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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My Bird

Fariba Vafi

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To purchase My Bird

Title: My Bird
Author: Fariba Vafi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: Farsi
Availability: My Bird - US
My Bird - UK
My Bird - Canada
My Bird - India
Kellervogel - Deutschland
  • Farsi title: پرنده من
  • Translated by Mahnaz Kousha and Nasrin Jewell
  • With a Foreword by Farzaneh Milani

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine small novel of dissatisfied lives

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 23/11/2012 Sabine Berking

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hier wird sehr subtil und gegen alle Klischees vom archaischen Gottesstaat eine andere Geschichte erzählt, eine, die sicher nicht nur jene, die eine Diktatur von innen erdulden mussten, berührt." - Sabine Berking, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       My Bird is a short novel in which a thirty-five year-old woman living in contemporary Tehran describes her life and reflects on it. Told in very short chapters -- there are fifty-three of them -- she describes the point she has reached: the mother of two small children, the wife of Amir (who dreams only of escape to Canada), the daughter of a strong-willed woman whom she has never been able to adequately confront.
       The narrator feels constricted by life, her existence one of limits and little opportunity. But she is not restless in the way Amir is, and does not see an easy escape merely by being somewhere else. She has a sister who lives in the United States, and responds to one of her letters in which her sister described how: "Everybody thinks, talks, and lives as they wish" there:

My problem is that I can't even imagine such a world, let alone believe in it, a world without contradictions, without suffering and regret. But Amir believes in it, because the West, especially Canada, is his life's sole obsession.
       Amir is thinking of his family, too, and tells his wife:
You'll stay here and rot. There is no future here for you nor for the kids. Do you understand ?
       But he might as well be speaking a different language: what troubles her can not be mended by a mere change of venue. And so, for example, even in her small domestic world being elsewhere hardly changes a thing:
     I move away from the window. Where should I go ? Where shouldn't I go ? There is no good reason to wander. If I am not standing at the window, there are only two other places I could go -- either the living room or the kitchen.
       One reason why she knows that merely going elsewhere is not true escape is from the experiences with her father, as he succumbed to some form of senile dementia. Her mother kept him in the basement, and while he would wander off, or beg to go places, he had lost all sense of place and, ultimately, memory. He could not be helped, and the narrator is still burdened by her own sense of helplessness in the face of that -- and of her present.
       The narrator indifferently embraced motherhood, and is uncomfortable controlling others in the way her mother is (haunted, in part, by how her mother let her father come to his end). She keeps her feelings and thoughts bottled up -- "I was repeatedly admired by the women in the family for being reserved, for being secretive" -- but barely finds any release when she does finally let go, "sick and tired of my assigned role".
       The narrator's marriage is hardly an ideal one, either. She does not feel particularly deeply for Amir, and he is so fixated on escape that he neglects his family -- moving away to Baku for a time, for example, because of the opportunities there.
       The narrator does imagine love might be enough to transport her:
I think that with love as a visa you can go anywhere and live there. But I really don't have such a permit in my pocket. I am afraid of moving over there and getting lost with my pocket empty.
       Fear holds her back, constantly -- but events do nudge her towards self-realization, as in the end she is able to literally walk away, having begun to make peace with the past and look towards a future.
       My Bird is a fine novel of urban and domestic dissatisfaction, a well-turned (if very self-centered) account of modern anomie that is particularly appealing because its protagonist is an everyday woman, and not some bored intellectual.
       My Bird can stand entirely on its own, but in these times it is also impossible to overlook the fact that it is a novel written and published in Iran (where it also took several major literary prizes). The locale hardly matters, in terms of the story -- yet it's exactly this that makes it of particular value to readers abroad. The Iran described here is not one of mullahs and religious fanaticism, and almost everything that Western readers expect from stories set in Iran (such as Shahriar Mandanipour's recent Censoring an Iranian Love Story) is absent. The narrator simply goes about her life, and while, for example, there may be restrictions on how women must dress or act in public, these pass as entirely incidental. Her story is an everywoman-story, and shows how similar everyday life (and all its disappointments) are almost everywhere on earth.
       True, the narrator is very much caught up in herself and her own problems -- but this is another of the surprises in a novel that was a bestseller in Iran. This woman is no feminine ideal: she is a reluctant and not particularly enthusiastic mother, dedicated to her children out of a sense of obligation but not much more. She is critical of her marriage and her husband -- and while she does not share the dream of escape to a better life in the US (where her sister is) or Canada (where Amir wants to go), dissatisfaction with life in Iran is openly voiced, over and over. My Bird does offer hope, but is also a very dark novel, and the society described here far from idyllic.
       It is the picture of Iran -- the normalcy of everyday life (with all its tribulations) in it -- that makes My Bird an eye-opener (almost to the extent of becoming a distraction from the solid underlying narrative ...). Of considerable interest -- and certainly worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 September 2009

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My Bird: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Fariba Vafi (فریبا وفی) is a popular Iranian author.

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