New Delhi: Kamin Mohammadi, just nine-years- old when her family fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution, had a great compulsion to share her story. Her book ‘The Cypress Tree’ more than 30 years later is, what she calls, a ‘family memoir and modern history of Iran.’
"It is not only the story of my family but also of my country. I call it a family memoir and modern history of Iran. It has been an idea I have had for at least 10 years! Maybe even longer, since the first trip back in 1996. I wanted very much to write about my family because when I rediscovered them, I fell in love with them all and felt strongly the need to share them with the world," she says.
Born in Iran in 1969, and exiled to the UK in 1979, she has been a journalist, travel writer and broadcaster and is currently living in Italy. ‘The Cypress Tree’ is her first book, telling the story of 20th-century Iran through three generations of Iranian women - herself, her mother and her grandmother.
"Also when I realized that my father was born in the same year that Reza Shah took the throne, that his life reflected exactly that great shift of modernity that Reza Shah`s rule brought about, the symbolism was too perfect to ignore. Add to that my great compulsion to share my culture and the beautiful country that I know which is so different to the terrible image that it has in the West and I really had no choice but to write this book," Kamin told reporters in an interview.
“I wanted to share my experiences, because I was convinced they were relevant to others too, that other people could find things to relate to within my own experiences, that I needed to write this book. I had a very great compulsion to share my story, to find connections through that with other people not just Iranians but so many others who have been displaced from their place of birth for some reason or other," she says about the reasons of penning the book, published by Bloomsbury.
Kamin had to do an "awful lot of research" before writing ‘The Cypress Tree.’
"I was especially keen to get the history right and to be able to be objective, so I concentrated a lot on the historical research. I would say I spent a year on research in Iran travelling about and talking to family members, 18 months on researching the history in the British Library in London and then 2-3 years writing it."
It was very difficult for her to relive the trauma while writing the book.
"It was terribly difficult - like walking through fire! But it was worth it. Absolutely. Because I got to rediscover my family and my country and therefore, in a way, myself."
Kamin says she`s not very plugged in to the present literary scene in Iran.
"But outside the country, in the diaspora, I think there is no one greater than Marjane Satrapi. Her books - illustrated as strip cartoons - are funny and poignant and I love the comic strip format; it’s very universal. I have noticed that in the diaspora it is mainly women who are writing these sorts of books, the memoirs and such like," she says.
According to her, ‘The Cypress Tree’ has brought her family together again as "everyone is reading it and getting in touch and reminiscing about the old days and saying how proud they are, and how grateful as they are bringing up new generations far from Iran and are happy that their children will have a record of their family and country`s history".
One of her uncles - who is a main character in the book and lives in the US now - told her that he reads it aloud every night to his wife, and sometimes they get so emotional that they stop reading and sit, just holding hands.
"For them it is so amazing to have their story be told, to have their experiences validated like this, to have the world know what they have been through and how incredible they are.
I am very proud of this,` Kamin, who now splits her time between London and Florence, says.