iranian viewpoint, the ongoing tensions between rationalism and mysticism, tradition and modernity, male dominance and female will. Throughout, it defies Western stereotypes of Iranian women and Western expectations of literary form, speaking in an idiom that reflects both the unique creative voice of its author and an important tradition in Persian women's writing.

"Houshmand and Talattof have rendered a moving translation of Shahrnush Parsipur’s masterpiece. The tale combines realism with flights of fantasy in a tale set against the backdrop of modern Iranian history."

—Beth Baron, author of Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics and co-director of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"Bold, insightful . . . a stylishly original contribution to modern feminist literature."

Publishers Weekly

"Parsipur's novel carries the reader on a mystical and emotional odyssey spanning eight decades of Iranian cultural, political, and religious history . . . replete with juxtapositions of mysticism and historical fact, Parsipur's novel is a rewarding and enlightening encapsulation of her country's recent past."


"[Touba and the Meaning of Night] is both a sweeping chronicle of modern Iranian history and a study of the plight of twentieth-century Iranian women."

Library Journal

"Shahrnush Parsipur's Touba and the Meaning of Night is considered on of the unsurpassed masterpieces of modern Persian literature."

"With America and Iran engaged in a volatile stand-off, this now banned 1989 novel by one of Iran's most distinguished writers provides profound insights into the conflict between religion and modernity in modern Persia. . . . A feminist tour de force . . . among the classics of twentieth-century Middle Eastern Literature."

Tikkun magazine

"Shahrnush Parsipur makes a case against every kind of fundamentalism. But above all she narrates a great history book and a great story. Not only does she borrow the oriental coin of Sherherazade, but she also avails herself artfully of the narrative technique of Western masters from Umberto Ecco to Gabrielle García Marquez."

Die Zeit (Germany)

"Shahrnush Parsipur has achieved an unusually powerful and vivid portrait of her homeland."

Der Standard (Austria)

"A sweeping chronicle . . . [displaying] deft utilization of magic realism and Persian myths . . . rich and well-crafted. For all fiction collections."

Library Journal (starred review)

"Like Parsipur herself, her protagonists are women whose rebellions are not merely political but existential, against a system that denies them their individual dignity and stunts their potentials for growth."

—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

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