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Persian-Canadian Writers You've Got to Read

As I began writing what would become Fuse (a memoir of mental health and mixed-race identity) I became desperate to find Iranian Canadian voices to help ground and situate my own—a task that proved somewhat more difficult than I thought it would be.

Or should be.

After all, hundreds of thousands of Iranian people call Canada home, and Iran is the birthplace of Rumi, one of the most celebrated poets of all time. The Iranian people have created a fine, strong tradition of poetry, story-telling and literature. My father, much like the endearingly zealous father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, never let me forget this: Persian poetry is the most beautiful. The stories, the most compelling.

So, where were all the Persian Canadian writers? It turns out, here all along, but not as represented as one might hope; as they deserve to be.

This reading list is part of my attempt to bring more of the work of Persian-Canadian writers to light; to give people a taste of the organoleptic artistry that I feel is at the singular heart of so much of the Iranian writing.

Lezzat bebarid! Enjoy!

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Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang, by Ava Farmehri

Ava Farmehri's Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang is the staggering story of Sheyda Porrouya—a woman awaiting execution in Iran after being accused of killing her mother. Through her increasingly unreliable narrative, we readers are taken on an iridescent, erratic, shattering journey of freedom, imagination, love, and incarceration. 

Since its publication in 2017, Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang has been translated into German and optioned for a movie.

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Me, You, Then Snow, by Khashayar Mohammadi

Khashayar Mohammadi’s full-length debut collection, Me, You, Then Snow showcases his mastery of style. Using cadence, wordplay, and an ability to cut to the quick of sentiment with a deft understanding of language and emotion.

Me, You, Then Snow is a dazzling exploration of the lonely, enchanting spaces between the tangible and intangible; the known and unknown.

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Book Cover Songs of Exile

Songs of Exile, by Banoo Zan

Songs of Exile is a collection of soul-expanding poems that explore the tenuous nature of longing and belonging. Zan defty explores the paradoxical heartache of longing for the Iran she was relieved to leave.

Her collection astounds, offering a perfect microdosing of politics grounded in metaphysical poetry and sparse, but unforgettably loaded language.

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Book Cover Intruder

Intruder, by Bardia Sinaee

The words of Bardia Sinaee don't as much spring to life in this collection as they do slide into perspective—and oftentimes, it’s a perspective we tend to relegate to the periphery.

Sinaee's equally frank and euphonious poetry explores physical, mental, and cultural illness and encourages us to consider what we can discover when we look at our lives not head-on, but slant.

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Divided Loyalities, by Nilofar Shidmehr

The stories in this remarkable debut collection by Nilofar Shidmerhr bring to mind the commonly touted fact that reading fiction creates empathy. Each story in Dividing Loyalties dives into the life of an Iranian woman, some, living in Iran, some, abroad, but all of them facing ruthless realities of oppression and alienation.

Equal measures of brutal intensity and nuanced psychological sensitivity bring Shidmehr's characters to life, making the stories difficult to read, and for that reason also more important to absorb.

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Book Cover For Love and Autonomy

Love and Automony, by Anahita Jamali Rad

Language as fierce, uncompromising resistance: this is a favourite aspect of Anahita Jamali Rad's collection of poems, Love and Autonomy. Jamali Rad inspects and rejects notions of belonging, social identification, marginalization, and the systems that make and break us.

Profound and powerful, these are poems that will linger in your head, long after you finish reading them.

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Breaking the Ocean, by Annahid Dashtgard

Like me, Dashtgard is a half-Iranian and half-white woman living in Canada. Her memoir, Breathtaking the Ocean, is a powerful recounting of her life, her conscious creation, and defense of her own identity and her emergence as an activist.

What she says hits so close to home and how she tells her story—with clarity, compassion, and confidence—is mesmerizing.

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Learn more about Fuse, by Hollay Ghadery:

Told in a series of lyric meditations on mixed-race identity and mental illness, half-Iranian, half-white writer Hollay Ghadery explores the fractured biracial experience. Poetic and at times, deeply unsettling, Fuse dissects damaging notions of identity, race, beauty, as well as the role nurture and nature play in how we become who we become—and if we can become who we truly are.

May 3, 2021

Books mentioned in this post

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Fuse

by Hollay Ghadery
edition: Paperback
tagged: cultural heritage, personal memoirs, women

Drawing on her own experiences as a woman of Iranian and British Isle descent, writer Hollay Ghadery dives into conflicts and uncertainty surrounding the bi-racial female body and identity, especially as it butts up against the disparate expectations of each culture. Painfully and at times, reluctantly, Fuse probes and explores the documented preva …

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Through The Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang

by Ava Farmehri
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary, political

At the age of twenty, Sheyda Porrouya's life is almost over. She was born in Iran on the day staunchly orthodox mullas declared the birth of the Islamic Republic and set about summarily purging the country of all things Western and un-Islamic. To make matters worse, as she matured, Sheyda seemed increasingly unable to distinguish between fairy tale …

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Me, You, Then Snow

by Khashayar Mohammadi
edition: Paperback
tagged: canadian

Me, You, Then Snow by Khashayar Mohammadi is a collection of poetry woven from dreams, memories and deep-seeded longing, a collection of poetry that ranges from ambiguously addressed love-letters, to ekphrastic poems for arthouse cinema, to pieces written near midnight when the day's experiences rush back into view. Though working in diverse forms …

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Intruder

by Bardia Sinaee
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: places, canadian

In Intruder, acclaimed poet Bardia Sinaee explores with vivid and precise language themes of encroachment in contemporary life.

Bemused and droll, paranoid and demagogic, Sinaee’s much-anticipated debut collection presents a world beset by precarity, illness, and human sprawl. Anxiety, hospitalization, and body paranoia recur in the poems’ image …

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Divided Loyalties

by Nilofar Shidmehr
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: short stories (single author), contemporary women, literary

Acclaimed poet Nilofar Shidmehr’s debut story collection is an unflinching look at the lives of women in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada.

The stories begin in 1978, the year before the Iranian Revolution. In a neighbourhood in Tehran, a group of affluent girls play a Cinderella game with unexpected consequences. In …

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Breaking the Ocean

A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Reconciliation

by Annahid Dashtgard
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook Audiobook
tagged: personal memoirs, social activists, political

In Breaking the Ocean, diversity and inclusion specialist Annahid Dashtgard addresses the long-term impacts of exile, immigration, and racism by offering a vulnerable, deeply personal account of her life and work.

Annahid Dashtgard was born into a supportive mixed-race family in 1970s Iran. Then came the 1979 Revolution, which ushered in a powerful …

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