Forced to flee to the United States after the violent Iranian Revolution of 1979 at age eleven,Â Angella M. Nazarian takes readers on a physical and emotional journey from past to present, in her new book, Life as a Visitor. The book chronicles Nazarian’s difficult and triumphant journey to blend East and West. Incorporating prose, poetry, and stunning photos and artwork, Nazarian creates a mosaic of thoughts, emotions and locations that allows readers an intimate and inside look at what life is like for an immigrant caught between two cultures.
MyJewishLearning asked Nazarian a few questions about her book, her history, and her plans.
Tamar Fox: This is a really beautiful book. From your photography, to the typography, to the poetry, it’s all very elegant. How do you envision people reading it? From start to finish? Do you see it as more of a coffee table book? Is it more a chapbook than anything else?
Angella Nazarian: Thank you for the kind words. Life as a Visitor actually began as a collection of stories which were originally intended to leave a piece of history for my sons, Philip and Eli. I think it can be read from start to finish, but I also think that it is just as enjoyable to read a little bit at a time or skip from story to poem to photograph and back to story. For some readers, different stories may resonate and impact them in different ways. One of the most humbling and wonderful things that I have learned through publishing Life as a Visitor is that so much of the book comes to life through the reader. We all have different journeys in life, and while my book details my own personal journey, readers are able to reflect and relate, adding a personal element to the experience. So thatâ€™s how I mostly envision people reading itâ€“in whatever way is most personally rewarding for them. As for being a coffee table or chapbook, I think that the book tells a visual story in its own right, but the prose and poetry add so much to the experience; as much as the visuals add to the story, the written words deepen the visual element. All of the components in the book work beautifully in tandem.
Can you tell us about how you put the book together? Why did you choose to include personal narratives, poetry and photography? How did you organize all of the pieces of the book, and why?
As I mentioned before, the book is inspired by my two sons. They were both born in the US, and I am so thankful that they have had a peaceful, safe childhood. However, I wanted to leave a piece of history and heritage for them, so that they would have an idea of what it was like for their parentsâ€™ generation as we were emigrating from Iran to the United States. Photography has always been a passion for me, and I think that personally photographing my travels has added so much of myself and my family in our own documentation of our trips. The photographs donâ€™t just capture the image; they also capture the emotions surrounding the trips, the memories that we made together, and the lessons that we each learned. Also, I am proud that I was able to showcase many great Iranian artistsâ€™ work in the book: Shadi Ghadirian is a sought after photographer (Los Angeles County Museum of Art collects her work) and Shirin Neshat is a world-renowned artist who is collected by museums and private art foundations. Poetry is another passion of mine, and it is also plays a huge role in traditional Persian art and culture, so it was important to me to include it in Life as a Visitor.
What do you want people to know about the Persian Jewish community after reading this book?
I hope that people understand some of the struggles that my generation has gone through and the issues that we still face today, decades later.Â I hope also that people better understand the hardships that my parentsâ€™ generation went through. These stories are part of the Jewish Diaspora, and all Jews all over the world can relate to them. Many people who have read the book have shared similar experiences.Â There is so much that we can learn from each other, and our diversity is what makes us such a strong country; I hope that my book helps people realize this.
There are estimates that there are as many as 35,000 Jews still in Iran. Your narrative is about leaving Iran. Do you think about ever going back? Do you keep in touch with people who are still there?
Yes, I do think about going back to Iran, and I absolutely miss it.Â I hope that there will be a chance for me to go back, especially with my kids.Â I would love to see my old neighborhood and be able to see the world where I grew up.Â But, I must add that I no longer view Iran as my home. â€œHomeâ€ should be where people feel safe and validated, and Iran unfortunately does not appear to be a safe place for Jews.Â I do still have some family members in Iran, none of whom I have seen since I was eleven. This has been a big loss for us as a community, as families are now scattered and it gets harder and harder to stay in touch.