I borrowed The Good Daughter from a friend and with her recommendation, and I was not disappointed. Given everything going on in my life right now, it took a little longer than usual for me to get through it, but that’s a reflection of my availability and has nothing to do with the book’s ability to engage.
What struck me most about the book was not the plot line (daughter finds out her mother had a secret life in Iran that involved a marriage and daughter that the narrator never knew existed) although it was interesting to reflect on the mysteries of our parents’ lives before we were in the picture and what we do/do not know about them.
Instead, I was really interested in the role of the father (narrator’s grandfather) who helped his daughter (narrator’s mother) out of a horrible situation and into a way of life that ultimately set the stage for everything to come, including the marriage that led to the narrator’s existence.
The narrator’s mother’s first marriage occurred when she was 14 and was arranged, but the marriage fell apart as the husband became violent and abusive. Without any other means of protecting herself and her newborn daughter, the narrator’s mother left her husband to move back in with her family and seek a divorce. This sort of arrangement required her father to step in and pressure her husband to agree to the divorce, which he agreed to do. Although she lost her newborn– the eventual ‘good daughter’ in the process, as Iranian law required the father to acquire the children in the divorce– the narrator’s mother was encouraged by her father to return to school and eventually move to Germany to study to become a midwife.
Her father’s reasoning stemmed from the fact that his daughter would have no other means to care for herself outside his household; a divorced woman would not be able to remarry, and she would need some way to support herself. Although nothing about the situation was ideal, especially in terms of his reputation, he put many things on the line in order to get her back into school and on an educational path that would allow her to be successful later in life. While plans did not unfold exactly as he had planned, his support– in removing her from the broken relationship and supporting her re-introduction to the educational system and financially assisting these various activities– ultimately led to her meeting her second husband and having her second daughter, who wrote the novel.
I will be the first to admit I know little about Iran’s culture, but the more I read, the more I was drawn to the book’s depiction of the many changes that took place in regard to women’s rights as it described the family and the narrator’s mother’s childhood, especially throughout the 1960s-1970s. The then presiding Reza Shah required women give up their Hejab and put an emphasis on westernizing the country’s culture, all of which affected the families in the book as well as the women’s roles in the household. The fact that the government supported western ideals was clearly significant in terms of the narrator’s mother being able to divorce, continue her education, travel internationally and receive financial, personal, etc. support from her family, especially the males in her family, to do so. However, it was clear that despite the many freedom’s associated with the attempts at westernizing the culture, not everyone, and certainly not all women were in favor of the changes.
This book has certainly inspired me to read more about Iran, especially in the years leading up to the 1960s-1970s and Iran today. Even more so as I won’t be able to travel and experience the country for myself anytime in the near future.