Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman

Farideh Goldin

Publisher: Brandeis University Press

An unflinching personal story of family, religion, and community that shows the horror of growing up in the shadow of religious fundamentalism.

Farideh Goldin was born to her fifteen-year-old mother in 1953 and into a Jewish community living in an increasingly hostile Islamic state—prerevolutionary Iran. This memoir is Goldin’s passionate and painful account of her childhood in a poor Jewish household and her emigration to the United States in 1975.

As she recalls trips to the market and the mikvah, and as she evokes ritual celebrations like weddings, Goldin chronicles her childhood, her extended family, and the lives of the women in her community in Shiraz, a southern Iranian city. Her memoir details her parents’ “courtship” (her father selected her mother from a group of adolescent girls), her mother’s lonely life as a child-bride, and Goldin’s childhood home which was presided over by her paternal grandmother.

Goldin’s memoir conveys not just the personal trauma of growing up in a family fraught with discord but also the tragic human costs of religious dogmatism. In Goldin’s experience, Jewish fundamentalism was intensified by an Islamic context. Although the Muslims were antagonistic to Jews, their views on women’s roles and their treatment of women influenced the attitude and practices of some Iranian Jews.

In this brave and dispassionate portrayal of a little-known corner of Jewish life, Farideh Goldin confronts profound sadness yet captures the joys of a child’s wonder as she savors the scenes and textures and scents of Jewish Iran. Readers share her youthful adventures and dangers, coming to understand how such experiences shape her choice.

“I have been haunted by Farideh Goldin’s Wedding Song since the day I read it. It is an honest book, and a brave one. Goldin weaves stories of her childhood into the larger backdrop of her Jewish-Iranian culture. As she moves between her memories and the stories of her family, it becomes apparent that her story cannot be separated from her mother’s story, from her grandmother’s story. And at the same time, her own survival depends on pulling the stories apart. In its structure and content, Wedding Song brilliantly captures this conundrum —this need to separate the personal from the political, the individual from the collective, all the time knowing that something precious disappears in the separation.
Goldin’s writing is sometimes spicy and sometimes sad, but always compelling. It’s like an ornate braid, so many individual, colorful strands coming together to form a breathtaking whole. Her memoir is full of anger and compassion and insight. A stunning and powerful debut.”—Sheri Reynolds, author of The Rapture of Canaan, an Oprah Book Club pick

“…a remarkable, often painful portrayal of a culture that Westerners cannot conceive of having existed as recently as the 20th century.” — Jewish Book World


“The first time the khastegaree, the marriage proposal, came for me, I was only twelve years old. I was at the movies with my mother to see an American comedy, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Wearing a new brown dress with yellow flowers, I yearned to run and make its flowing skirt twirl, but I knew girls had to be modest and squashed my desire to skip from happiness. As we waited in the newly opened indoor theatre, an old woman in chador approached my mother and whispered something in her ear, while her eyes focused on me.

“My mother threw her chin up, indicating a negative answer in the Iranian fashion. ‘No,’ she said. . . . ‘I was married young myself. I don’t want my daughter to have the same fate,’ my mother said. She gave her refusal finality by turning her back and walking away. Then she looked directly into my eyes. ‘I could have given you to them, you know. That’s what happened to me.’”

FARIDEH GOLDIN studied math and English literature at Pahlavi University in Shiraz, Iran, from 1971 to 1975. She transferred to Old Dominion University in Virginia, earning her B.A. in English Literature in 1976, an M.A. in Humanities and her graduate certificate in Women’s Studies in 1995. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 2002. In addition to her own stories, which have been widely published, Goldin has shared her knowledge of Iranian Jews with audiences around the United States, recreating Iranian Jewish women’s lives and discussing their writings both in Iran and in exile.

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