If poetry is emotion rendered incendiary, then Forugh Farrokhzad was made of fire. For the sin of revolutionary frankness in a time of deep, patriarchal conservatism, Iran’s modernist icon suffered greatly—accused of immorality, forbidden from seeing her child, even confined for a time to an “asylum.” Decades after her death in 1967, she continued to pay a price—the hard-line Islamist government that eventually took over Iran would go on to ban much of her work. A printing press that refused to stop publishing her poems was burned to the ground.
Forugh’s life—short, tragic but marked by poetic genius—forms the basis for Jasmin Darznik’s vivid first novel. Iranian-born Darznik traces Forugh’s tumultuous 32 years and, through them, the story of midcentury Persian society. Effectively a fictionalized biography, Song of a Captive Bird is an unsparing account of the necessity and consequences of speaking out.
From the book’s opening scene—a brutal account of Forugh’s subjection to a so-called “virginity test”—the novel details the myriad ways in which a young female poet attempting to pierce the heart of a male-led art form is made to suffer indignities for her audacity. At first ignored, then condemned, then made a public spectacle for her poems, in particular those in which she explores themes of desire and sexuality, Forugh’s story is as relevant today as it was during her lifetime.
Writing from a place of deep reverence for her central character, Darznik crafts a sensory experience, an Iran whose sights and sounds and scents feel neither superficial nor trivially exotic. The result is a well-honed novel about the meaning of rebellion—what happens when a poet of singular talent decides “that it’s shame, not sin, that’s unholy.”