US & THEM

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Lili and Goli have argued endlessly about where their mother, Bibijan, should live since the Iranian Revolution. They disagree about her finances too, which remain blocked as long as she insists on waiting for her son—still missing but not presumed dead yet—to return from the Iran-Iraq war. But once they begin to “share” the old woman, sending her back and forth between Paris and Los Angeles, they start asking themselves where the money might be coming from. Only their Persian half-sister in Iran and the Westernized granddaughter of the family have the courage to face up to the answers, and only when Bibijan finally relinquishes the past can she remember the truth.

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Lili and Goli have argued endlessly about where their mother, Bibijan, should live since the Iranian Revolution. They disagree about her finances too, which remain blocked as long as she insists on waiting for her son—still missing but not presumed dead yet—to return from the Iran-Iraq war. But once they begin to “share” the old woman, sending her back and forth between Paris and Los Angeles, they start asking themselves where the money might be coming from. Only their Persian half-sister in Iran and the Westernized granddaughter of the family have the courage to face up to the answers, and only when Bibijan finally relinquishes the past can she remember the truth.

A story mirrored in fragmented lives, Us&Them explores the ludicrous and the tragic, the venal and the generous-hearted aspects of Iranian life away from home. It is a story both familial and familiar in its generational tensions and misunderstandings, its push and pull of obligations and expectations. It also highlights how “we” can become “them” at any moment, for our true exile is alienation from others.

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  • Redwood Press
  • Hardcover
  • April 2017
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781503601581

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$25.00

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About Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani grew up in Uganda, was educated in the United Kingdom and the United States, and now lives in France. She is the author of The Woman Who Read Too Much (Redwood Press, 2015), The Saddlebag (2001), and Paper (2005).

Praise

“A glitteringly poignant novel.”Ruth Padel, author of Where the Serpent Lives, Judge of 2016 International Man Booker Prize

“Sensitive, subtle, evocative. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani weaves threads of silk with her words, skillfully filling in the silences within and between cultures.”Elif Shafak, author of The Bastard of Istanbul

“With Swiftian wit and prose both pithy and poetic, Us&Them offers a searingly honest satirical image of Iranian society and its large diaspora.”Abbas Milani, Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies, Stanford University

Discussion Questions

1. The author offers a warning on the copyright page: “This is a work of fiction and so the reader is warned against it.… It is also a satire and so the reader is encouraged to laugh at it, except when disposed to weep, since every effort has been made to distort, to pervert, and to exaggerate the truth in these pages.” Why might the author have felt the need to offer such a caution? What does it say about the author’s motivations for this book that she chose to write this as a satire? Does she succeed in her aims?

2. How do the opening and closing chapters, respectively titled “Us” and “Them,” frame the story as a whole?

3. The novel moves through Los Angeles, Paris, Tehran, Australia, Germany, and elsewhere. Why is it written as a series of interconnected stories? How does the non-linear structure impact the novel and the way the story unfolds? How does the use of “we” instead of “I” as the voice of the narrator(s) illuminate—or obscure—the novel’s themes?

4. Bibi, Lili, Goli, Fathi, and Delli represent three generations of women. What are each woman’s defining characteristics? Do they grow and develop throughout the story or do they mostly remain the same? How do they relate to the men in the story—the General, Ali, and Mehdi?

5. Describe the role of money in the novel. How does it impact each character? How are money and power dynamics interwoven? Does money have unique significance to migrant communities, or does it impact non-migrants in the same way?

6. Upon arriving in America, Bibi muses, “Maybe we can escape being either/or, this or that, us or them.” (80) Do you think this is true? Have you ever experienced the feeling of needing to be “either/or?” How did that unfold in your life?

7. How do you typically perceive migration? Does this story agree with or challenge your ideas on migrant and diaspora communities? Did this novel make you think differently about worldwide migration?