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The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life

Memoir by Jasmin Darznik

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The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life

By Jasmin Darznik

Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover

Familial relationships are wrought with complicated emotions and sticky with blood that’s thicker than water—even more so between mother and daughter. Who else gives so much of themselves to each other? Born in Iran and raised in America, lawyer-turned-author Jasmin Darznik unravels the elaborately spun tale of her mother Lili in The Good Daughter and, in turn, weaves together a rich history of a middle-class woman growing up in the turbulent Iran of the mid-1990s.

The story begins on Avenue Moniriyeh in Tehran, Iran, with the birth of Lili’s mother Kobra in 1921; she was the ninth child of Pargol and her rug merchant husband. The only daughter to be educated with a skill and trade, Kobra learned to sew beautiful women’s clothing so well that she was teaching it early in her teens. Her career is cut short when she is gambled away by her brother Ali-Ahmad, who lost her in debt to Sohrab, who becomes her husband.

Once married, a young wife went to her husband’s house to live among the women of his family, which was both a blessing and a curse. To raise children, cook, clean, and keep the household running with generations of women eased the loneliness of very sparse unions, but mothers and sisters closed their eyes and ears to physical and mental abuse. Sohrab was a mean man who cast Kobra out of the house many times, leaving their children Lili and Nader to be raised in part by his mother Khanoom, but he was also a father who wanted his only daughter educated at a time when few girls were.

Darznik’s family history unfolds not just from the women’s perspectives of growing up and surviving in a male-dominated world, but also the abundant and poor years illustrating the changes in Iran’s economy and politics. She includes detailed passages of cooking orange peel rice and lamb stew, tea rituals, and trips to the bathhouse along with city-wide curfews, changing veil politics, and divorce law. But The Good Daughter is Lili’s story, and it’s a rich one: She has a husband and child before going away to medical school in Germany, where she meets her second husband and the father of the author.

The only wrong turn Darznik takes is when she reaches the age of independence near the end of the book. As a child in California she notices how different she is from the sunny blond girls at the same time her mother seeks acceptance in the Iranian community in order to surround them with similar histories, but then the story speeds through Darznik’s high school and college days in mere pages before arriving at her father’s death, the impetus for her mother’s oral history that spawned this memoir. She would have done better to save her own story for another time, another book. Daughters, sigh.

Jasmin Darznik takes part in a panel discussion at the International Women’s History Month Literary Festival 1 p.m. March 19 at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Wheeler Auditorium.

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