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Jessica
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Questions for Dalia Sofer

Do you have a question for Dalia Sofer? Reply to this message to start the conversation!
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IBIS
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Thank you, Dalia Sofer, for joining us and sharing your thoughts.

I grew up in Burma during the Khmer Rouge period (inculcated with its attendant cultural and Buddhist sensibilities), and came to the US as a teenager.

I wondered, how did the cultural shift affect you as an adult and a writer? How does moving from a religious society to a more secular one affect you today?
IBIS

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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Another question I thought of: The events that happened in your girlhood obviously shaped you as an adult. Will your next creative work also revolve around Iran?

The reason I ask is that I just finished reading THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hoseini. Both wonderful books were born out of his memories as a boy in Afghanistan.

And I wondered if you felt the same way about Iran.
IBIS

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Fozzie
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer



IBIS wrote:
Another question I thought of: The events that happened in your girlhood obviously shaped you as an adult. Will your next creative work also revolve around Iran?

The reason I ask is that I just finished reading THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hoseini. Both wonderful books were born out of his memories as a boy in Afghanistan.

And I wondered if you felt the same way about Iran.



I, too, thought about A Thousand Splendid Suns while reading The Septembers of Shiraz. Both were very emotionally difficult books for me to read, but both were very compelling. Great question!
Laura

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DaliaSofer
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Hi. I'm excited to get our conversation started and thank you for your insightful questions.

Because I arrived here at a fairly young age (11 years) I think I was baffled by the sudden cultural change but was unable to really grasp what had happened. I felt a deep sense of alienation—and sadness—but believed these to be a result of some kind of shortcoming on my end. It was many years later that the enormity of everything I had experienced during those revolutionary years, and everything that I had lost as a result, really hit me.

I do think that the alienation and loss that I carried with me (and still do, though to a lesser extent) fueled my writing. To me, writing offers an escape, as well as an illusion of movement and control. The creation of an alternate world also provides a place where one can revisit or experience emotions that may be too intense or painful for one’s “real” world.

The shift from a religious society to a secular one didn’t affect me that much, primarily because my own family (Jewish) was not observant, and this didn’t change during the revolution. While we did obey the Islamic codes of dress, conduct, etc. these laws seemed to me, even then, random and oppressive, and even though I was a child, I never believed that they had originated from a sincere place.

While my emotional connection to Iran is deep and my early experiences there will never leave me, I don’t wish to continue writing about Iran (at least not in the immediate future). I am now working on another novel that takes place in an entirely different place and different time. I believe that one can transfer the same emotions to diverse stories and settings, and thus (hopefully) grow as a writer.

I do have a question for you as well: I thought the Khmer Rouge were exclusive to Cambodia. Were they in Burma as well?


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IBIS
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Hella Dalia, thank you for your wonderful response.

It was Cambodia in the early 70s. I hadn't meant to type Burma. Although many of my relatives escaped there.

Even though I'm in my 40s, have settled permanently in the US, I will always carry with me that curious sense of alienation and loss.

How wonderful that your gift of writing offers you an escape, as well an illusion of movement and control. And that it can help you create alternate worlds.

I'm looking forward to reading more of your works. I wish you great success with THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ.
IBIS

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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Thanks so much. I agree with you that the loss never quite goes away...


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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer - SPOILERS

SPOILERS

I noticed imagery about the lack of color, and then about color, used in the book.

When Isaac was in prison, there were only whites, grays, and blacks.

Shirin “thinks of the cities she has known and assigns a color to each,” comparing them to Tehran, which is “black and permeable.” (pg. 243).

Isaac notices and thinks about colors as he approaches his house once he is out of prison (pg. 253):
“blue paisley curtain”
“red bicycle of the Ghorganis’ little girl”
“cool blue breadspread”
“green pajama pants”

I assume this was intentional, but know that sometimes an author does things unconsciously. Could you comment on this, Dalia?
Laura

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somersmom
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

I don't have a question per se, as much as a comment. I just finished The Septembers of Shiraz and just wanted to let you know I tremendously enjoyed reading it. The characters will stay with me for a long time. My husband and I lived in the Kew Gardens section of Queens from 1983-91, and during that time, many Iranian Jews moved into our neighborhood -- several families moved into our building.

This book gives me great insight into what they must have experienced before they were able to get out of Iran.

Actually, I do have one question - before you left Iran with your parents, did you do anything similar to what Shirin did - finding files on Revolutionary Guard targets and hiding them in your yard? Or was this a fictional element?

I hope you write another novel soon!
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shernor
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

I wanted to tell you how very much I enjoyed your book. My husband is from Iran and came to the US for college many years ago. He was able to get his parents to leave just a few weeks before the Shah left, and in questioning him during the reading of your book I found that his father would probably have faced arrest if he had remained in the country. They did lose their home and all of the their belongings that they could not carry with them. Your book hit close to home for us, and I feel grateful that they were able to leave the country when they did, realizing from reading your book how very close they came to having many of the same experiences you describe so realistically. I loved your description of little cultural things like drinking tea through the sugar cubes, the mother peeling a citrus fruit in the car (I visualize my siter-in-law!), the use of -jan and -khanoum...

As someone mentioned earlier, I would be very interested to hear how much of this is truly autobiographical in nature; did you escape in the same manner, did you have a brother in the states during this time....

Thank you so much for your insightful writing!
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer - SPOILERS


Fozzie wrote:
SPOILERS

I noticed imagery about the lack of color, and then about color, used in the book.

When Isaac was in prison, there were only whites, grays, and blacks.

Shirin “thinks of the cities she has known and assigns a color to each,” comparing them to Tehran, which is “black and permeable.” (pg. 243).

Isaac notices and thinks about colors as he approaches his house once he is out of prison (pg. 253):
“blue paisley curtain”
“red bicycle of the Ghorganis’ little girl”
“cool blue breadspread”
“green pajama pants”

I assume this was intentional, but know that sometimes an author does things unconsciously. Could you comment on this, Dalia?



Great observations, thanks. I think this was partly intentional, but not entirely. The bit about Isaac in prison seeing his world in black and white and remembering color as something fantastic came to me on a very cold and grey New York morning. I had spent many consecutive days in Isaac's head and was seeing the world through his eyes. As I walked through the streets (where black snow and slush had accumulated over a long winter) it occurred to me that I was craving not just warmth but also color, and I immediately thought of Isaac, and how color could very well be one of the many things he craves in prison.

In the case of Shirin, who is 9 years old, color expresses emotions. Because she is still unable to decipher her feelings, she feels through colors.

Colors can express so much, I think. for me, the cool blue bedspread evokes a certain peaceful feeling but may also suggest the cooling marital rapport between Isaac and Farnaz. The red bicycle of the absent little girl can suggest a certain innocence, but can also be interpreted as a sign of sacrifice. Colors can also dazzle, as do the gems (for example the rubby necklace that Isaac made for the empress, the lapis lazuli on Farnaz's finger, etc.) And the most amazing gem, the diamond, is qualified as "exceptional white" though it's actually colorless and thus perfect. (The notion of being colorless may also suggest a kind of elevated spiritual state.)

Now, I have to admit that I was not thinking of all this as I was writing! It's the subconscious, doing its job...


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IBIS
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer - SPOILERS

[ Edited ]


DaliaSofer wrote:
And the most amazing gem, the diamond, is qualified as "exceptional white" though it's actually colorless and thus perfect. (The notion of being colorless may also suggest a kind of elevated spiritual state.)


In physics, the color WHITE is the combination of ALL colors, when viewed through a prism.
Unlike opaque colors (like paints), the combination of all opaque colors is black.

The white diamond, observed in the language of light, contains ALL the colors of the spectrum. It therefore not colorless at all.

Edited by Admin. for formatting only.

Message Edited by Jessica on 10-25-2007 03:55 PM
IBIS

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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer


somersmom wrote:
I don't have a question per se, as much as a comment. I just finished The Septembers of Shiraz and just wanted to let you know I tremendously enjoyed reading it. The characters will stay with me for a long time. My husband and I lived in the Kew Gardens section of Queens from 1983-91, and during that time, many Iranian Jews moved into our neighborhood -- several families moved into our building.

This book gives me great insight into what they must have experienced before they were able to get out of Iran.

Actually, I do have one question - before you left Iran with your parents, did you do anything similar to what Shirin did - finding files on Revolutionary Guard targets and hiding them in your yard? Or was this a fictional element?

I hope you write another novel soon!




I'm so glad that the book resonated with you. It's rewarding for me to hear that.

Regarding your question: I did not steal any files! That was completely fictional--as is much of this novel.

I am working on another novel. I'm hoping it won't take me as long as this one did (seven years from beginning to publication!) We'll see...


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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer


shernor wrote:
I wanted to tell you how very much I enjoyed your book. My husband is from Iran and came to the US for college many years ago. He was able to get his parents to leave just a few weeks before the Shah left, and in questioning him during the reading of your book I found that his father would probably have faced arrest if he had remained in the country. They did lose their home and all of the their belongings that they could not carry with them. Your book hit close to home for us, and I feel grateful that they were able to leave the country when they did, realizing from reading your book how very close they came to having many of the same experiences you describe so realistically. I loved your description of little cultural things like drinking tea through the sugar cubes, the mother peeling a citrus fruit in the car (I visualize my siter-in-law!), the use of -jan and -khanoum...

As someone mentioned earlier, I would be very interested to hear how much of this is truly autobiographical in nature; did you escape in the same manner, did you have a brother in the states during this time....

Thank you so much for your insightful writing!




Thanks for your kind words about the book. Sounds like your husband left at the right time. (The question of leaving is such a difficult one, I think.)

The novel is very loosely based on my own experiences. I did live through the revolution of 1979 in Iran and my father was wrongly imprisonned for being a Zionist spy. But these were starting points for the novel. The characters here are fictional, as are their experiences. What happens to Isaac in prison is very different from what happened to my father. The other stories are for the most part imagined as well.

I would say that the heart of the novel is autobiographical. The chaos depicted in the book (for example, the news of explosions and executions or the ambiance of finger-pointing and distrust) stems from my memory. In addition, the Revolutionary Guards did search our house, and we did ultimately escape through Turkey. Some of the more pleasant scenes are also inspired from my own recollections: lunches or afternoon tea taken on the terrace, the smell of jasmine in the air, the summer's first cherries picked from the garden. But from these memories the book grew and expanded, and as the characters developed, they, along with their stories, became increasingly fictional.


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Sherril
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

I am very excited to become a part of this discussion. I was in Israel from Oct. 5 through 15 and read three books while there. The first was your book, The Septembers of Shiraz and the second was Khaled Hosseini's, A Thousand Splendid Suns. There was a common thread. (The third was Phillip Roth's, Everyman, which was very good, but not at all related). I am in a book club, which coincidentally is meeting tonight, and your book was this month's selection. We'd read Hosseini's The Kite Runner and I went ahead and read his second novel on my own.

I loved The Septembers of Shiraz, not only the story and beautiful writing, but I loved the look and feel of the book itself. It was relatively small for a hard cover and the paper was thicker than usual and the edges reminded me of a personal journal. It even smelled good. If I could have eaten a page and listened to some Persian music as I read, then all of my senses would have been filled.

My husband is Israeli, originally from Morocco. I am Ashkenazi, but our family is steeped in the Sephardic tradition. I found it interesting that though the Amin family was far from being religious Jews, they were in fact quite secular and very much assimilated into the Iranian society, much like most American Jews today in the United States, still, in chapter twenty, when Isaac is sitting in his drab, dank cell, staring at his hands and feet, he wonders to himself that should he die there in that prison, what will become of his body? He worries that it may well be thrown into a mass grave, rather than be cared for according to the rites of the Jewish tradition. And what resonated most for me was that he wondered, will anyone say Kaddish for him? As a secular, yet "cultural" Jew, I think I understand this. But I would like to hear from you what you were thinking when you wrote it.

I will bring my message to the attention of my book club tonight and when you respond, I will share your response with them by email or better yet, perhaps they will join in on this discussion. We are a small group of five.

I look forward to your next novel.

Sherril
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IBIS
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

I agree that THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is an exceptional book, on many levels.

The beautiful writing goes without saying. I became thoroughly engaged with the characters and their dilemmas.

Presentation-wise, the book is exceptionally beautiful. The cover design was elegant. I loved the photograph of the silver teapot against the rich blue doors. It immediately telegraphed to me emotions of exotic sophistication. The book's size was smaller than the average-sized hard cover. Unusual in itself, but also more comfortable to snuggle with while reading in bed.

The paper--ah! the thick paper!--with its deckled edges. I enjoyed touching it and turning the pages. I found myself stroking the paper's edging as I read. It felt printed on superior quality, high-cotton content portfolios that we mere mortals only come across in limited edition works of art!

I want to thank you, Dalia, for spending time with us, and sharing your perceptive thoughts and comments about your book. I look forward to reading your next novel.
IBIS

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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer


Sherril wrote:
I found it interesting that though the Amin family was far from being religious Jews, they were in fact quite secular and very much assimilated into the Iranian society, much like most American Jews today in the United States, still, in chapter twenty, when Isaac is sitting in his drab, dank cell, staring at his hands and feet, he wonders to himself that should he die there in that prison, what will become of his body? He worries that it may well be thrown into a mass grave, rather than be cared for according to the rites of the Jewish tradition. And what resonated most for me was that he wondered, will anyone say Kaddish for him? As a secular, yet "cultural" Jew, I think I understand this. But I would like to hear from you what you were thinking when you wrote it.

Sherril



I think faith can be religious, but it can also be something less tangible--faith in goodness, in the future. Prior to his imprisonment, Isaac held this latter kind of faith. Later, in prison, his faith in goodness is shaken and he tries to replace it with religious faith, because to be left with nothing at all--with a complete void--is terrifying.

The idea of being thrown into a mass grave is also terrifying--as it accentuates the futility and arbitrariness of existence. Isaac therefore finds comfort in the prospect of his family mourning him, of someone remembering him and saying kaddish for him. Imagining that he will be mourned helps assuage his terror, because it indicates that his existence actually mattered.


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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer - SPOILERS


IBIS wrote:


DaliaSofer wrote:
And the most amazing gem, the diamond, is qualified as "exceptional white" though it's actually colorless and thus perfect. (The notion of being colorless may also suggest a kind of elevated spiritual state.)


In physics, the color WHITE is the combination of ALL colors, when viewed through a prism.
Unlike opaque colors (like paints), the combination of all opaque colors is black.

The white diamond, observed in the language of light, contains ALL the colors of the spectrum. It therefore not colorless at all.

Edited by Admin. for formatting only.

Message Edited by Jessica on 10-25-2007 03:55 PM




Yes, you are right about the color white (that it's the combination of all colors), but this diamond is not white (though it's referred to as exceptional white). It's actually colorless. While I'm not a physicist, my understanding is that like clear glass, a colorless diamond allows more light to pass through it than a colored diamond. Very few diamonds are truly colorless. Most diamonds have some yellow tint, caused by the presence of a small amount of contaminating nitrogen.


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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Hi Dalia. At the time of revolution I was 15. Reading The Septembers of Shiraz was like living through the bitter past one more time. I am a Persian poet and writer who never published her poems or short stories. Though, engineering is my primary job. I feel an urge to translate your book to Farsi. If you give me the permission to do so, please contact me. I have no idea if there is any official agreements or terms that I need to sign. If it is convenient for you, please contact me at my email. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Nazanin Ganji
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WildCityWoman
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Re: Questions for Dalia Sofer

Dalia, I don't have any questions, but I did want to say I enjoyed the book immensely. It was recommended to me by a member of 'Book Buzz' which is the online book discussion group for Toronto Public Library's system.
 
I was told that my liking stories from the middle-east, I would like your book, so I went for it.
 
At the same time, someone recommended 'Daughter of Persia', a non-fiction, but that too has proven to be a good book for me. My husband and I are 3/4 the way through it, and like your book, Shiraz, I'm going to be sorry when I turn the last page.
 
Some books just do that to ya'.
 
Books, books, books . . . well, you know what they say - so little time.
 
Carly Svamvour, Toronto, Ontario
 
P. S.
 
You'll notice I've listed Septembers of Shiraz on my discussion board at Wild City Writers' Workshop (my own site). I'm hoping to get some feedback on that posting.
 
Feel free to step in and say a few words, if you like. Can't hurt to promote your book, even though I'll bet it's doing well without my help - ha ha!
 
Here's the direct link to the thread. I'll link back to your discussion with the readers here.
 
 
 
 
Carly

http://wildcity.proboards14.com/index.cgi?board=Books
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