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Review: Women Without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur

June 25, 2012

Women Without Men coverTitle: Women Without Men
Author: Parsipur, Shahrnush
Translator: Farrokh, Faridoun
Length: 122 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher / Year: Feminist Press / 2011, first published in Persian as Zanan bedoone mardan in 1989.
Source: Feminist Press subscription.
Rating: 4.5/5
Why I Read It: Feminist Press published it and mailed it to me – that is always reason enough for me.
Date Read: 13/05/12

A magical realism journey through the lives of five different women in Iran, this book delves into the daily lives of different individuals at different class levels and discusses such issues as widowhood, marriage, virginity, and the sexuality of women. The five women who feature in this story are: a schoolteacher, two friends, a wealthy housewife, and a prostitute. Each has their own story, but each weaves in with the others as they rely on one another in a secluded orchard in Karadj, in the outskirts of Tehran.

Through each woman and her story we see some facet of life. Although the title claims that we are examining women without men, and indeed for most of the book very few, if any, men are present or around, at the same point each of the women’s lives were shaped around and by various men in their lives. What we see, rather, and especially in their mainly physical absence in the book, is the way in which the men are such a large concern to these women and the how and why of that. Although they all manage to escape men, they don’t all do it as successfully and they learn, as well, that there are possibly drawbacks to their decisions.

Although a short book, it is wonderfully written to contain the varying stories and lives. The prose is lyrical, and you almost find yourself believing the various magical things that happen – such as the lady who planted herself as a tree. Farrokh’s translation seems flawless as well, being easy to read yet still containing that taste of difference.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2012 10:45 am

    I like the title of the book and your review suggests it’ll be an interesting read.

  2. June 25, 2012 11:45 am

    A fine review.

  3. June 25, 2012 4:22 pm

    Sounds like a delightful book with wonderful magic to the stories. I’d love to find this one.

  4. June 25, 2012 4:22 pm

    I can certainly see why men are a large concern for the women of Iran. This book sounds fantastic!

  5. June 26, 2012 12:52 am

    You read lots of interesting sounding books!

  6. June 26, 2012 1:27 pm

    Sounds excellent. Going to look for it.

    • June 28, 2012 12:47 pm

      You’re welcome to borrow it after Sarah, though… we really must get together at some point!

  7. June 26, 2012 5:25 pm

    “Although the title claims that we are examining women without men, and indeed for most of the book very few, if any, men are present or around, at the same point each of the women’s lives were shaped around and by various men in their lives. ”

    I wonder if this bothered you, or not? Because sometimes it can bother me how even in a book that is not about men, in the end it really is about women thinking about or shaping their lives around men. But it can be a good thing as well. I wonder if it is in this case, in your opinion?

    • June 28, 2012 12:48 pm

      Hmm… it didn’t bother me, Iris, because it worked well, if that makes sense?

  8. June 27, 2012 6:35 am

    I love the sound of this – to the wishlist it goes! And Iris’ question is really interesting. I suspect that the reason why the presence of men is still felt even if they’re not at the centre of the story might be that if you’re writing protest feminist literature, you WILL have to acknowledge the fact that men still shape women’s lives. In a book set in modern Iran, there would be no way around that, and very little you could say without addressing this fact (not that the West is all flawless and enlightened, of course).

    • June 28, 2012 12:49 pm

      Yes Ana, that’s exactly how it felt. While they weren’t often central, they were there, and it highlighted the importance of their roles in these women’s lives, and indeed in all of our lives. Even when we may be single and on our own, that doesn’t mean that others – men and women – don’t have some part in our lives still, if that makes sense. Either because of historical actions or side current actions or etc.

  9. June 28, 2012 1:29 am

    I read this ages ago, back in 2005, and just loved it! I want to reread it, but of course it’s not available at my library.

  10. June 29, 2012 4:16 pm

    this sounds right up my street amy ,I love short books and short Arabic or Persian books always tend to be gems I ve found ,all the best stu

  11. June 30, 2012 6:53 pm

    Yesterday after work I dropped by the library and grabbed a copy of this book. I’m hoping I end up liking it as much as you did.
    When I do my review I’ll make sure to mention and link to your review.


  1. Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran by Shahrnush Parsipur | Maphead's Book Blog

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