The Heart in the Past, the Head in the Future: Nasim Marashi’s Iran


The stories of Leila, Roja and Shabane, three women in their mid-thirties whose lives intertwine in Tehran – a city torn between past and future – make up the choral plot of 'Payiz fasl-e akhar-e sal ast' (Autumn is the Last Season of the Year) a novel by Nasim Marashi translated into Italian in 2021 by Parisa Nazari for the Florentine publishing house Ponte33.

Nasim Marashi, born in 1984, a background first as a Mechanical Engineer and then as a journalist, writer and screenwriter, puts a bit of herself into each of the protagonists. The story takes place in a Tehran toward which Marashi has mixed feelings, a theater of endless possibilities, where "mountains weigh on the hearts of the inhabitants."

Marashi was one of the guests at the latest edition of the International Festival of Literature in Venice - Crossroads of Civilization (Incroci di civiltà), which from March 29 to April 1 brought together 26 authors from more than 15 countries. Dialogues and presentations took place in various prestigious Venetian venues, and involved several members of Ca' Foscari’s faculty, as well as other experts. This year's edition revolved around the themes of identity, racism, the relationship between the individual and others, and environmental sustainability.

On the stage of the Santa Margherita Auditorium on March 30, Marashi was in dialogue with Daniela Meneghini, professor of Persian Language and Literature at Ca' Foscari, while the translation from Persian was provided by former Ca' Foscari student Giacomo Longhi. Marashi was also interviewed by Virginia Burdese and Matilde Spagnolo, students and collaborators of Radio Ca' Foscari: the complete interview will soon be available on RCF.

Nasim Marashi shared with the audience her relationship with classical literature, which "dwells within us." Literature came into her life uninvited, but surely it was ushered in by a life-long knowledge of classical literatures which she built up as a reader. In 2009, at the time of Iran’s Green movement protests, Marashi was working as a journalist. She had intended to write a long reportage documenting the everyday turmoil and demonstrations, but then realized that literature was the only way to go. She would need a novel to do justice to the multifaceted reality which was taking shape in her mind. She chose to have three protagonists as a way to represent an entire generation of women, and it took her three years to complete the novel, a "puzzle with pieces perfectly fitting together" (as Meneghini described it).

Writing is not only about remembering what happens and perpetuating the memory of past struggles, it is also about giving a voice to those who do not have one. When the novel’s protagonists speak, always using the first person, they invite you into their heads, to discover thoughts and hopes.

She says of herself that she is a "very slow writer," writing an average of one paragraph a day. She works every day, but working does not always mean writing. Sometimes it just means waiting, looking inside of oneself. The first time she was faced with a blank page she felt a sense of dread and cried in despair. Now she knows it's part of the job as a writer: it just happens.

The three women protagonists are all in search of a new life and a fresh start, but in a totalitarian regime, that of leaving is a particularly difficult decision to take. Emigration represents a world of possibilities, but it also implies the loss of friendship, family ties, a caesura from roots and the mother tongue. Many people are thus caught in an eternal indecision: unable to invest in the present ("what is the point of changing the furniture or renewing my wardrobe if tomorrow I may decide to leave?") one comes to feel like a guest in one's own country, as if suspended in mid-air.

Women are expected to take up the classic role of full-time housewives, and at the same time they feel the pressure coming from the desire of a job, the need to work. Possibly, the new middle-class generation of women will negotiate better the tension between personal decisions and social pressures, and there is hope that feminist thinking will be of help along the way. In the meantime, with your heart in the past and your head in the future you experience a tension capable of ripping you apart.

Political crises always trigger new waves of migration, and the question of what is best to do creeps into every little detail - many little things that, together, end up totally affecting. Life as an exile, after all, is also a life of humiliation and regret: but is that so, Marashi wonders, or is it a stereotype? The journalistic vocation has for now induced her to stay; she yearns for a connection with her roots, not to mention the need to be where her language is. But even for her it is not a final decision: if government and censorship pressures increase, she does not rule out the possibility of emigrating. Censorship has already made itself felt: in Iran, Marahi has not been allowed to publish books for more than five years.

That is also why, she confesses, she doubles as a screenwriter: the world of cinema is a faster-paced and more lucrative one, and it amuses her to see on screen characters she had imagined with different features. Her writing after all has been repeatedly described as "cinematic," with short sentences and a succession of visual images reminiscent of photographs or shots, and just as often she has been told that her films "resemble her books."

Watch the full conversation with Nasim Marashi (Italian)

Barbara Del Mercato