Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

“The Woman Who Read Too Much”

The Woman Who Read Too Much - Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Bahiyyih Nakhjavání, Author of “The Woman Who Read Too Much”

Because of my feelings of the importance of the book I talk about in this post, I’m leaving it up here at the top of the blog for three days ( tell your friends—writers and readers :-)


On July 19th and 20th, 1848, there was, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., USA, the Woman’s Rights Convention, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which produced the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions

However, just a bit earlier, in late June and early July, 1848, in the country of Iran, there was the Conference of Badasht, at which a woman named Táhirih removed her veil, symbolizing a clear break with the past and ushering in the age of women’s equality

I can remember reading about Táhirih and the conditions of Iran (then called Persia) in the mid-1800s in the book, The Dawn-Breakers

There was unrestrained turmoil because of the birth of a new consciousness of the purpose of humanity and how that should be expressed in society

But, Dawn-Breakers was a history book.

The Woman Who Read Too Much, by Bahiyyih Nakhjavání, is a novel based on the few indisputable facts we have about the life of Táhirih.

A Kirkus review of the book said:

“Nakhjavani deftly transforms an incomplete history into legend.

“An ambitious effort produces an expertly crafted epic.”

The Guardian, (in a more complete review) said:

“It is, of course, a male society in which women have found ways to manipulate policies and influence the course of events, but from the shadows of the anderoun, the women’s section of the palace. In this, Táhirih stands almost alone as ‘the Woman Who Read Too Much’, her acquired art granting her access to knowledge and her knowledge the courage to speak. Táhirih marvellously exemplifies the power of the reader, and the fear this power elicits in those placed in positions of authority.”

I’ll excerpt just a bit from the book itself.

About the men, when Táhirih removed her veil, at the Conference of Badasht:

“They found themselves listening to her at the same time as seeing words form on her lips. They discovered themselves reading the lineaments of her face even as they heard her talk. And they saw gardens and rivers flowing from her mouth, as she spoke, with breath-taking eloquence, of paradise.”

And, about the women Táhirih spoke to, in the female section of a residence, during a marriage celebration:

“Everyone was intoxicated by that rose-red voice floating out on the air. Everyone was drunk on the wine of the words of the poetess of Qazvin.

“The women became pensive after that. They stopped dreaming of being brides and imagined being in love. They ceased thinking of themselves as wives and pondered what it meant to be human beings. They no longer chewed on gossip but hungered for the possibility of truth. They clucked, they swayed on their haunches, they argued for days about whether or not the poetess had actually named her Beloved, and why she had given a book to a bride. They disagreed over everything about her.

“But though those who heard her speak never forgot her, none remembered precisely what she said.”

And, a bit from Bahiyyih Nakhjavání in the Afterword of her novel:

“I wrote a fiction inspired by the life of Tahirih rather than a biography based on her life because literature allows for contrary interpretations to exist simultaneously.”

“Foreign diplomats, travellers, and scholars wrote of her. Sarah Bernhardt even commissioned a play about her. Her ideals were taken up enthusiastically in Austria and the Netherlands, in America, in Russia, and in France, and aspects of her life have been turned into poems, plays, tapestries…”

“[The book’s] chronology has been reversed in order to trace the links between her prophetic words and the men who held power over her contemporaries.”

And, because of what I feel is the importance of this book—for women (and, men...) and for all writers—here’s a talk by Bahiyyih Nakhjavání about how and why she wrote The Woman Who Read Too Much:

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2 responses to ““The Woman Who Read Too Much”

  1. Jane Watson March 20, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    This is fascinating. The Guardian review is very interesting. I am definitely going to read this book :-)


  2. Alexander M Zoltai March 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Responding to you is my last official act of the day, Jane…

    So glad you’ll be reading this book :-)


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