Writing My Persian Identity by Thomas Rooz Bazar

Jun 26, 2024 | Bubbler, FSR

My deepest wish is to share what I know about my ancestry, the love of my country and its people and traditions – the country of Iran. My latest book, The Any Dead, is a fictional take on one of my country’s greatest writers, Sadegh Hedayat, and his time as a young man in 1920s Paris. I did a deep dive into his life and re-imagined it into a personal act of literary creation. 

The process of writing this book through various drafts changed my life and opened my eyes to a world which I didn’t really know. Histories and mythologies of which I had no idea. My father, may he rest in peace, was enamored with his homeland. He spoke of it in glowing terms. Meanwhile, my reality of it was rooted in Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iran-Iraq war and practicing Sharia law that had its people by the throat.

Throughout my father’s battle with cancer the last few years of his life, we kept discussing the possibility of traveling back to Iran together, to reconnect with my roots and larger family. I had not been back to the country of my birth since I was eight years old; I was now in my fifties. While I was having these discussions, my friends and family were concerned that since I was an American citizen, it would be dangerous for me to return. My father thought this notion was bunk. 

I was at a loss. What risk would I be taking if I were to return? All I have known for many years of my life was rooted in ‘Western’ thought and civilization. I was raised reading the novels of Hemingway, Twain and Faulkner. Faulkner’s patch of earth in Mississippi seemed more real to me than the country of my birth. Iran, and ‘Persia’ existed so far away in a fever dream.

Even though I think of myself as American, I still have to protect myself from the racial bigotry and stereotypes the ‘West’ holds for me. My people have been branded as part of the ‘Axis of Evil.’ This has been a difficult pill to swallow. For in reality, Iran is a healthy society in which its people are not killing themselves over their jobs and instead, place a strong focus on family and a quality of life that is not about the pursuit of money. 

My life has been that of an outsider. It is not by choice, but a reality shaped by true cultural separation. My writing is finding its way between the pull of the West and the expectations defined by my own upbringing. My work is dark, erotic, neurotic and ultimately searches for some spiritual home. It is a strange, surreal type of no-man’s land, a place that is comfortable between dream and reality. That’s the best way I can describe it and my own place in this world.

Thomas Rooz Bazar is a novelist and playwright. His novel, An Expectation of Plenty (Atmosphere Press, 2020) is “An evocative character study that is rich in atmosphere…” (Kirkus). Two of his plays were recently performed by the performance collective, A Band of Actors. He lives in San Francisco.