Con­cealed: Mem­oir of a Jew­ish-Iran­ian Daugh­ter Caught Between the Chador and America

  • Review
By – March 4, 2021

Esther Amini’s mem­oir, Con­cealed, is a provoca­tive com­ing-of-age saga, recount­ing her youth and ear­ly adult­hood as a first-gen­er­a­tion Iran­ian Amer­i­can Jew­ish woman in the 1950s and 60s. Her famil­ial and per­son­al strug­gles are inter­twined with her his­to­ry and cul­ture, as she recounts the sto­ry of her Jew­ish ances­tors, forced to hide their iden­ti­ty in the holy Shi­ite city of Mashad, Iran, along­side the chal­lenges she faced as a first-gen­er­a­tion immi­grant in Amer­i­ca, and as a young woman in a tra­di­tion­al, patri­ar­chal, and author­i­tar­i­an home.

Amini’s per­spec­tive is at once per­son­al and rev­e­la­to­ry, pro­vid­ing a rare glimpse into life in Amer­i­ca for the first dozen Masha­di Jew­ish fam­i­lies who set­tled in Queens, New York in the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Amini’s father was a silent man with bouts of rage, and, fear­ing his daugh­ter would stray from his cir­cum­scribed, tra­di­tion­al moral­i­ty, he tried to lim­it her inter­ac­tions and intel­lec­tu­al curios­i­ty to prime her for mar­riage. Her moth­er — strong-willed, emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant, crude, and com­pli­cat­ed — often fled the home, leav­ing a young, embar­rassed Ami­ni crav­ing moth­er­ly love. Her moth­er enjoyed the free­doms Amer­i­ca afford­ed her, while allow­ing the patri­archy to per­pet­u­ate in her daughter.

A trained psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic psy­chother­a­pist, Ami­ni unpacks her par­ents’ unad­dressed emo­tion­al issues, mis­matched mar­riage, and oppres­sive upbring­ing, illus­trat­ing how the echoes of their inter­nal­ized trau­ma from cryp­to-Jew­ish life in Iran were present in her own Amer­i­can child­hood. The result is a deeply fem­i­nist account, dri­ven by shift­ing cul­tur­al undercurrents.

While Ami­ni reminds read­ers that her family’s idio­syn­crasies were atyp­i­cal for the small Masha­di émi­gré com­mu­ni­ty, her words have a ring of uni­ver­sal­i­ty. Feel­ing sti­fled and caught in a clash of cul­tures, she grap­ples to find her voice and place in the world, exem­pli­fy­ing the strug­gles of many first-gen­er­a­tion women from tra­di­tion­al homes. Ami­ni nav­i­gates between con­flict­ing iden­ti­ties and oscil­lates between remain­ing loy­al to a tra­di­tion­al way of life, and embrac­ing her inde­pen­dence, intel­lect, and modernity.

While her per­spec­tive on her past is some­times bleak — con­dens­ing the chaot­ic, rich, and often joy­ous tapes­try of Masha­di-Per­sian Jew­ish his­to­ry — her tes­ti­mo­ny is pow­er­ful, rare, and rev­e­la­to­ry. In a tight-knit com­mu­ni­ty, writ­ing pub­licly about sen­si­tive famil­ial, per­son­al, and local mat­ters can be per­ceived as an act of betray­al. In Amini’s case, break­ing the silence and recount­ing her sto­ry is an act of brav­ery — giv­ing voice to oth­ers and invit­ing them, through her sto­ry, to join in com­ing to terms with per­son­al, inter­gen­er­a­tional, and cul­tur­al challenges.

Lerone Edalati serves as a researcher on mul­ti­ple projects to doc­u­ment the oral his­to­ries of Masha­di and Iran­ian Jews for aca­d­e­mics and non-prof­it insti­tu­tions. Lerone holds a bach­e­lor’s in Mid­dle East­ern & Islam­ic Stud­ies from New York Uni­ver­si­ty and a mas­ter’s in Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies from The Grad­u­ate Cen­ter, City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. She is a Broome & Allen Fel­low at the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Federation. 

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