The voices of suffering
The Buried Secrets of Peonies
By Mernegar Dorgoly
Mernegar Dorgoly’s The Buried Secrets of Peonies is a collection of eight short stories. Set in Iran during Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule, each story reflects the lives of ordinary people under the new theocratic government.
Looking back to history, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the key figure in the Iranian Revolution, also known as Islamic Revolution or 1979 Revolution. It was a series of dramatic events aimed at ousting the 2,500 years of patriotic Persian monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The uprising successfully uprooted and drove Pahlavi to exile on January 16, 1979.
Soon after the monarch’s departure, Khomeini established the Islamic Republic based on the principle of rule by the Islamic jurists. The new theocratic government allowed the clerics to hold powerful governmental roles.
While the Shah and his family were able to leave Iran unharmed, hundreds of his supporters and members of the overthrown monarchy and military were killed in firing squads. Likewise, Khomeini’s erstwhile revolutionary allies who opposed the theocratic regime were persecuted. Following the June 28, 1981 bombing at the headquarters of the Iran Islamic Republic Party (IRP) in Tehran, Khomeini declared anyone who violently opposed his government “enemies of God”. He then pursued a mass campaign against these people and had them interrogated and killed. And, shortly after the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq in 1988, Khomeini ordered the massacre of several political prisoners in the country.
Dorgoly’s short stories are taken from the experiences of ordinary people associated with or suspected of being against the new theocratic government. Being of Iranian descent herself, the author is familiar with the struggles her fellow countrymen went through under Khomeini’s reign of terror. The testimonies of her characters are common accounts of citizens and civilians, who were caught in the midst of political unrest and violence. Perhaps, even up to this day, there may still be Iranian families who are struggling to move on from the violent past. After all, the pain of losing loved ones and in being displaced from their own homeland can create a profound impact on the victims.
The Buried Secrets of Peonies serves as a memoir of a generation, who sacrificed themselves for the sake of their country’s freedom. The author must have wanted to preserve this part of Iran’s history lest the world forgets the callous regime it once had. Considering that The Buried Secrets of Peonies is her first collection, Mernegar Dorgoly is able to put her message across quite well. However, she could have given the major characters proper names to give weight to their stories. Referring to them in pronoun is significantly weak and confusing for the readers to follow. For this reason, I give The Buried Secrets of Peonies a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
Dorgoly is a promising author. And her book is apparently well proofread, I didn’t see any major error in it. I recommend The Buried Secrets of Peonies to readers 18 years old and above. Young people may be allowed to read it, but only with proper guidance from adults. The stories may be too stressful for young people to grasp that it might create a negative impact on them. Adults have to buffer them from a possible trauma.
[This review was originally published in Online Book Club]