Celebrating 125 Years of Publishing
Celebrating 125 Years of Publishing
We had been expecting the book to come out for quite some time. Such an obvious subject, just waiting to be exploited. Such a plum of a theme. We knew it would boost our confidence, and our confidence certainly needed boosting, after everything we had been through. It was a personal story, of course, but we believed it captured the zeitgeist of the age. There are millions of us, after all, covering the entire gamut of humankind: men and women, young and old, radicals and conservatives, pro-this, anti-that, and everything in between. And we are literally everywhere too, scattered over the planet, in Europe and in Australia, in Canada and the US. Why, we have even taken up residence in China, Latin America, and certain parts of Africa, as well as the United Arab Emirates, although some of these countries hardly count, of course, when it comes to the publishing industry. Interesting, that: how small the world is when it comes to the publishing industry. But wherever it did come out, and in whatever language, we were sure the book would have a wide readership.
Our story would become a best seller, a blockbuster; it would take the world by storm. It would move from long to short lists, from talk shows to lecture tours, and the author, whoever he or she was, would become a household name however difficult it might be to pronounce. We did speculate about that for a while; we did worry a bit about the author, we have to admit. It was bound to be a woman, we concluded, whether she wrote well or not; Iranian women do tend to receive all the media attention these days. And that did rather bother us, to be honest; that did rather goad our pride. There has been an unreasonable amount of attention given to female artists, scientists, actors, astronauts, lawyers, and suicides over the last several decades. But you can’t have it all your own way after a revolution, can you? Besides, female or not, the author would have to deploy the first-person plural in such a book, and that would draw a veil over the matter. The first-person plural is mandatory in such situations. We use this point of view in Persian to show our modesty, to demonstrate our humility. At times, it has to be admitted, we also use it to evade responsibility. But that is another issue. The point is that the effacement of self is as vital to Persian syntax as it is to our identity. Our speech patterns will be recognized immediately as Iranian by the erasure of personality. And doesn’t recognition matter more than gender in the last analysis? It was time we received that, no question. We had been waiting for some kind of recognition, some kind of serious attention—other than what we regularly received whenever we passed through immigration—for a long time.
The main question was: what form would the book take? Fiction? Factual analysis? Some of us hoped for cutting-edge commentary, a sociopolitical survey about The Original Aryan: Then and Now. Others thought a literary masterpiece would be more chic, a dazzling debut novel called The Exiles of Malibu or something, a story that captured the long damp winter of our deracination. Most of us just wanted a simple heartfelt tale with a name like Scheherazade in the Suburbs, perhaps, a sob story about impossible love or family dysfunction, stirring immediate empathy in the first ten pages and providing a comforting, sentimental end. We would even have been satisfied with a self-help manual, ten easy-to-read chapters and a difficult subtitle like Generational Repercussions of Post-Diasporadic Syndrome. Anything really, so long as it was about us, the final word about us.
We were excited about it. We anticipated its appearance from day to day. But nothing happened. We waited, for weeks, then months. But still nothing. Elections were rigged, reformists placed under house arrest, youth scraped off the pavements and denied education, university curricula erased from hard drives and forced underground, and no book appeared. Nothing. We scoured the reviews; we rummaged the archives. But our story had not been written. Not even historically, let alone currently. Not even briefly, in The Economist. Not even in French. We, the Iranians in the first-personal plural, were simply not in print.
It was devastating. There was plenty of evidence of first-person singular Iranians on the bookshop shelves, but we were not the focus of attention. Subjective stories abounded in the chain stores, but these were not about us, the real “we.” They were about individuals we could barely identify with, a country that no longer existed, a past of aesthetic sensibility belonging to the academic few, or a place for the very rich, the very religious, the very feminist, or the anti-feminist, the anti-religious, the anti-rich, even. There were biographies of those associated with the Peacock Throne. Or conspiracy theories about the fall of Mossadegh. Or the true confessions of those who still remembered Hitler and our oil in WWII. Or the fictional memoirs of pivotal figures of the Constitutional Revolution. But none of these stories was actually about the hydra-headed, contradictory, paradoxical us, the multiple, first-person plural us in Toronto and Sydney, in Bogotá and Beijing, speaking Persian all over the world.
We began to doubt ourselves. Were we a figment of our own imaginations? Was our multiplicity a false construct and mere illusion? Had we been deceiving ourselves, misplacing our expectations? But surely not! There was concrete evidence that our story was universal, the impact of our exile international. Had we not had a visible influence on the property market worldwide, especially in London and Toronto, especially in relation to renovating bathrooms and improving the plumbing in showers? Perhaps we were just not sexy enough to sell ourselves, not sensational enough to capture media attention. But the very idea was preposterous! Weren’t our women some of the most beautiful in the world, our politicians the most quotable? As for commercial clout, our entrepreneurship was renowned, our skill in the bazaar second to none; our carpets and kebabs have become cultural icons everywhere we go. And we have more PhDs per capita now, in the fields of medicine, law, and engineering, than any other immigrant community, except perhaps the Chinese; more nuclear scientists and computer experts among our sons than is probably good for us or for them; more daughters playing football and handball, becoming bus drivers and documentary filmmakers. We have invented our own unique brand by achieving every stereotype in the book! How could we lose confidence in our story?
We realized that if we did not take the matter in hand our very existence would be at risk. We would lose trust in ourselves and not just in our story. There was only one alternative, we concluded, only one choice left, in the circumstances. We had tried all the other options: we had depended on others, waited for others, expected others to take on the responsibility for the book to come out. We had accused everyone—monarchs and mullahs, foreigners and heretics, even women writers—for its failure to appear, and there was no one left to blame. So we could not waste another moment: one sole solution remained.
If we wanted the world to know about us, we had to do something about it ourselves. We had to reassemble our scattered lives, re-member our limbs and organs, reunite our separate identities, and author our own stories.
It would be a grand reunion!