Things I've Been Silent About: Memories

The Reading Lolita in Tehran author returns with a brave, even transgressive memoir

Book Review

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories

by Azar Nafisi
Random House, 368 pp., $27

Personal memoirs are curious animals. There's a certain amount of vanity that drives their creations, but the best of them provide some insight, not only into the writer but into the larger, shared human experience: the aspects of love, the scope of faith, the raw fervor of childhood, death, betrayal, and awakenings of all kinds.

Not only has Azar Nafisi written a memoir – the intriguing title borrowed from her diary – this is her second. Her first, 2003's Reading Lolita in Tehran, was an international bestseller and made her famous. That one mingled her story with those of her students in a study group that met to read and discuss banned books, including Nabokov's Lolita. But that memoir was much less personal than Things I've Been Silent About. Her new memoir is more intimately autobiographical, tracing her childhood in Iran to adulthood, her conflicted relationship with her mother, her deep devotion to her father (who instilled in her a love for literature), her eventual move to the States, multiple marriages, and motherhood – all set against the backdrop of her native Iran, pre- and post-revolution.

What one looks for in a memoir varies from reader to reader. Some may hunger for the deeply confessional, while others seek understanding of a world totally foreign to their own. Nafisi manages to satisfy both of these needs with extraordinary precision and clarity. In lesser hands, her work would be maudlin, sensational, or witheringly dry. The confessional aspects of her life – as in a passage where she describes sexual abuse by a family friend – are stunning but not luridly recounted, while her introduction to and ongoing tutorials on classic Persian literature by her beloved father are delightfully (though sparely) detailed. But Nafisi is not writing a history of Persian literature. She is, as the title suggests, speaking out. A woman – and more specifically, an Iranian woman – revealing intimate family details is not only transgressive; it's brave and ultimately necessary. For this, Nafisi takes her place among a long line of women memoirists who, by breaking longstanding compliance with communal censorship, have opened a world of possibilities for other women, the marginalized, and the previously silenced.

As part of the Harry Ransom Center Lecture series, Azar Nafisi will discuss her new book at the AT&T Conference Center Amphitheatre (1900 University Ave.) on March 12 at 7pm. Free and open to the public. For more info, visit

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Belinda Acosta
Margaret Moser Tribute: Marcia Ball
Marcia Ball
“She’s a music writer who writes to enlighten”

June 30, 2017

Margaret Moser Tribute: Eliza Gilkyson
Eliza Gilkyson
The best advice she ever received? Keep your dogs clean.

June 30, 2017


Azar Nafisi

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle