By Katayoun Halajan
Nahal Tajadod is an Iranian author and scholar based in Paris. Her published works include a biography of Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic (“Rumi: The Fire of Love” or “Sur les Pas de Rumi”); a book of Mawlana’s translated poems (“Le Livre de Chams de Tabriz – Cent poèmes”); a history of the church in Persia (“Les Porteurs de Lumière – L’Epopée de L’Eglise de Perse”); and an account of the mini-saga that she experienced renewing her Iranian passport (“Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes”).
Tajadod and her husband Jean-Claude Carrière – a renowned French novelist, screenwriter, and actor – have played a key role in familiarizing the French with Rumi. Nahal also has a Ph.D. in Chinese studies, and has conducted extensive research into the role of Iranians in the advancement of non-Chinese religions in China.
Tajadod’s latest novel – “Les Simples Prétextes du Bonheur,” published last September – is the story of a character named Cecile who has every reason to be happy, yet is everything but. Cecile is beautiful, intelligent, rich and famous. In spite of it all, she feels desperately alone. Her days begin with a litany of everything she lacks or has lost. Her life is a collection of negatives and subtractions.
When she meets Kamal, an Iranian grocer in Paris, a new and unfamiliar window opens for Cecile: a window through which a pleasant breeze occasionally blows. For a brief instant, she finds herself overcome by a sense of freedom and happiness that relieve her of her pain and sorrow. We are not witnessing a miracle here, but are rather confronted with many of life’s forgotten truths: when prejudice and racial and tribal differences are set aside, affection is all that remains . . .
Brotherhood, humanity, connection and compassion are far from mere popular refrains – they are the essential sentiments expressed in Tajadod’s novel. As the author herself explains, her book is “not just the story of an encounter, but a form of cultural face-a-face which at times creates a nice symmetry.”
“I have travelled to many countries and experienced many cultural traditions close-up,” she adds. “Yet I can unambiguously say that I have observed Iranians to have unique qualities. I have been away from Iranian society for years, but travel to Iran on a regular basis. The episodes that happen to me in Iran are unique, and could each be the subject of a book.”
“One of my books, ‘Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes,’ is based on my personal experience of getting my passport in Iran. The problems that occur in Iran offer a profound and fundamental perspective on the culture of that most interesting and insightful society. With distance, far from the harsh criticisms and analyses of my homeland, I have been able to view it in a different light, and realize that despite all of its drawbacks, it has a multitude of unique qualities.”
“Where in the world can you establish a relationship with a taxi driver or with the taxi’s other passengers in the space of fifteen minutes? This can only happen in Iran, and as you can see, Iranian taxis have become the subject of many films and stories. All you need to do is let out a sigh when you sit in a taxi for the story to begin and for you to start a conversation. It’s like paying a visit to a psychotherapist! Therapy begins, and in most instances, you feel lighter after your taxi conversation – it’s as if you had actually seen a psychologist!”