A short yet richly detailed novel, “Women Without Men” starts out by telling stories about five different Iranian women, who in time all meet and work together in a unique garden. The novel was an inspiration for artist Shirin Neshats video series that bared the identical name.
Shahrnush Parsipur has been a highly productive writer since her debut in the late 1970’s. She was born in 1946 in Iran, but after being arrested for her political opinions in 1974, she fled the country in 1976. After living and studying philosophy and Chinese in France, she returned to Iran in the 1980’s where she was once again imprisoned. Her most famous and controversial novel “Women Without Men” was written in 1974 and ultimately published in 1989. Ms. Parsipur currently lives in the United States.
The five main characters are lively, captivating women. Their stories are distressing but hopeful. As heroines they are strong and eager to discover what the world has to offer, but first they have to overcome their traditional backgrounds. Parsipur graciously blends surrealistic life tales with down-to-earth heroines. Even if the women face serious obstacles that many women deal with in real life, the surrealism featured in the novel opens up new possibilities of authorial potential and grants unorthodox directions and opportunities for these women towards developing independence and find a ground for fulfilling their dreams.
For instance one of the women through the surrealistic telling is given a chance to stand up to her extremely abusive brother, while another woman is able to start her own career after years of being trapped in an unhappy marriage. A third finds love after a sorrowful life in a brothel. While not overly optimistic, “Women without men” illustrates both the oppression of women as well as female empowerment. The oppression is shown as the existent fact of the social, and unfortunately existing situation for women, whilst the surrealistic elements are played through in the combination of stories as the portrayal of desire and hope for transcendence from the operations of suppression through empowerment.
Parsipur paints up a world where women can discover their strength and self-worth through her colorful and elegant language. She highlights troubles of women, but also inspires to work against these confluences and impositions of gender imposed troubles. The freedom that women have may be limited, but “Women without men’s” inspirational tales make the future of all women seem much more bright and promising.