Sometimes, we have words, that can only be written when the time is right, when we find ourselves cornered into the space of writing by forces beyond our control, and it is in a space such as this that Aziz’s Notebook exists. I read this book a few years back for the first time, and it has taken me a long while to come back to it, and to even begin to talk about it, to try to share with you, the stories within it. As I find myself writing these lines, it becomes more than obvious to me, that to review this book, is to do more than just flesh out the characters, elaborate on the events that they come across, and hope that the words I write here compels you to <g data-gr-id="69">go pick</g> out this book from your nearby <g data-gr-id="70">bookstores,</g> and share my anxiety.
Aziz <g data-gr-id="50">Zarei</g> is the father to <g data-gr-id="51">Fateneh</g>, and Fatemeh, who dedicated their lives to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and their eventual demise, leaves him the task of relating their lives, to his grandchildren who having escaped with Fatemeh’s husband, their father, to France remain in constant fear for their loved ones’ <g data-gr-id="52">well being</g>, while nurturing some hope for their mother’s eventual return.
This hope is eventually shattered with the political massacre in the prison where she was kept, where a few months before her scheduled release, her life is taken. This is in 1988, after having spent a considerable amount of time in prison. It is also around this time that Aziz picks up the Koran kept next to his bed since as far back as he could <g data-gr-id="61">remember,</g> and writes the following words: “Oh my dear Koran, I will entrust you with the sorrows of my heart. I will complain to you of the injustice and sorrow I suffered. One of my daughters was eight months pregnant; they executed her on 7 <g data-gr-id="60">October,</g> 1982 in Bandar-Abbas. My other daughter, who had two small children, six months and three years old, was arrested on 15 June 1981 in Shiraz. She spent seven years and six months in prison, three of those years in isolation; she was not allowed to speak for a year. What torture did she not know? They lashed her until her toenails fell off, they slapped her until her eardrums burst, they broke her teeth. All the while they did not allow her poor children to visit her. All this suffering was inflicted in the name of Islam and the defence of Islam. And what happened? Was it the justice of Islam when, after seven years and six months of frantic rushing around behind prison doors in Bandar-Abbas, Gachsaran, Teheran, Shiraz, they gave me the number of a grave, but no one knows if my daughter is really buried there.”
Soon after, Aziz begins to write in a notebook, tracing the socio-political context of the late sixties all the way through the seventies in his country, where the revolutionary zeal moves into, a mindless chaos; the once comrades turning against each other, and widespread confusion amongst the people. However, at the centre of the notebook lies Aziz’s need to memorialise his daughters, his need to inform his grandchildren of their mother and aunt, and the many like them, who lived for causes they believed worth dying for. His narrative is interspersed with notes by Makaremi, who having discovered her grandfather’s notebook, years later, translated it to French from the Persian; which is here further translated into English with tremendous care by Renuka George.
While at other times clear in his narration, Aziz’s hand seems to shudder, understandably, at the mention of the punishments inflicted on his daughters, and the many others arrested for similar activism against the previous regime, at the hands of the people controlling the prisons. But not once does he make an excuse for his daughters’ actions, not once does he disbelieve their shared concerns for their society, and their country, and stands strong with their intentions, and their sacrifices.
The concerns he does exhibit, are against the people who misinterpret god, in the name of ideologies, and commit heinous crimes in its name; against the injustice in the world where the only two children he ever had are taken away from him, and he is left old, shattered, his health failing, with pen in hand, creating traces of what has been lost on page after page, in a notebook. <g data-gr-id="59">Makaremi</g> does all of us an immense favour by taking something so personal from her own past and letting it breathe in the world, for anyone to peruse, and attempt to understand.
In a strange way, Aziz’s words also remind us about some of the various interconnecting ways in which all the histories (national, gendered, personal, etc.) that we claim as our own, function. This book then becomes as much as a history of Iran, as it does of <g data-gr-id="42">Fateneh</g>, and Fatemeh, or of Aziz, or of Makaremi, herself.
But at the same time, it also speaks of the history of violence, and kindness, of struggle, and repression, of the (in)humanity our species is capable of; and, perhaps most importantly, of the need to act against oppression, and to remember the ones who do, for to forget, would be to accept their sacrifices as having been for naught. The only thing one has, as Aziz knew towards the end, is their ability to record life as it unfolds around <g data-gr-id="46">them,</g> and hope that someday, someone, somewhere might want to understand.