Mehri Yalfani was born in Hamadan, Iran. She immigrated to Canada in 1987 with her family and has been writing and publishing ever since.
The Street of Butterflies (2017, Inanna Publications) goes well with another book of short fiction I recently reviewed (also from Inanna), Outside People. They are stories told from the point of view of those that have left their birth country for Canada, or have chosen to stay while others have left looking for more freedom and other opportunities. Ms Yalfani, being from Iran gives us a look at what life was like after the revolution and the Iran-Iraqi war of 1980-88.
Fifteen stories of people living in fear in Iran, or fearful of leaving Iran to come to Canada, then questioning their decisions and trying to live with the consequences.
The very first story, “Books” is the most suspenseful. It is the story of a couple, Nozar and Sara living in Iran who feel they must get rid of books that “may cause them problems”. Nozar tells Sara:
“Don’t worry, many people are doing the same. Everybody is throwing away the books that might cause them problems. Farazhad’s and Varamin’s ditches […] and the roads out of Tehran, are all full of books people have thrown away. I won’t go very far. So, I’ll be back soon.”
However, hours go by and Nozar hasn’t returned. Sara begins to think the authorities have arrested Nozar and she will never see him again. Every car that goes by their house makes her think it may be Nozar returning.
Cars passed by in the street, but the apartment was quiet. Even though she was certain that Nozar would not be back, she could not quell the flutter of hope inside her.
Also fluttering inside her is their unborn child, which adds more tension to the story.
My favourite story was “A Suitable Choice” which is told in three different voices: Gholem, who is living in Canada with his friend and room mate Kamyar and Sima, the newly arrived bride of Gholem whom she is meeting for the first time in Canada. At the airport, Sima sees the handsome Kamyar, who is her age and thinks he is to be her husband while Gholem who is older is a friend that came with Kamyar. When Gholem hands her a bouquet of flowers, she realizes the choice she has made:
Everybody called it “a suitable choice”. What a choice!
Each one absolves themselves of any fault that Sima likes Kamyar better and is bored with Gholem. It is a slightly humorous tale, but is sad too, as Sima’s dreams, after coming so far, get shattered.
Inanna Publications has a knack for finding and publishing works by authors who have roots in other countries, and as in the case here with Ms Yalfani, write in a language other than English (Farsi), then translate it to English. She confides to us in the story “Heart’s Language”:
“I still have a long road ahead of me, a path on which perhaps English will gradually become bright and clear as a language for writing, and then I can perhaps internalize it like my mother tongue – the language of my heart.”
As was the case with Outside People, I greatly enjoyed these stories, and more importantly, learned more about a culture I was heretofore not that familiar with. Well done, Ms Yalfani!