Negar Djavadi: Disoriental

“Freedom is an illusion. The only thing that changes is the size of your prison.”

Disoriental. We know what the prefix implies. But the clever wordplay refers to more than something that is non-oriental. It alludes to the disorienting, the experience of being uprooted abruptly from an oriental into an entirely contrasting and unfamiliar culture — the tragedy of exile.

“I can tell you that you have to disintegrate first, at least partially, from your own. You have to separate, detach, disassociate. No one who demands that immigrants make ‘an effort at integration’ would dare look them in the face and ask them to start making the necessary ‘effort at disintegration.’ They’re asking people to stand atop the mountain without climbing it up first.”

Although this novel has the familiar background of a young person having to flee Iran during the Islamic Revolution, this takes a step further. The main character dispenses her own unique commentary on Iran’s political events in fragments, but this delves more into its aftereffects on the internal climate of an exile.  

“To be honest, nothing is more like exile than birth. Being torn, out of survival instinct or necessity, with violence and hope, from your first home, your protective cocoon, only to be propelled into an unknown world where you constantly have to deal with curious stares. Every exile knows that path, like the one from the uterine canal, that dark hyphen between the past and future which, once crossed, closes again and condemns you to wander.”

Hers was a personality I could not initially relate to, and so I shelved this a while ago. Returning to it weeks later and reading a little bit more, the dissonant feeling turned to empathy, and by the time I got to the last page, I was crying for this character who had nothing in common with me.

“After so much time and distance, it’s not their world that flows in my veins anymore, or their languages or traditions or beliefs, or even their fears, but their stories.”

And so I’ve learned that stories are written for the sake of the writer and stories are read for the sake of the reader; so the first may pursue connection and the latter empathy.

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