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Reading Afterword First

Here is the Afterword to The Saturday Night School of Beauty (The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty). What is about, original idea, writing and publishing process, and how it affected Marsha and her father’s life. I have learned from many readers that reading the afterword before starting the main story would help in better understanding and fully enjoyment of the book; therefore, I have posted it here. I hope that this would help the book readers to get an insight into Marsha’s writing, to decide whether they want to read the book in the first place, and if they do, to better understand and enjoy the stories and wealth of Persian culture and poetry contained in this book.

Afterword to The Saturday Night School of Beauty/ The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty.

“As my daughter, Marsha, wrote in a note in 2009, the idea for this book came to her in 2001 after a confrontational telephone conversation with her mother, which triggered recollections of her childhood memories. She turned to her computer and began to type. Not verbatim, not word for word what had transpired, but a hasty memo. Due to her involvement in other projects, however, including writing her first novel, Pomegranate Soup, Marsha had to postpone the act of writing for a later date—leaving the idea at the periphery. In 2008, after she had published her first two books, she turned her attention back to that original idea. She did not know then that she was embarking upon a daunting task, one that would keep her occupied for the following six years. As she put it later, when the idea first reared its mutant head, it was not so much a book as an elusive mental image of a scene—a meshing of childhood memories and imagination. Marsha was less than two years old when her mother and I were accepted to the University of New Mexico to continue our postgraduate degrees in America. We packed and were ready to go and were waiting for our visas from the US embassy in Tehran. Less than a day before it would have been our turn, we heard that the embassy was besieged and its personnel held hostage by the revolutionary students. Our dreams of studying in America perished. However, we decided not to give up. We decided to go to Argentina with the hope of getting a visa from the US embassy there. It would take more than four years, but we would finally get our visas. In Buenos Aires, while we waited, we managed to rent the fifth floor of a large building, much of which was sublet to other Iranian families. In this house, Marsha experienced the distinctive culture of the Iranian diaspora. Her memories of this time were the foundations upon which she built the narrative of this book. Soon after we arrived in Argentina, Marsha’s mother, who had learned the art of facial-hair removal using band andazi, or threading, secured a few clients. Gradually, our house became a gathering place for Iranian expatriates, especially women. It was a place to get information, to hear and tell stories, to exchange gossip, and to find new friends. When Marsha was seven, we moved to Miami, Florida, where again Marsha expanded her cultural knowledge while gathering and storing essential ingredients for her future stories. With us, she participated in Iranian gatherings, including poetry nights enriched with live music. Marsha, who was learning to play the piano, got the chance to show off by playing some elementary songs; she enjoyed the attention and admiration. At school in Miami, Marsha was identified as gifted and was selected for a special educational program designed for exceptional children. Marsha loved both music and books. She studied piano for eight years, including a year at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide, Australia. However, her love for books and writing surpassed even her fanatical desire to master the piano and to become a concert pianist. While her childhood memories provided the initial inspiration for this book, the act of writing gradually became a means to explore her favorite subjects: beauty, love, and metaphysical truth. She challenged religious beliefs, engaged in mystic practices, delved into Sufi’s illusive doctrines and rituals. Searching into the past, recollecting, interpreting, and reflecting upon her memories became both a way to gather material and a medium for exploring and remaking her views of the world and her place in it. To this end, Persian poetry provided her with vital insights. In Persian culture, which had deeply penetrated Marsha’s psyche, there is a strong tradition of communal recitation and interpretation—of reading poetry together, and together reflecting upon its meaning. This tradition attracted her attention as a precious cultural phenomenon. She embellishes the pages of this book with some profoundly meaningful poems and challenges readers with ambiguous and controversial verse. This was a formidable task and demanded research and study. It was even more daunting for someone who had not lived in Iran long enough to learn the language and had not been fully immersed in the culture of her birthplace—a culture that cannot be faithfully expressed in translation. She rushed to Persian literature and found an ocean of love, beauty, meaning, and mystery. She was determined to extract the essence from that ocean and to mix it with her own childhood memories in order to make this book her best and her most profoundly meaningful. Her commitment to this monumental undertaking preoccupied her and became a major cause of her lack of attention to her mental and physical health. In that 2009 note, she wrote: “I’ve spent the last five months working on the edit for my third book. It has been a painful process, to say the least. Hardly a night has passed that I have not woken up midway through sleep, body drenched in sweat, heart beating out the rhythms of some ancient tarantella inside my chest. My legs throbbed, both during the day and at night—the kind of throbbing that shook whatever seat I was on—and I looked like I had aged ten years, eyes drooping, skin ashen, a vague recollection that I had not washed my hair for a week straight.” As far as I am aware, these conditions persisted for more than five years, ending with her death in April 2014. Marsha had completed the manuscript in 2008 and 2009, setting the story in Los Angeles. Then she rewrote it, setting the scene in Buenos Aires. There are so many versions of the book, which demonstrates her continuous effort to achieve perfection and to leave a precious legacy for generations to come. I was aware of Marsha’s engagement in writing this book right from the beginning. Occasionally, she asked me questions when she needed information or clarification. However, my real involvement with the book began when Marsha came to stay with us for six months in 2012. During this time, we discussed the book, its title, and the main ideas behind it. Marsha used to read her text out loud, and I was to listen carefully and criticize it, although she did not like criticism, especially from her father. Then she gave me a copy of the manuscript to read (and invited me to offer suggestions, if I dared). At the same time, she was contacting publishers and agents. In June 2012, she went to the United States to finish the book and hopefully to sign a contract. After Marsha’s death, I learned that her delivery of the final manuscript was long overdue and that the last version, sent to HarperCollins Australia, was far from being complete. I realized that her book might not be published at all. I had lost my precious daughter, and I didn’t want her six years of intensive work to perish forever. I knew Marsha’s desire to give this book to the world, and I became determined to deliver it for her. I set out to review the many versions and her hundreds of scattered notes. I checked the English translations of the poems to ensure they were true to the meaning of the original Farsi. In undertaking this task, I experienced many mixed emotions. I repeatedly found myself crying, either as a proud or as a mourning father—sometimes as both. This book can be described as a contemporary allegorical narrative, similar to The Conference of the Birds, which was written in verse by the Persian poet Attar in the twelfth century. In Attar’s poem, the birds of different kinds decide to find their legendary leader, Simorgh. They all set out to pass through seven harsh and difficult valleys of spirituality and enlightenment. Many of them cannot overcome the hardship and die or abandon their search. Only thirty birds reach their destination on the top of Mount Qaf, where they believe Simorgh resides. However, they cannot find their imaginary master. The birds look at each other and realize that they themselves are Simorgh. In the Farsi language, the word si means thirty, and the word morgh means birds; therefore, Simorgh was nothing but the thirty birds who reached their destination; they are God, and God is them. In Marsha’s book, a group of Iranians of diverse backgrounds come together. Like the birds, they find that in concert, they can search for divine inspiration within themselves. Blessed with an abundance of cultural and spiritual guidance, and equipped with their ancient art of storytelling, they set out on their life journeys, buoyed by unity and togetherness. hanks to my wife, Debbie, and my son, Darius, for their patience and support during this hard time.” Abbas Mehran