The journey of becoming a designer is a long one, which makes listening to someone recap it for you a fascinating process. Fariba Soltani is quiet a striking character, a woman who
‘Farangi Girl’, which means ‘ foreign girl ‘ in Farsi is Ashley Dartnell’s memoir of her childhood and youth, being torn between her beautiful but volatile American mother ( chain-smoking, having affairs and believing that a white knight will come and rescue her ) and handsome and dedicated to his work British father ( who thought nothing of squandering Ashley’s hard earned cash from modelling assignments, which she thought he was safe-keeping for her ).
When I bought the book the idea of it seemed almost romantic-to be born in Iran, to spend a big part of your childhood in this fascinating country, to possibly have the understanding of Iranian people and their culture, considering that the country has been in the news for several years now. I also hoped to get a perspective on things from a European woman’s point of view, as several years ago I have read the memories of Farah Diba, the last Empress of Iran…..
I admire any person who has it in them to actually commit to writing the book and have it published, a Herculean task of sorts as far as I am concerned, but this book is particularly special. It’s very personal, painful and so raw at times, that you almost gulp for breath and pause before you can continue to read further. Ashley went through a lot of painful experiences as a child, she lacked the much needed affection and assurances from her parents, she had to rely on herself at times when one needs their parents guidance, love and wisdom, as well as looking after her two younger brothers ( all three children went through periods of complete neglect, having to bargain for food with a greengrocer or Ashley actually being confined to a small apartment, as she had no suitable clothes for her age; they didn’t go to school and had no friends ).
At some point Ashley’s mother took the children back to the States, initially living with her own parents and the separation from their father lasted five years, during which Ashley and her brothers got exposed to abusive relationship with the man that their mother was dating. Luckily, Ashley could lean on her godmother, who in my view tried to shield the children at least in some ways. In my mind I expected to meet someone quite and fragile and yet….
Ashley Dartnell is a softly spoken woman with a wonderful voice and very kind eyes. She has inner confidence and strength and we all sat enthralled listening to her telling us about the history of Iran and demystifying many things that we thought were true. She made us smile and pause for thought and throughout the wonderfully personal evening I looked at Ashley and was amazed at her strength of character and forgiveness that she exercised when it came to her parents shortcomings. Before writing the book, which took her about two years ( she not only relied on her memories, but also on the letters-there are benefits in handwriting as opposed to e-mail exchanges-that her mother and her lover, Martin, have written to each other ). While she was writing it, she let her son ( Ashley has three children of her own ) read her manuscript, which I thought was very brave of her and when the book was ready ( it took her about a year to edit it before she was ready to submit it to the publisher ) she made sure she asked all the people involved ( her godmother, her brothers etc. ) for their opinion and permission ( she even tried to reach out to Martin, who still lives in Iran, yet for whatever reason, only known to him, he hasn’t replied…) but only committed to publishing her memoire after both of her parents passed away.
We live in difficult, unsteady times and yet we often take good things for granted, so for me ‘ Farangi Girl ‘ is not only an honest and touching memoir of a woman who had a very hard childhood and formative years, to me is showcases the strength of spirit, the human element and the importance to forgive the people you love for their shortcomings and even letting you down. To overcome adversity and hardship and to become a strong, caring and loyal woman, wife, mother and friend to me is almost like a modern fairytale that inspires the goodness that each one of us posseses, to come out and nurture those we love or care for.
There is another book, that I am currently reading, that I want to mention. It’s written by an American male nurse, Greg Mortenson, who having failed to climb K2 in memory of his younger sister Christa, decided to build a school for the children in the village of his porter, Mouzafer, in a remote area of Pakistan.
How many of us will leave our comfortable existence behind, in order to go to a third world country and build a school? To save money, to sell one’s belongings, in order to help someone who you have never met? We take so many things for granted, we lose patience over the tiniest things but thanks to books like ‘Three Cups of Tea’ and ‘My Prison, My home’ one gains perspective and hopefully, changes for the better, offering our society something back, expecting nothing in return.
Haleh Esfandiari ‘My Prison, My Home’, Harper Press, pp.230 2009
Greg Mortenson ‘Three cups of tea’, Puffin books,