Prophetess by Baharan Baniahmadi

Strange and magical, Prophetess by Baharan Baniahmadi is a critical look at trauma, feminism, and religion, all through the lens of one wildly unique, wise, imaginative, and stubborn girl, Sara. This novel is characterized by the different stages of Sara’s life, following the tragic disappearance and murder of her sister, Setayesh. Divided into four sections, titled “Passive Aggressive,” “Defence,” “Fighting,” and “Difference,” Prophetess is a chronicle of grief and self-protection, the story of a young girl who learns too young about a world that will try to harm her.

Prophetess spans a relatively short period, and yet it is an expansive novel.”

The pivotal event happens at the beginning of the novel. Seven-year-old Sara is tagging along with her older sister Setayesh, who is nine and a figure of worship in Sara’s eyes. Banished to play outside while their Baba’s friends are over to smoke opium, the girls wander around outside until they make their way to the park, first to watch the boys play soccer, and then they go play at the playground with Loqman, a neighbour boy with whom Setayesh is in love with. As he pushes her on the swings, a man from their neighbourhood, Uncle Moji appears, yelling that Setayesh is not behaving properly. He drags her away, while she screams. It is the last time Sara sees Setayesh and the moment in which she loses the ability to speak.

Sara’s life from that moment forward is shaped by watching Setayesh get dragged away screaming by an adult man: unable to tell the adults around her what she saw happen to Setayesh, Sara begins to lead a life of religious devotion, haunted by a number of different people trapped inside her body with her, such as a 114-year-old woman, and marked by a strange reaction to any man who gets close to her: the eruption of a beard on her chin, with a strong acidic scent. Sara’s strict religious practice leads her down a number of different paths, ultimately culminating in her attracting a major following on social media as a modern prophet, following her escape from Tehran to Montreal.

Prophetess spans a relatively short period, and yet it is an expansive novel. Through Sara, Baniahmadi grapples with women’s rights, particularly in Iran, and the ways people hurt one another in the name of their gods. Sara is a sympathetic, though not terribly likeable character, as she tries to protect herself, cope with the murder of Setayesh, and understand what is happening to her, most of which cannot be explained in conventional ways.

Prophetess is a challenging novel, demanding patience and a willingness to be open to the ways we learn to cope with grief, and its exploration of the way women are subjugated and encouraged to police one another amongst themselves. It’s a heavy novel, one to sit with for some time.

Baharan Baniahmadi is an Iranian actress and writer based in Canada. After studying theatre at the Art University of Tehran, and art and philosophy at Université Paris 8 in France, she undertook a theatrical performance career in 2000 and has worked with many international stage directors such as Ariane Mnouchkine and Fabrice Nicot, Amirreza Koohestani, and Izumi Ashizawa. Baniahmadi eventually transitioned into cinema. In 2018, she immigrated to Canada, where she continues to play roles across stage, film, and television in English, French, Persian and Arabic. With numerous published stories and a bestselling memoir published in Iran, Prophetess serves as her English-language debut.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (May 13 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 180 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655957
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655957

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.