About this book
Acclaimed poet Nilofar Shidmehr’s debut story collection is an unflinching look at the lives of women in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada.
The stories begin in 1978, the year before the Iranian Revolution. In a neighbourhood in Tehran, a group of affluent girls play a Cinderella game with unexpected consequences. In the mid 1980s, women help their husbands and brothers survive war and political upheaval. In the early 1990s in Vancouver, Canada, a single-mother refugee is harassed by the men she meets on a telephone dating platform. And in 2003, a Canadian woman working for an international aid organization is dispatched to her hometown of Bam to assist in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
At once powerful and profound, Divided Loyalties depicts the rich lives of Iranian women and girls in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada; the enduring complexity of the expectations forced upon them; and the resilience of a community experiencing the turmoil of war, revolution, and migration.
I arrive in Tehran two days after my brother called to inform me about my father’s death. “A car hit Papa,” Milaad said, his voice cracking like phone static. “It happened close to his home. He died on the spot. The driver fled the scene — we couldn’t find him. There is also something else, which I’ll tell you when I’ll see you.”
Thankfully, Milaad accompanies Maman to meet me at the airport. Maman and I had a fight on the phone six months ago and we haven’t talked since. That was the night I came back from Paris, the last place I saw my father alive. Our squabble doesn’t matter now. I am here to be with my mother during the forty-day mourning period. I might even stay longer — for six months, a year, or, who knows, the rest of my life — if Maman and I can get along now that the source of our separation is gone.
Nor does it matter that my mother wrongly accused me of siding with my father. In truth, Papa and I had a row at the end of our trip and he accused me of the exactly the same thing: of supporting her. This is what our parents did to me and Milaad all our lives. Each wanted us in their camp when they fought with each other. And once they made peace, they would divide their children between them. Milaad was hers and I was his.
My situation was much worse than my brother’s during the times when our parents quarreled. As a girl, I was supposed to side with my mother. This wouldn’t have been difficult, if her true reason for being angry was that my father was a miser. We lived very close to poverty because the only money that came into the home was from our mother’s meager salary. Papa used all of his money to buy property. However, the real reason behind my mother’s anger was to control my father and keep him, like Milaad, under her thumb. I believed my father should have his independence as much as I wanted to have mine. I wanted to have freedom of association — to like, love, and assemble with whomever I chose, including my aunt Raazi, Papa’s younger sister.
Entering the arrivals area and dragging my suitcase behind me, I look around for my mother and see her, along with Milaad, walking toward me. In her black winter coat, slacks, and wimple hijab, she looks slim and miserable. I speed up and we meet halfway. She throws herself into my embrace and wails. “You see, Maana, your mother is a widow now.”
People standing nearby look at us with compassion. “Sorry for your loss,” they whisper as they pass. The other passengers laugh with joy as they reunite with their loved ones. Their families, dressed mostly in bright colors, shower them with flowers and kisses. I pass Maman a clean napkin I’ve saved for my own crying and hold her until her sobbing subsides.
About the Author
NILOFAR SHIDMEHR is a poet, essayist, and scholar, and the author of six books in English and Farsi, including Between Lives and Shirin and Salt Man, a BC Book Prize finalist. She writes and delivers lectures on women’s rights, migration and diaspora, and social and political issues in Iran. A specialist in literature and cinema of modern Iran, she teaches in the Continuing Studies program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, where she lives with her husband.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR NILOFAR SHIDMEHR AND DIVIDED LOYALTIES
“Divided Loyalties should be required reading.” — Refinery29
“Divided Loyalties offers an in-depth view into the complex traditions, taboos, and social mores of Iranian society from the 1970s to the present day.” — Winnipeg Free Press
“A deeply felt portrait of a particular place and its people . . . The stark, protean beauty of Shidmehr’s writing recalls the shape-shifting work of Denis Johnson’s collection Jesus’ Son . . . Shidmehr’s is a necessary, feminist voice that is at once defiant and humbling.” — Quill & Quire, STARRED REVIEW
“Iran is a complicated country with thousands of years of history. In Divided Loyalties, with a deft hand, Nilofar Shidmehr takes us through the suffering of its people over the last four decades. An important book that sheds light on how a people can survive their darkest years.” — Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran
“Shidmehr narrates the lives of her characters with as much fluid intensity and grace as they are lived.” — Musharraf Ali Farooqi, author of Between Clay and Dust
“These complex and intimate stories of Iranian women are like nothing I’ve ever read before. Nilofar Shidmehr’s perspective is wise, unique, and compelling.” — Farzana Doctor, author of All Inclusive
“Divided Loyalties weaves rich and complex stories spanning decades of Iran’s contemporary history and provides an intimate glimpse of lives scattered across different worlds. The stories of the characters in these pages speak to the universal experience of love, loss, and longing.” — Payam Akhavan, author of In Search of a Better World
“A stunningly intimate portrait of the lives of Iranian women. Tenderly observed and hauntingly portrayed, Nilofar Shidmehr’s stories of love, loss, and exile shine with a rare grace.” — Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of Among the Ruins
“Nilofar Shidmehr is a master storyteller. Divided Loyalties shows girls and women at the intersection of place and time during pre- and post-revolutionary Iran. Each of these carefully examined lives is a fierce flame that will startle and burn in the memory long after you’ve finished this book.” — Maureen Medved, author of Black Star
“Each story in Divided Loyalties is like a new window into Iran’s complex post-revolutionary history, its hardships as well as its beauties, its griefs as well its unwavering will to survive. A touching, fascinating read.” — Sahar Delijani, author of Children of the Jacaranda Tree
“Nilofar Shidmehr’s collection of short stories is accurately titled. The divided loyalties that torment these Persian women, whether they are still living in Iran or have emigrated to Canada, is her painful subject matter, and Shidmehr examines every nuance of it in fiction that is fierce, meticulously observed, beautifully crafted, and authoritative. A stunning work.” — Keith Maillard, author of Gloria and Twin Studies
“Nilofar Shidmehr offers to readers deep stories of complex Iranian women characters. They are compassionate, strong, and determined. This is a beautifully written collection with poetic language.” — Monia Mazigh, author of Hope Has Two Daughters
“Shidmehr’s intimate tone adds a special poignancy to these stories of women harbouring secrets.” — Rabindranath Maharaj, author of The Amazing Absorbing Boy
“In bold and uncompromising prose, Shidmehr’s stories move between Iran and Canada, and compel us to reflect on complex issues of class, gender, and racial inequities.” — Nima Naghibi, author of Women Write Iran: Nostalgia and Human Rights from the Diaspora
PRAISE FOR NILOFAR SHIDMEHR AND SHIRIN AND SALT MAN (collected poems)
Finalist, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (BC Book Prizes)
PRAISE FOR NILOFAR SHIDMEHR AND BETWEEN LIVES (collected poems)
“These poems speak plainly of mothers, of daughters, of lovers, but always beneath each simple story is the pulse of an intelligent, sensuous desire. These poems are feminist, moist, fragrant! Each word bursts, ripe in the mouth, like pomegranate.” — Sonnet L’Abbé, author of Killarnoe and A Strange Relief
“Shidmehr’s direct voice and unflinching gaze put her among such great activist poets as Martín Espada, Dionne Brand, and Pablo Neruda. With a clear gaze and arresting imagery, Shidmehr brings to light the violence and injustice of women’s lives in Iran and in the diaspora. Fully wrought and deeply personal, this is a necessary book by an accomplished writer.” — Elizabeth Bachinsky, author of The Hottest Summer in Recorded History and I Don’t Feel So Good
“These poems are the untold stories of contemporary Persian women’s lives, lives portrayed with intimacy and lyricism, despite their subjugation. These are poetic meditations that only a poet simultaneously intimate with a place, and exiled from it, can offer.” — Rachel Rose, author of the award-winning collection Song & Spectacle