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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Things We Left Unsaid

Zoya Pirzad

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To purchase Things We Left Unsaid

Title: Things We Left Unsaid
Author: Zoya Pirzad
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 293 pages
Original in: Farsi
Availability: Things We Left Unsaid - US
Things We Left Unsaid - UK
Things We Left Unsaid - Canada
Things We Left Unsaid - India
C’est moi qui éteins les lumières - France
Die Lichter lösche ich - Deutschland
  • Persian title: چراغ ها را من خاموش می کنم
  • Translated by Franklin D. Lewis

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Our Assessment:

B+ : simple story, but effectively told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Freitag . 17/3/2006 Fahimeh Farsaie
NZZ . 31/8/2006 Angela Schader
Der Tagesspiegel . 15/3/2006 Sybill Mahlke
Die Welt . 22/4/2006 Tanja Langer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Alle armenischen Frauen in diesem Roman leiden unter geradewegs ermüdender Mittelmäßigkeit. (...) Nur durch die Erzählkunst der Schriftstellerin, die ihre Figuren mit viel Humor, Eleganz und atemberaubendem Tempo ausmalt, wirken sie bunt und reizvoll. (...) Dass der humorvolle Roman Die Lichter lösche ich nach dem Erscheinen 2001 im Iran als Bestseller mehrfach ausgezeichnet wurde, liegt vor allem an der Originalität des Themas und dessen virtuoser (Frauen)Perspektive." - Fahimeh Farsaie, Freitag

  • "Pirzad schreibt mit einem genauen Gespür für Rhythmus, das Charakteren, Milieu und Handlungsabläufen Profil gibt, ohne ins Betuliche abzurutschen; fast durchgehend behauptet die Erzählung eine Leichtigkeit, die ihre Substanz eher kaschiert, als sie dem Leser aufzudrängen. Durch Seitenblicke, Nebensätze dringt ein, was sich am schärfsten in der Erinnerung verhakt" - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Die Lichter lösche ich (...) führt zurück in die Ferne vor der Revolution, ohne das normale Leben jener Zeit zu beschönigen. Es wird so reich im Detail und voller literarischer Fantasie abgebildet, dass die Spannung bis zur letzten Zeile hält." - Sybill Mahlke, Der Tagesspiegel

  • "Dieser Roman, und das vergißt man leicht beim Lesen, weil er eindringlich, intim und manchmal mit einer schönen lakonischen Komik erzählt wird, ist ein Buch, das unter der Zensur geschrieben wurde und diese "rote Linie", wie sie in Iran genannt wird, passiert hat. Die einfache, persönliche Sprache Pirzads gilt dort als etwas Neues, sie wird als Widerstand gegen eine männliche, pathetische Ausdrucksweise gewertet; sie wird geduldet, weil das Regime die Sprache der jüngeren Generation braucht, um diese zu erreichen." - Tanja Langer, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       چراغ ها را من خاموش می کنم (now translated as Things We Left Unsaid) is narrated by Clarisse, a stay-at-home mom in her late thirties, living in Abadan in the early 1960s. Clarisse and her family are of Armenian background, a distinct community within the Iran of those times. Her husband, Artosh, works for the national oil company. They have three children, the teenage Armen, almost a man, and bubbly twin girls who are still very much children. The extended family also can't be kept at bay: Clarisse's mother, as well as her pudgy sister, Alice -- who is desperate for a man (and likes to remind everyone that she studied in England for a while, peppering her language with English expressions) -- are frequent (invited or not) visitors
       The book covers the time from when their new neighbours, the Simonians, move into building G-4 to when they move out again. It's the twins that enthusiastically befriend the girl from across the street, Emily, first -- though it is Armen that really takes a shine to her (which his mother is blind to for the longest time). The head of the Simonian household is not, however, Emily's father, Emil (who works for the same company as Armen -- though most everybody in this oil-town does, more or less), but rather her grandmother, a diminutive (she's tiny), strong-willed, and very direct but also unpredictable woman. Clarisse's mother has heard of her, and even knows her nickname: Elmira the Cannibal, for all the people close to her that died (beginning with her mother, who died in childbirth, followed by the nanny that threw herself out a window a few years later, not to mention her father and her husband ...). From a wealthy family, she also lived in splendour in India for a while; now she merely exerts completely control over the small household. (Emil's wife is dead, so Elmira is the woman in charge.)
       Elmira seems to prefer to keep her son and grand-daughter isolated, but she can't do so completely, and the two households become fairly friendly. The twins (and Armen) are thrilled to play with Emily, while Artosh finds a chess-partner in Emil. Emira isn't nearly as approachable, but she does constantly surprise.
       Clarisse's day-to-day life is fairly uneventful. She takes care of the kids, sees to it that there's a meal on the table, tries to keep peace between her mother and sister. She's clearly dissatisfied -- not unhappy, but not fulfilled, either. Life spins on, but she always seems to be on the sidelines.
       Her marriage also isn't in the greatest shape: Artosh is involved in (communist) politics. She can't understand his interest -- and it worries her, because of the danger his activism poses. Meanwhile, this new man, Emil, has a similar poetic disposition as she does. (He gives her a book at one point, and it's typical for the time and place (and for what Pirzad wants to convey): one of the volumes of Sardou she does not have .....)
       Emil befriends her, but she's unclear what friendship means and entails (and what her own desires are). So many lives bustle for attention around her, and she is unsure of how best to deal with them all. She's constantly questioning herself and her feelings (though rarely getting as far as wondering about her emotions): the deceptively banal descriptions of her going about her days in fact constantly reveal her inner turmoil; once she's met Emil there barely seems to be a single meal, for example, which goes off without a hitch (and take-out becomes the default option).
       Clarisse slowly realises she's losing her oldest child, growing up before her eyes. (His interest in Emily -- a girl who appears shy and overwhelmed at first, but in fact is a manipulative minx -- is effectively told through that maternal fog that can't see what's right in front of her eyes -- and doesn't want to look too closely.) Other romantic entanglements also affect her: worried that sister Alice will immediately have her designs on eligible widower Emil she's glad when they don't meet -- only to find another woman from her circle snatch him away. Alice, meanwhile, becomes involved with Dutchman Joop, finally giving her what she wants out of life.
       چراغ ها را من خاموش می کنم is a fairly subdued novel. The fights Clarisse has with her husband are, for the most part, relatively restrained, and beyond bursting out crying at an inappropriate time, she manages to get on with everything without anyone really thinking twice about what she is thinking. Among the most dramatic events in the book are Clarisse burning her hands while cooking and an attack of the locusts (okay, that's pretty dramatic ...). For the most part the book is very much of the everyday. It is inescapable -- Clarisse's life moves in a small world -- and yet also surprisingly rich. (For contemporary Iranian readers, Clarisse's world is also a reminder of a different time, without veils and many of the other present-day Islamic restrictions; focussed on the Armenian community -- exempt even at that time from aspects of Islamic law -- it is safely doubly distant; nevertheless, the comparison to current conditions is inevitable.)
       The Simonian household confronts Clarisse with a world very different from her own, where everything is ordered (if fairly casual) and where the greatest problems appear to be Armen constantly hiding the twins' toys (though, in fact there's a lot more going on beneath the surface). The domineering but burdened Elmira, Emily, all seductive youth, and the other-worldly Emil: none of it readily fits in Clarisse's own world, yet it leads her to reconsider her own life. Still, when the Simonians literally disappear, as quickly and quietly as they came, it is Clarisse who is left, as the title has it, to turn out the lights behind them.
       It's a subtle tale of inner turmoil, whose success is found in its appealingly restrained (and often humorous) presentation.

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Things We Left Unsaid: Reviews: Other books by Zoya Pirzad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian author Zoya Pirzad (زويا پيرزاد) was born in 1952.

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