Almost two years ago now, I read The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and posted Alberto Manguel‘s review of it in the Guardian. I am delighted to find that her next novel is coming out in April. There’s an intriguing intro by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani on the the Stanford University Press Blog website. Below is a brief extract: for the full post see link.
I first came across the word “alien” in a non-stellar context when I had to sign a card identifying myself as one, soon after the Immigrants Act of 1962 was passed in the UK. Even though my family had been the only Persians living in Uganda, I had never felt like an alien growing up there. But the sense of being one came home to me forcefully in cozy Rutland. I walked into the local constabulary of the small market town thinking I was a fourteen year old human being; I left, duly registered, feeling as though I had just been dropped out of a flying saucer from outer space.
Like many other adolescents, I wandered in elliptical orbit after that till marriage transformed me from one of “them” into one of “us,” and I graduated from being an Iranian student to becoming a UK-citizen-by-marriage. And my induction into this select club happened once again in Kampala, Uganda, the town of happy childhood, the place where my grandfather would be buried soon afterwards, his Jewish Iraqi bones enriching forever the blood-red soil of the high Kikaaya hill.
But Uganda was to haunt me some years later, as I stood in a queue at Pearson International Airport, waiting to pass through Canadian immigration. By then, although the passport had stuck, the marriage had not, and having entered the US on one visa, I was obliged to leave it to apply for another, as a divorcée. However, as bizarre as American logic seemed to me, even then, it was nothing compared to the Canadian sequel waiting for me on the other side of the border.
By a stroke of fate, my arrival in Toronto coincided with that of some two thousand Indians fleeing Uganda from Idi Amin. And given my links to that country, the immigration officer behind the desk, whose nametag clearly announced Polish ancestry, was understandably suspicious. So I was hauled to one side and subjected to a cross-examination. Who was I? Where was I coming from, and where did I really belong? Was I an illegal immigrant?
At that point I truly did not know. After three hours of interrogation my mind was beginning to wander. All I could register was that my little girl, a proud American citizen of three years old, was progressing quietly around the room, placing tiny palms, blackened by typewriter ribbon, all along the walls. I could have sworn she was writing Anglo-Saxon, inscribing syllable by syllable that old English poem about a solitary exile for me to read:
Swa ic modsefan, minne sceolde, oft earmcearig, eöle bidæled, freomægum feor feterum sælan
So I, often wretched and sorrowful, bereft of my homeland, far from noble kinsmen, have had to bind in fetters my inmost thoughts