- Barnard College
- James Lasdun
- Give Me Everything You Have
- Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror
- Rolling Stone Magazine
- New School University
- Afarin Majidi
- Looking for Mr. Goodbar
- Richard Gere
- Judith Rossner
- Bill Cosby
- Harvey Weinstein
- John Gray
- Men are from Mars - Women are from Venus
- Camp Islam
- Jewish Holocaust
Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror: A Memoir, by Afarin Majidi (Barnes & Noble/Amazon, 2014, 325 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
“A woman forced to flee Iran with her family … bravely explores three explosive issues—mental illness, racism, and misogyny—with bracing candor … Majidi provides an engrossing and timely look at the way women of color are doubly objectified, as exotic sexual quarry and as individuals worthy of contempt.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS
July 25, 2018 (San Diego) - The very first time that this writer interviewed Afarin Majidi, the author of this memoir, Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror, what resonated with me was her reliance on and speaking of the current and timely “#MeToo” movement, as if everything written in this memoir is symptomatic of what women are experiencing throughout the country.
Coming at a time when we find the indictment of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the recent conviction of noted comedian Bill Cosby, this memoir by Majidi will resonate with readers for that reason alone.
A closer examination of what Majidi outlines in this well written and incisive book points to a truth that many of us might not want to acknowledge or accept. To some small extent, this book reminds me of the book by John Gray, Ph.D., Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, in that its central metaphor have become a part of popular culture and the foundation of most of the relationship problems between men and women.
The author earned her BA from Barnard College and an MFA from New School University. She is the niece of Abdol-Madgid Madgidi, a prominent cabinet member during the Shah of Iran’s reign. Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror begins with her family’s narrow escape from execution during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Earning an MFA in writing at the New School, working at Rolling Stone magazine, and being courted by an editor at a prestigious publishing house – Afarin Majidi should be thrilled with the direction her life is taking as she turns thirty. Instead, she is spiraling into the depths of madness as she seeks love and acceptance in an Islamophobic society.
After colleagues at the magazine drug and rape her, she’s left with an unfinished novel. She turns to a former professor, James Lasdun, with whom she develops a toxic obsession. Majidi is the woman he calls “Nasreen” in his memoir, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. One wonders if this “Nasreen” in Lasdun’s memoir is a cruel and twisted take on Majidi’s dead half-sister, “Nasrin”.
A review of Lasdun’s book by Mark O’Connell in The Guardian references one of Majidi’s numerous emails characterized by an ugly and insistent antisemitism, which states: “I say if I can’t write my book and get emotionally and verbally raped by James Lasdun, a Jew disguising himself as an English-American, well then, the Holocaust Industry Books should all be banned as should the films.” O’Connell also states in his review of Lasdun’s book: “Two years after the workshop ended, Nasreen emailed Lasdun about a finished draft of her novel.” This makes one wonder, is this Lasdun’s book, or Majidi’s?
Although this is a very well written memoir, as one might expect from the author’s BA in English Literature and MFA in Fiction Writing background, it is a truly disturbing book for all she chooses to share with the reader. It is troubling because everything she has written in this memoir is actually true. Perhaps it is of therapeutic benefit for her. She does pour her soul into this book!
Majidi, unabashedly states in Madness in a Time of Terror: “I fired him when I returned to work and soon began jumping from one relationship to the next – often with colleagues – seeking anything that resembled love. I also felt a nagging need for sex at all times. When my art director left for another job, I hired a man in her place and began sleeping with him too. I also bailed him out of jail after he allegedly hit his girlfriend for prying into our affair. I eventually fired him, and even though he threatened to sue me for sexual harassment, he never followed through.” This profound passage by the author, seems to contradict our earlier phone conversation in which she alluded to the “MeToo” movement as being applicable to her and her life.
The title of Majidi’s memoir, Madness in a Time of Terror, seems so appropriate after reading it, as it seems that the author may have contributed to her own madness and terror by the choices she made in her life.
Perhaps it is worth noting in this memoir a passage referencing the author’s mother, which states: “I was broke, sick, sleepless, and afraid, just as I had been in New York. My mother offered a ride to the hospital instead of more sleepless nights on her couch, which is what I wanted more than anything. ‘Just go and take care of yourself. You’re out of your mind,’ she’d say whenever I’d share my version of reality with her. But I was wary of going to the hospital, where I was still certain I’d be sexually assaulted while sedated.”
Make no mistake about it – this book is about eroticism, rape, mixed in with drug use and anxiety. A case in point, is demonstrated in another passage in Majidi’s memoir: “As soon as he entered my apartment, he began kissing me feverishly. Despite the hesitancy I felt in opening my body to a man again, I was soon at ease because he was a gentle and intuitive lover. I was happily surprised by a series of seemingly endless orgasms and how tender he was after he worked so diligently to achieve them. After the rape and the rotten men who followed, I was convinced I’d never come again.”
Majidi makes a lot of admissions in this memoir, which one might readily understand why certain things occurred in her life. One very profound passage in this book states: “I didn’t see any point in telling the healer that I thought my mother had tried to poison me before I went to sleep, so she told me my episode was nothing more than a severe panic attack, which was symptomatic of a deep depression.” That basically sums up this book!
Keeping in mind, this is a memoir, and Majidi opens up her past and present life and reveals everything! She profoundly states: “After fighting racism my whole life, I suddenly found myself on a strange pedestal for being ‘dark white,’ a category from which all Jews and Arabs were excluded because of their Semitic roots. I didn’t mind the preferential treatment, and I even pretended to be ‘open to Jesus.’ When I shared my stories of why I’d left New York with my new friends, my Facebook friends blamed everything on the Jews, who controlled the media and the publishing houses, they said. They also ranted about the Jewish-owned businesses in China and called Jews the enemy of the state. They were all well versed in alternative history about the Jewish Holocaust, which they claimed was orchestrated by the ruling-class Jews as a way of staking a claim in Israel.”
It is ironic that the author writes of fighting racism her whole life, and for finding herself on a strange pedestal for being ‘dark white’, a category from which all Jews and Arabs were excluded because of their Semitic roots, that the author would seem to gravitate towards toxic relationships with white men such as a James Lasdun that tended to look down on her. It was as if she was trying to get acceptance from her discriminators or persecutors. She uses the term Islamophobia a lot throughout the book.
Clearly, the author is conflicted about her race and ethnicity, stating in one particularly poignant passage; “I was horrified that this stranger had probably read the thousands of emails I’d sent James after he left me without a proper goodbye. I sensed that my innocence mattered little against the damning evidence the agent held in judgment of me, namely my very Muslim-sounding last name.” This, in regard to a black federal agent coming to her home threatening her with arrest if she continued to harass and stalk the aforementioned James Lasdun.
Majidi further stated in this particularly poignant passage regarding her alleged harassment and stalking: “I was incensed that this African-American man didn’t see the racial profiling at play. ‘You would not be at a white guy’s house right now if he told a Social Security agent she deserves to lose her job,’ I said. But the agent wasn’t moved at all.” As if the author and the black federal agent had some shared racial and oppressed affinity with each other!
In our phone conversation and interview, Majiidi admits to being manic depressive and bi-polar, and seeing a therapist and taking medication for it. Therein might be the problem! In the prologue to this book, she states: “I communed with the hummingbirds that hovered close because they carried messages from my dead half-sister, Nasrin.”
Perhaps revealing about this memoir, and its central theme, is the author stating in a particular passage: “I never fell in love with John. There was nothing attractive about an alcoholic rich kid without any goals in life. I found a new therapist, to whom I listed all of my misgivings about John. I also told her that the Zoloft had gone from making me feel better to making me feel worse. I couldn’t sleep and would stay up all night and talk nonstop. I couldn’t make myself eat or do simple chores. My thoughts jumped from one subject to the next, and my heart was always racing, as if I were having a never-ending panic attack. She suggested that I taper off the Zoloft slowly.” This is disturbing, and scary!
In that same phone conversation with the author, she talked of a sexual experience as a teenager with another teenager a few years older, that she viewed as statutory rape, yet she continued to have willing sexual encounters with this person. Clearly, in reading this memoir the author had numerous sexual encounters in life, to the extent that she indicated she was “slut-shamed” by a particular reader. The author even accused or intimated to this writer that I had “slut-shamed” her by my questioning of her in a phone interview about this alleged statutory rape.
We talked of cultural attitudes regarding sex and promiscuity over the phone, with the author stating that women of color, which she considers herself, not being given the benefit of doubt in regard to accusations of rape and molestation.
This memoir also brings to mind, the classic and disturbing movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar, starring Diane Keaton and Richard Gere, in which a school teacher seeks out abusive sexual relationships after hours, and ends up getting killed as a result of it. Not to say that Majidi could suffer a similar fate as the school teacher in the movie, which was based on a true story by the author Judith Rossner, but in Majidi’s memoir she did reveal similar questionable behavior and choices with men.
The essence of what Majidi attempts to convey in this very well written, but deeply troubling book, can best be summed up by a particular passage in the Epilogue of Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror: “If Trump remains president, my chances of being sent to a Muslim internment camp are high, especially if we go to war with Iran, something Trump and Clinton both considered even before the election. But I don’t have panic attacks about what the future holds anymore. I’ve lived the worst of it in my mind already. I was hallucinating during a manic phase, the doctors keep telling me, but I still worry that my delusions were visions of what’s to come. If they ever knock on my door to take me away, I only hope I’m allowed my laptop at Camp Islam so I can document everything they do to us out of hatred and fear. I wonder if they would round up my Islamophobic Muslim family as well. And what about my medications? I won’t cope very well being locked away without them.” Lending credence to Majidi's thoughts about Islamophobia, is the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of President Trump's "Muslim Ban" here.
Again, very disturbing, but interesting reading, voyeuristic reading!
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and he is the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online news magazine in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.