“Fatemeh” is from Nahid Rachlin’s story collection, VEILS (City Lights Books). Rachlin was born in Iran, but moved to the United States as a teenager and later attended Columbia University MFA program on a Doubleday-Columbia Fellowship and then went on to Stanford University MFA program on a Stegner Fellowship. In addition to her collection, her publications include a memoir, PERSIAN GIRLS (Penguin), and four novels including, JUMPING OVER FIRE (City Lights). Her short stories have appeared in more than fifty magazines, including The Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Redbook, Shenandoah. Her work has been widely translated. She lives in New York City.
VEILS explores the cultural and social identity of Iranian women living in modern Iran and it remains as fresh and relevant as it was when it was first written.
Rachlin said this about the origin of her story “Fatemeh:” On one of my visits to Iran, years ago, in 1989, I met the woman who is portrayed in my story. In 1988, the Iran-Iraq war had finally ended after eight years. With people’s jubilation went deep grief at all their irretrievable losses.
On that visit Fatemeh told me that she had managed to get her son exempted from fighting on the front. Then, with tears in her eyes, she said, she lost him a year later, when he was shot by the police while demonstrating along with others. They were asking the government to free the imprisoned journalists. That was why I left the ending of the story ambiguous. Fatemeh had saved her son from being drafted but she lost him a year later.
Publisher’s Weekly said of the collection: These 10 stories by Rachlin track unhappy Iranians who reside in their native country or live as expatriates in America. In “Fanatics,” Manijeh, who feels she has escaped from a dangerously sexist society to an American university where some students are restless and depressed, learns that her best friend in Teheran has died in a suicide attack on the Ministry of Education. In Iran, the protagonists of “The Poet’s Visit,” two schoolgirls, become rivals for the attentions of a famous writer, and a girl in “Rahbar” wonders if her aunt’s estranged husband is a murderer. The eponymous protagonist of “Fatemeh” tries to get her son exempted from the Iranian army, where he is likely to die a martyr’s death, and searches for her daughter, who years before vanished with her abusive ex-husband.