Go Ask Your Mother

The Washington Post Magazine
(Cover Photograph by David Deal)
Sunday, May 8, 2005

Mothers are the most familiar people in the world but also, sometimes, the most mysterious. For Mother's Day, we encouraged nine grown children to seek answers to questions they've always wondered about but never put into words

Azar Nafisi and Negar Naderi

Azar Nafisi, 55, award-winning author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, and daughter Negar Naderi, 21, a junior at the University of Maryland majoring in English literature and premedical studies.

Negar: You've influenced my life a lot. So, I want to ask you, did your mom influence you? Because I know you guys didn't have as close a relationship as we do.

Azar: Well, I think I was almost obsessed with my mom, because I so much needed her approval. I needed her to love me. She would want me to be absolutely perfect in everything. I started writing about her immediately after I finished my book, because I was writing the acknowledgments to my book when she died. And I kept feeling, I want to write about loss. But loss presupposes wealth. You must have had something to lose. And that is when I realized how much she had given me. She had never seen her mom. The only thing she remembers of her mom is when her mom died. Only that. And the way she became obsessive with me was because she had never experienced a mother's love.

Negar: Was she proud of you?

Azar: Yes. But she was always proud of me in terms of my outside achievements. But . . . as a daughter, she always felt I fell short.

Negar: Did you feel she wanted you to fulfill some sort of convention? Because I know you're not a very conventional person.

Azar: No, it was just that she wanted to shape me according to her image.

Negar: What was her image?

Azar: She wasn't very sure. It was just that she wanted this complete obedience . . . But now I understand how lonely she was, how cold her world was. I feel so sorry for her. She was so talented and beautiful . . . She was a very, very intelligent woman . . . She always wanted to be a medical doctor. Now Negar is a medical doctor.

Negar: Not yet . . .

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