THE BATHHOUSE
Farnoosh Moshiri

 


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Black Heron Press, 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Social Fiction, Iran

A seventeen-year-old girl is swept up with the rest of her family, when they are imprisoned by the fundamentalist revolutionary government for being “godless devils” – that is, political opponents. A medical student, nonpolitical and accustomed to luxury, she is dumped into a former bathhouse turned into a crowded, squalid prison. Counter-revolutionaries, nonreligious people, women in disapproved careers, and the mad all stew here together until death or release.

Considered harmless and on the verge of being set free, she makes the mistake of finding food for a hungry baby. Now, locked away among the other “permanents,” she must survive and adapt. During the months to come, she will go through every mental coping mechanism until she has blended into anonymity.

Our main character’s experience is so realistic to the reader that, until I came to write this review, I didn’t even notice we were never told her name. I went back and flipped through the entire 182 pages without finding a name for her. It is an effective device in making us feel her environment of isolation and depersonalization.

Author Farnoosh Moshiri, a political refugee, would have gone through similar experiences if she had been caught. She lived underground in Iran, and talked intensively with people who did experience the imprisonment she so vividly describes. THE BATHHOUSE is a political statement above all. You will want to read it if you are interested in the cause of freedom in the Moslem world (which was a bastion of tolerance during the Dark Ages), or in the psychology of imprisonment, or in how to run a brutal prison. This is not pleasure reading. Blurbs about “the honoring of humanity and courage” will mislead you if you try to apply them to the story, because over time, these elements don’t survive the disgrace and personality destruction.

Eventually escaping by roundabout ways to the US, where she had gone to college, Farnoosh Moshiri determined to tell the English-speaking world what was happening in her homeland. She retrained her writer’s instincts from Farsi to English. As she did in her excellent short story collection THE CRAZY DERVISH AND THE POMEGRANATE TREE, Moshiri demonstrates her ability to listen and empathize, to put herself and her readers emotionally in the place of the people whose experiences she recreates.

July 2005 Review

 

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