Freedom from Torture - Prison experiences in Iran inspire torture survivor Nasrin Parvaz’s new novel

Prison experiences in Iran inspire torture survivor Nasrin Parvaz’s new novel

Human rights activist, torture survivor, writer and painter, Nasrin Parvaz saw her first novel in English launched at London’s Owl Bookshop last night. Nasrin is a member of Freedom from Torture’s Write to Life programme, the UK’s first creative writing group for torture survivors.

The Secret Letters from X to A, published by Victorina Press, draws on Nasrin’s own experiences as a civil rights activist in Iran, where she spent eight years as a political prisoner. The cover features one of Narsrin’s paintings drawing on her own time in prison.

Nasrin Parvaz became a civil rights activist when the Islamic regime took power in Iran. She was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death in 1982. Her sentence was commuted to ten years imprisonment and she was actually released after eight years, in 1990. After her release, Nasrin resumed her activities and once again she found herself being followed by Islamic guards.

She realised she could no longer stay in Iran and she fled to England, where she claimed asylum in 1993. She was granted refugee status a year later, and has since lived in London, where she continues to be active in drawing attention to human rights violations in her home country.

The Secret Letters from X to A tells the story of Faraz, a young man who accepts his uncle’s offer of a summer job converting one of Tehran’s prisons into a museum of the repressive rule of the Shah. He understands too late that this will mean destroying all evidence that the present regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has tortured and executed prisoners in this same building.

Haunted by the treachery of what he is required to do, Faraz discovers a series of secret notebooks written by Xavar, a pregnant young woman who was interned there in 1984. Reading her account, Faraz finds that there is a way to redeem the situation.

Nasrin says:

Writing is hard work – it doesn’t always come easy. This book is fiction but truth can be worse than fiction, and sometimes harder for people to believe. It was a slow and hard process, putting my experiences into this fictional form.

Nasrin is already a published author in several languages. Her One Woman’s Struggle in Iran: A prison memoir was published in Farsi in 2002, and in Italian in 2006 by Effedue Edizioni. It will be published in English by Victorina Press in December 2018. Temptation, based on the true stories of a number of male prisoners who survived the 1988 massacre of Iranian prisoners, was published in Farsi in 2008.

Nasrin says:

I stopped writing in English for a while because I felt I couldn’t express myself adequately; but these days everything is in English, and the percentage of work in English translated from other countries is tiny. So I thought to write about Iran in English was a kind of rebellion against this new form of colonialism.

Her poems and short stories have been published in several anthologies, including Write to be Counted, Resistance Anthology, 2017; Over Land, Over Sea, Poems for those Seeking Refuge, published by Five Leaves, in 2015. Her poems are published in Live Encounters Magazine. Her short story ’The Time of Assassinations’, was chosen as one of the highly-commended entries of the anthology Words And Women: Four, published by Unthank Books while her story 'A war against womanhood', won the Women’s World Award in 2003.

She is a translator from Farsi into English .Together with poet Hubert Moore, Nasrin has translated poems, prohibited in Iran, from Farsi into English. They appear in the Modern Poetry in Translation series.

Nasrin is also a painter and was the guest artist of Our Lives, Exhibition of Art by Foreign National Prisoners in May 2018. Her paintings were accepted for inclusion in the exhibition’s Calendar and for postcards.

Sheila Hayman of Write to Life says:

We at Write to Life are very proud that Nasrin’s career as a writer began in Write to Life, at that stage a small group of people with no ambition for their writing beyond sharing it between themselves.

Now we can count Nasrin among a number of published authors in the group, which also performs at literary festivals, creates film, music and theatre as well as writing, and has collaborated with major arts organisations including the Tate, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Roundhouse.

Writing however, the simple magic that happens between pen and paper, remains the bedrock of our work, and it’s a privilege to play a role in the beginning of writers’ journeys.”

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