Moris K. Niknam

  • Review
By – January 10, 2017

Maman is the Moris K. Niknam’s lov­ing trib­ute to his Iran­ian Jew­ish mother.

Mar­ried at 13 years old, Maman and her hus­band, called Baba (Dad­dy), were des­per­ate­ly poor. When Baba couldn’t find work, they and their chil­dren slept in a room in a fac­to­ry. By day they walked around in the street. Some­times there was no food, lit­er­al­ly, noth­ing to eat, and they all went to sleep hungry.

But still, Maman con­tin­ued to have babies, lots of them, to everyone’s wild delight. Deeply reli­gious, the lit­tle fam­i­ly believed that God, who had brought the Israelites across the Red Sea would nev­er fail them. Even­tu­al­ly they were able to buy a house of their own, with a garden.

As the chil­dren grew up they began leav­ing home for grad­u­ate study in Israel or the Unit­ed States. In Iran, a bloody rev­o­lu­tion broke out when the Shah was deposed. A New Jer­sey woman who had been in Iran on a mag­a­zine assign­ment turned on her tele­vi­sion one day after return­ing home and was hor­ri­fied to see a Jew­ish man with whom she had had lunch in Teheran being pub­licly behead­ed. But still Maman and Baba and their two small­est chil­dren made no effort to fol­low their old­er chil­dren out of the coun­try: they so loved the Per­sia that Iran used to be — its build­ings, cul­ture, cus­toms, lan­guage, and cui­sine — that they refused to leave.

Even­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, the sit­u­a­tion became too dire to ignore, and they joined their chil­dren in Israel. Once there, Maman devel­oped a bad case of dia­betes. So she had to under­go four hours of dial­y­sis every oth­er day. Her son Moris assumed the respon­si­bil­i­ty of keep­ing her com­pa­ny dur­ing this dis­agree­able treatment.

Hav­ing fol­lowed his Chris­t­ian wife into con­ver­sion, Moris car­ried a New Tes­ta­ment and read it to her. Hap­pi­ly, he could reas­sure her that in death up in heav­en she would be reunit­ed with her lit­tle boy who had choked to death on water­mel­on seeds. He also told her that Jesus would hold her in his ten­der embrace.

When death came, Maman’s fam­i­ly was incon­solable, except for Moris. She’s bet­ter up there,” he whis­pered to him­self, while the rest of his fam­i­ly went to sleep with­out eat­ing all day.

Niknam is per­haps a lit­tle too con­cerned with spar­ing his fam­i­ly any offense at his account of their expe­ri­ence, veil­ing their hard­ships in a lov­ing haze that becomes syrupy sweet at times. That being said, this book pro­vides use­ful insight into the Iran­ian Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, which is often neglect­ed in the glob­al Jew­ish narrative.

Jane Waller­stein worked in pub­lic rela­tions for many years. She is the author of Voic­es from the Pater­son Silk Mills and co-author of a nation­al crim­i­nal jus­tice study of parole for Rut­gers University.

Discussion Questions