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.
From the story “Divided Loyalties”
We arrive at the Jahmeh Vanak Mosque for the afternoon memorial service forty-five minutes before it starts. To greet those who arrive, I stand with Mom at the women’s entrance, and Milaad stands with my uncle from Dad’s side at the men’s entrance. Then when the mullah comes and bows his turbaned head to us, we move inside. The women-only hall is large and the walls are decorated by black banners with inscriptions from the Koran and religious texts in white and green. There is a table in front with a few bouquets of white flowers Milaad has ordered. A photo of Dad taken by me at the Deep Cove, enlarged and in black and white, sits beside them.
Dad’s family sit together on the right side of the room and Mom’s family on the left. I sit beside Mom during the mullah’s speech at the men section, which is broadcast via the four loud speakers at the corners of the room. As the man rambles about what a nice, kind, and generous husband and father Dad was to Mom and us, women weep under their chadors or scarves pulled forward to cover their brow and eyes.
Once the mullah finishes his sermon, he starts reading the names of those my father has left behind. He says that Mom has been a faithful wife who remained at Dad’s side until his last breath. I fear somebody will say this is a lie but nobody does.
As he speaks about how much Mom and Dad cared about each other, I remember that particular story he told me in Paris and glance at Aunt Raazi from the corner of my eye. The only visible things about her are her hands which she constantly rubs against each other. Is it because, like me, she is recalling the same terrible story? Beside Milaad and me, Raazi is the only one who knows about what happened on the night, only eight months ago, when Dad and Mom came back from their pilgrimage to Dad’s birthplace in the holy city of Mashhad.
Dad told Raazi the story to convince her to search for a new wife for him. “This is the first time in my life my sister rejected me,” Dad complained, “Like you and everybody else, she is scared of your Mom and her penchant for making a scene. She told me I’d better not to involve anyone else and find a woman by myself.” By making a scene, Dad was referring to that night. They took a taxi from the terminal and Mom insisted that the cabbie should first drop Dad at his place while Dad wanted him to drive Mom home first. Mom wouldn’t give her address to the driver. This is when Dad got more aggressive, telling the man that Mom had a lover and was guilty of adultery. He called her a whore in front of the pedestrians when the driver pulled over to let Mom get off midway to Dad’s place. I heard the story from both Mom and Dad. Neither of them answered my question why the hell they travel together while they are separated. As usual, they could neither live together nor apart.
The Mullah ends his speech about Mom and moves on to talk about me. He says that I am an architect living in Canada but as a good daughter I have put my job and life on hold and come back to be present here today. I drop my head but still can feel everybody’s eyes on me. I wonder if they can tell I faked crying.