Touba and the Meaning of Night

PEN PROMOTES white on black
Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahrnush Parsipur
Translated from Persian by Havva Houshmand & Kamran Talattof

Published by Marion Boyars, April, 2007


Touba and the Meaning of Night is written from a distinctly Iranian viewpoint, and in it, Parsipur explores the ongoing

tensions between rationalism and mysticism, tradition and modernity, male dominance and female will. Throughout the novel, the characters defy Western stereotypes of Iranian women and Western expectations of the Persian literary form, speaking in an idiom that reflects both the unique creative voice of its author and an important

tradition in Persian women’s writing.

When her father dies, 14 year-old Touba proposes to a 52 year-old relative in order to ensure her family’s financial security. Intimidated by her

outspoken nature, Touba’s husband soon divorces her.

She marries again, to a prince with whom she has four children – but he proves unfaithful and unreliable. Touba is divorced from him, and lives out

the rest of her life as matriarch to a changing household of family members and assorted refugees.

She is haunted by the spirit of a young girl who was murdered by her own father after becoming pregnant as a result of a violent rape.

Touba’s daughter secretly marries Ismael but when he is jailed for extremist behaviour she tries to abort her unborn baby, leaving herself infertile.

Touba and the Meaning of Night tells the story of one woman’s life against an ever-changing political and social backdrop.


Shahrnush Parsipur was born in 1946 in Tehran,Iran.  She published her first short stories in literary magazines at the age of 16, and went on to write essays, story collections, and several novels. She received her B.A. in sociology from Tehran University in 1973 and studied Chinese language and civilization at the Sorbonne from 1976 to 1980. She was arrested for the first time in 1974, by the Shah’s intelligence agency, and would be jailed three additional times under the Islamic Republic. She began writing Touba and the Meaning of Night while imprisoned in Iran.

Touba was published in Iran in 1989 to great critical acclaim and instant bestseller status until Parsipur was again arrested a year later, and all her works banned by the Islamic Republic.

Parsipur now lives in the USA and writes in exile in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Havva Houshmand is a faculty member of theSchool ofInternational Studies at the University of the Pacific.

Kamran Talattof previously co-translated Parsipur’s Women Without Men and is associate professor of Near Eastern Studies at theUniversity ofArizona, Tuscan.


Writers in Translation organized two events to celebrate the publication fo the book:

18th April, Shahrnush Parsipur discussed her seminal novel, Touba and the Meaning of Night atAga KhanUniversity and19th April, a reception and reading with Shahrnush Parsipur and Maureen Freely at Al Saqi Bookshop.


Originally posted with the url:

About English PEN staff

This content is published by the English PEN staff.

View all posts by English PEN staff →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *