Books to read about the oppression of women in Iran

Photos: Reuters/Murad Sezer; Design: Sarah Anjum Bari


Photos: Reuters/Murad Sezer; Design: Sarah Anjum Bari

With the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed by Iran’s notorious vice squad on September 16 for wearing the hijab “improperly”, protests against the totalitarian and dogmatic Islamic regime are raging in all parts of Iran. Among the protesters are not only women who burn their obligatory headscarves and cut their hair in public, but also men who join them on the streets.

In order to understand the country’s socio-political context and current situation – a situation that has produced such courageous dissidents – it is important to read books and stories that reveal the experiences of individuals chained by Iran’s despots.

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The following books vividly capture such experiences.


Marjane Satrapi, trans. Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris
(Pantheon, 2000)

Marjane Satrapi’s series of graphic memoirs follows her life from early childhood to adulthood after the Iranian Revolution. Due to her family’s leftist teachings, Satrapi finds herself in the midst of tremendous change and injustice as she struggles against the restrictions the new regime is putting on her public life. With monochrome comic strips, she reveals the amazing contrast between the public and private lives of Iranian citizens.

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By recounting her own experiences and telling the stories of her family during the fall of the Shah’s regime, the founding of the Islamic Republic and the horrors of the Iraq-Iran War, she paints a powerful picture that stands the test of time and helps the reader to determine the context of the recent protests.


Azar Nafisi
(Random House, 2003)

Azar Nafisi’s eloquent memoir covers a snippet of her life from her return to Iran during the Iranian Revolution to her emigration from the country in 1997. The memoir focuses on the lives of eight female students who secretly gathered at her home every Thursday to read banned works of Western literature, incl lolita, The Great Gatsby, pride and prejudice, and Henry James tells how the hopes and dreams of many Iranians, especially women, are being shattered by the strict rules of the new regime. Nafisi illuminates women’s struggles in her memoirs and shares personal anecdotes about how literature can bring solace to those living under totalitarianism.

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Shokoofeh Azar, trans. Anonymous
(Europe Editions, 2017)

Originally published in Persian, Shokoofeh Azar’s 2020 International Booker Prize-nominated novel is set in the decade after the Iranian revolution. The story is told by the ghost of a 13-year-old girl named Bahar, who died in a fire after her family’s home – a secular and intellectual center – in Tehran was attacked by zealots. Bahar’s spirit is ever-present for much of her family’s turbulent life as she struggles to adjust to her new settlement in the abandoned village of Razan.

However, this serenity is soon disturbed when the family’s only son, Suhrab, is arrested and executed on shaky grounds. Azar uses vivid detail in the narrative of Sohab’s subplot, revealing the brutality of the Islamic regime while incorporating elements such as magical realism to introduce readers to aspects of traditional Iranian folk tales such as the jinn.


Jan Goodwin
(Feather, 1994)

Written by award-winning journalist Jan Goodwin, speedwell examines the lives of Muslim women living in the Islamic world as told by themselves. The author travels through the Middle East and North Africa exploring the customs and traditions of the Islamic world and trying to understand how they affect the way women are treated.

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The resulting material is a compelling account of how fundamentalism has impacted the lives and aspirations of women from all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum. With a special focus on Iran in the book’s fifth chapter, the personal anecdotes make her writing far more believable as women across Iran express their harshness against the current regime.


Schirin Ebadi
(Random House, 2006)

Iran Awakening by author and lawyer Shirin Ebadi – 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – covers her life in an unconventional family in pre-revolutionary Iran as she navigates her marriage, her struggles as a lawyer and her experiences raising daughters under the oppressive regime.

The book captures her story in dramatic fashion: she was the country’s first female judge, but was demoted to court clerk in the courtroom when religious authorities banned women from serving as judges. She resisted the oppressive system. Her memoir is a moving story of how the Islamic regime cracked down on women’s rights in post-revolutionary Iran.

Hrishik Roy is an intern at Daily Star Books. Contact him at [email protected]

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