QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
Why does she feel like she does not belong in Iran? Why does she feel like she does not belong in America? In your own life, do you have similar challenges of trying to bridge two cultures, two religions, or two other conflicting worlds? If so, have you managed to achieve “belonging,” or are you still struggling to find that place?
What do you think of the father’s statement? Does the pursuit of individual happiness—whether it’s freedom from a bad marriage, true love, education, pleasure, or other—ultimately take away from family, community, society? Does this apply in America as well as in Iran? Can you name examples from your own life in which you chose individual happiness over the happiness of the whole, and vice versa? How can one achieve a balance between the two, if at all?
Do you believe in destiny? How much do you feel that destiny played a role in the author’s life, if at all? How much do you feel that destiny has played a role in your life, if at all?
What do you think of the two cultures’ attitudes about women and beauty? Do you feel that both Iranians and Americans “judge a book by its cover” in contrasting yet similar ways?
In these examples, do you see parallels between Iranian and American expectations of female behavior? Are there other such examples in the book?
How much did culture and religion shape the choices the author’s parents made for their children? If her parents had been born in another time and place, would they have made different choices? For example, would they have allowed the author to stay with her adoptive mother, Maryam, instead of bringing her back to Ahvaz against her will? Would they have allowed their daughters to pursue their dreams and marry for love? In your own life, how much do you feel that culture and religion shape your choices, if at all? How much do you feel that culture and religion shaped your parents’ choices for you?
What do you think she means by this statement? Do you think that in hindsight, she agrees with the choices he made for her? Do you think that she has regrets about defying some of her father’s choices, for example, not returning to Iran after graduating from Lindengrove? Or do you think that her statement is simply a testament to the power of forgiveness? Did anything about the author’s relationship with her father remind you of your own relationship with your father?
In your opinion, how does the author’s relationship with Mohtaram evolve over the course of the book? How does the author’s relationship with Maryam evolve? By the end of the book, does the author finally make peace with the fact that she has two mothers? Did anything about the author’s relationship with either Mohtaram or Maryam remind you of your own relationship with your mother?
Why do you think he changed his mind? Was he afraid that she would get into trouble in the increasingly repressive political climate—or was it something else?
In reading Persian Girls, did you ever find yourself wanting to know the other characters’ points of view—her father, Mohtaram, Maryam, Pari, the author’s other siblings, Pari’s two husbands, Pari’s lover Majid, etc.? Do you imagine that their accounts would be very different from the author’s? In what way? In general, how can a writer achieve “fairness” or “completeness” in work of non-fiction that is told strictly from his or her point of view?
Do you think that the author’s art saved her life, both in Iran and in America? Do you think if Pari had been able to practice her art as a teenager and later, she could have saved herself?
What do you think about these statements? What do you think is meant by “Westoxication”? Do you believe that America has a “Westoxicating” effect on other cultures? After the author and Pari see the movie A Star is Born, Pari longs to be more American: “Those women can choose a career, marry a person they love. We aren’t given any options. Freedom is just a trophy the Shah dangles before us.” [pg. 52] Do you think Pari—and the author, before she comes to America—have a realistic view of America?
What do you think of these comments? Do you think they are racist? In your life, how do you distinguish racist comments from non-racist ones, especially if they seem friendly or benign on the surface?