I’ve been interviewing Naïri Nahapétian for NoirNation No. 5. She’s an Iranian exile living in Paris, in the tradition of so many literary expats. Naïri writes crime fiction set in Iran, her native home. She writes to pull back the veil from the Islamic Republic and strip away the mythology that mystifies Westerners.
Writers in exile interest me for personal reasons. I was in effect exiled from Cuba and separated from my family when I was 15. I didn’t see my grandmother, my cousins, my aunts and uncle until many years later and in some cases never again. A forcible separation like that leaves a vacuum that can’t ever be filled, a nostalgia for places that can never be recovered. As for Naïri, fifteen years passed before she returned to the home she’d last seen when she was 10 years old. Overwhelmed by what she saw, she began writing and then publishing her impressions.
In the course of my studies, I made the acquaintance of probably the most exalted among exiled writers. Dante Alighieri was banished from his beloved Florence when he was 35. He wandered round Italy dependent on the kindness of others until he died in Ravenna, without ever having been allowed to return. For Dante, life itself is a condition of exile, a difficult journey from innocence through sin to the perfection of God.