Monday, April 1, 2013

Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman by Farideh Goldin 2003

"Memoirs like ... 'Wedding Song' by Goldin teach us as much about the history of Iran as they do about the authors by addressing larger themes of war, coming of age, veiling, immigration and alienation." from a review by Erika Meitner in the Jewish Daily Forward 12/29/09

Ferideh Goldin immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1976 when she was 23 years old, eventually married an American, and gave birth to three daughters. She says in the Prologue that she has written this memoir for her daughters to explain to them what growing up in Iran had been like.

The daughter of a mother from Hamedan and a father from Shiraz, Ferideh Goldin tells the story of growing up in a family where age-old customs prevailed. The theme of her memoir is marriage and family, and although the story focusses mainly on the marriage of her parents, it moves backward several generations and forward to her own marriage as well as to thoughts about what the future holds for her daughters.

What the author emphasizes is that women in Iran were chattel, married off when they were quite young, at which point each settled near or in the home of her husband’s family. Daughters from poor families were a particular liability. Each was another mouth to feed and marrying them off lessened the burden in a typically large family.  When the author’s mother was given over to her father, she was passed off as being fifteen, the legal age when girls could be married in Iran. She was actually only thirteen. Her father was 23. Two years after their marriage in 1951, at the age of fifteen she gave birth to her first daughter, Farideh.

The marriage came about because of hardships on both sides. The mothers of both the bride and groom were widows with large families. The bridegroom, obligated to help support his mother and younger siblings, took a bride whose role it would be to help her mother-in-law keep the household running. Young, far from her mother in another city, the bride never fit in, was labeled a peasant and made to feel inferior. She was depressed and angry.

The author describes many heartbreaking scenes that reveal that her father’s loyalty was to his family, not to his wife. When the author wanted to go to high school and college, her father acceded to her insistence on an education, but throughout her years in school her family looked around for an appropriate husband for her. She held her ground, refusing all suitors, eventually leaving for America over her father’s objections.

This family drama is played out against the background of the growing turmoil in Iran with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. The rich detail the author provides about her Jewish family and their day-to-day customs reveals how much their lives were like their Muslim neighbors before Muslim extremism held sway. But when many Iranian Jews fled to the United States or Israel, her family chose to stay in Iran, finally fleeing when the Shah was overthrown. The author makes a point that throughout his life her father at increasingly great emotional cost maintained the cultural tradition of keeping the extended family together, and that his personal tragedy was that all this came to an end when members of his family scattered as they fled a hostile government in their homeland.

To read a review of a book about the history of Iranian Jews written as the catalogue to accompany an exhibit illustrating that history, click here.

In the last section of this memoir Ferideh Goldin explains that in writing this memoir she did not want to publicly criticize members of her family so she has changed names. I think it is reasonable to conclude that she uses the original names of the members of the earlier generations, especially those pictured with their names attached to the photos reproduced in this memoir. And from the page of acknowledgements it seems clear that she uses the real names of her immediate family. It is most likely that she has changed the names of members of her father’s family, many of whom the author portrays as being particularly uncharitable to her mother. In any case, she provides no last names except for women in very early photos on her mother’s side. I have included below only those names I am reasonably certain are the actual family names, but for the most part they are only first names.

Author’s mother’s family
Adina Sabba
    Dina Salem – daughter of Adina
        Touran – daughter of Dina
             Rouhi – daughter of Touran; married Esghel
                  Farideh – daughter of Rouhi and Esghel; married Norman Goldin; author
                      Lena, Yael, and Rachel Goldin- daughters of Farideh and Norman
                 Nahid Gerstein – daughter of Rouhi and Esghel
                 Freydoun – son of Rouhi and Esghel
                 Farzad – son of Rouhi and Esghel
                 Niloufar – daughter of Rouhi and Esghel
           Avi – son of Touran
           Shekoofeh – daughter of Touran
           Fereshteh – daughter of Touran
           Beejan – son of Touran
     Aziza – half sister of Rouhi
           Mohtaram – daughter of Aziza
                Parveez, Eshagh, Jamsheed, Maheen, and Farzaneh- children of Mohtaram

Hamineh Saed – mother-in-law of Dina Salem

Author’s father’s family
    Tauvous – daughter of Bibi
         Esghel – son of Tauvous; married Rouhi (see above)

Hamedan, Iran
Shiraz, Iran
Tehran, Iran
Virginia, United States

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