Jasmin Darznik

Song of a Captive Bird

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Song of a Captive Bird Summary

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Song of a Captive Bird is a 2018 novel by Iranian-American author Jasmin Darznik. Based on the life of the influential Iranian film director and poet, Forough Farrokhzad, it presents a fictionalized version of her story through the eyes of the poet herself. The story encompasses Forough’s life from early childhood, through her illustrious career, and premature death. Forough speaks as if she is still alive, and only at the end of the novel announces that she has already experienced death. The suspension of this critical detail until the end invites her audience to interrogate why she has framed her life events in the way that she did, as well as think about what deep and ultimate meaning, if any, one can draw out of the turbulent mystery that is modern life.

The novel is broken up into three chapters. In the first, “I Feel Sorry for the Garden,” Forough recalls the major events of her childhood. She characterizes her young self as headstrong and inquisitive, constantly stretching the boundaries of social acceptability. When she first meets Parviz, the man who will become her husband, she sees the same traits in him. Parviz is a prolific author of poems and essays. While the two are falling in love, they meet frequently and in secret, disobeying the norms of their traditional Iranian society, which prioritizes arranged marriages.

Forough’s family eventually figures out that she is meeting Parviz. They take her to a clinic that subjects her to invasive tests to figure out if she has been sexually penetrated; during the test, after finding that she is a virgin, the clinicians accidentally break Forough’s hymen, rendering her a non-virgin in the eyes of traditional Iranian culture. Forough’s parents force her to marry Parviz. Though Forough wishes for a life where sex and love are not regulated, she still internalizes her status as a non-virgin. On the night she and Parviz marry, while having sex, she does not bleed, causing her to despair. Her deeply held negative self-belief about her uncleanliness prevents her from enjoying her marriage.

The second chapter, “Rebellion,” covers the decline and dissolution of Forough’s unhappy marriage with Parviz. They have a son, Kami, together, but motherhood fails to bring Forough its characteristic joy. She starts an affair with Nasser, an editor at a literary magazine. Her experiences of adultery inspire her to write several poems: one of them, which she titles “Sin,” relates directly to her sexual encounters with Nasser and her guilty lust for him. The poem marks the beginning of her professional career as a writer. Parviz responds with disgust to Forough’s dark material, and eventually, demands that she stop writing poems. Forough, in her typical spirit, refuses. Parviz and Forough’s father team up against Forough, sending her to a clinic where she undergoes unethical electroshock therapy meant to force her into submission. With the help of her friend, Leila, Forough escapes the clinic. She divorces Forough and finally feels a measure of freedom.

After her divorce, Forough doubles down on her passion for writing poetry and making art. She gets a job at the studios of Darius Golshiri, a well-known Iranian artist. The two quickly fall in love. They work together on a film project based on women’s rights violations and other atrocities in Iran. Forough becomes deeply involved in rebellious political movements, just as the Iranian government becomes more oppressive towards its people. Leila, also a rebel, is assassinated by the government, making Forough more outspoken than ever before. At the end of the novel, Forough relates that she was assassinated for her words. She speaks from beyond the grave in support of those who continue to uphold humanitarian values and exhorts her audience to remain hopeful.