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The Woman Who Read too Much

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3.44  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Gossip was rife in the capital about the poetess of Qazvin. Some claimed she had been arrested for masterminding the murder of the grand Mullah, her uncle. Others echoed her words, and passed her poems from hand to hand. Everyone spoke of her beauty, and her dazzling intelligence. But most alarming to the Shah and the court was how the poetess could read. As her warnings a ...more
336 pages
Published May 2015 by Stanford University Press
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Rowena
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rowena by: Proustitute (on hiatus)
"If one were to believe her highness, the whole country was on the verge of revolution, with women deploying an artillery of inflammatory prose, wielding books like bucklers, and taking up pens as if they were swords." Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, The Woman Who Read Too Much

Most of my favourite fiction books have a strong feminist element. This is the kind of book I adore; stories of women refusing to accept traditional or patriarchal values and vowing to live the lives they wish to lead regardless of
...more
Fionnuala
A couple of months ago I was browsing through the antiquarian book stalls where I live. The vendors are very dedicated people; all year around they sell their wares in the market square under the high heavens, only covering their delicate paper goods with tarpaulins when the inclemencies threaten to dilute the ink and turn the cloth covers into rags. Fortunately it was sunny the day I was there so everything was on show, even the older and more fragile volumes. I fingered the binding of some, tu ...more
Sue
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: MENA
The Woman Who Read too Much has been a truly wonderful surprise as I have never read any of Bahíyyih Nakhjavání's writing before, nor have I read anything about Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn, the 19th c. Iranian theologian and advocate for women's literacy who was fleshed out to become the model for the titular poetess. What an exciting discovery on both counts. The action of this historically based fiction occurs during the second half of the 19th century and is bookended by assassination attempts on ...more
Judy
Because of its title, I was destined to read this novel. I am the woman who reads too much. But for the poetess of Qazvin, her excessive reading brought tragedy and an early death, while for me it is saving my sanity.

Let me say right off that this is an extremely challenging read. Its larger than life characters go by several names and titles each. It is set in mid 19th century Persia. It is told from four different points of view. The time sequence is a tangled and overlapping web. If I hadn'
...more
Leslie Reese
May 06, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 elegant stars
The Woman Who Read Too Much is a novel inspired by the life of Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn---a hugely mysterious figure about whom even less would be known were it not for the “foreign diplomats, travellers, and scholars” who spread her infamy into the West during the 19th century. It is known that she was born into and educated by a family of mullahs who apparently took things too far. She pursued independent thought and sharp reasonings which emboldened her to challenge the religiou
...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Woman Who Read too Much by Bahíyyih Nakhjavání is based on the life of the 19th century Persian poet, theologian, radical thinker, and staunch advocate for women’s rights, Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn. The novel pays homage to Qurratu’l-Ayn for challenging orthodox interpretations of Islam and for her insistence on a woman’s right to literacy. Qurratu’l-Ayn, referred to throughout the novel as the poetess of Qazvin, is a courageous, brilliant, and stunningly beautiful woman who refuses to compromis ...more
Kookie
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this, but I just didn't. Slow. Meandering storyline and jumbled timelines frustrated a potentially interesting story with a vitally important message about female literacy. Disappointing.
David
The title seems like an oxymoron.
Martina Zuliani
While I like the idea of a book about an historical person who actually fought for women's education in 19th Century Persia, I was disappointed by the author's writing style. Many things were repeated in a confusing way and the storyline was difficult to be followed. I had the impression that the author wanted to show her artistic and writing skills by writing complicated chapters and an by using an alternative narration, but that the trick didn't work. The books could have been way more interes ...more
Sherry Schwabacher
Táhirih (Arabic: "The Pure One") or Qurratu'l-`Ayn (Arabic: "Solace/Consolation of the Eyes") are both titles of Fátimih Baraghání (1814 or 1817 - August 16-27, 1852), an influential poet and theologian of the Bábí Faith in Iran. Her life, influence, and execution made her a key figure of the religion. Bahíyyih Nakhjavání has written a novel that takes the raw facts of Táhirih's life and creates a dreamlike meditation on her influence on women's rights, famously stating to the Grand Vazir "You c ...more
Umbereen Beg-mirza
Jun 24, 2015 rated it liked it
I desperately wanted to like this book- having loved the Saddlebag. But the book is slow and thick like treacle- pages and pages of the same words, slowly swirling towards a conclusion we already know.
Patricia
Jan 26, 2016 rated it liked it
While this novel has rich prose, the story seemed somewhat repetitive, slow and grating. I am wondering if I didn't have the patience without the cultural knowledge or context. The book was "inspired by a nineteenth-century Persian woman, Tahirith Qurrwtu'l-Ayn, a renowned poet and theologian, radical and outcast." It revolved back and forth upon itself about the misunderstanding, mistrust, and implications of an Englishwoman who could read and had knowledge and religion. The Poetess of Qazvin, ...more
Cheryl
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adultlit
This book is not easy to read because the reader is plunged headlong into a time and space that's unlabeled and totally unfamiliar (unless maybe you are properly schooled in the history of Iran). I picked it up because I was intrigued by a book that had been translated into so many other languages first before it was published in English. The novel is a collection of "books" written from the points of view of different female characters and their interaction about the Poetess of Qazvin, a litera ...more
Claudia
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Tahirih was one of the earliest feminists. Born in Persia (Iran) in the early 19th century, Tahirih bucked tradition by becoming well-educated and discussing theology with men. This book portrays the life of Tahirih as well as many of her supporters and enemies in a very interesting way. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in feminism.
Kelsey Breseman
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Perhaps I read this in the wrong mood, but I found the slow pace of this book really hard to get through. It's a lovely mosaic, multifaceted, quietly rebellious, interspersed with sumptuous metaphor. And for all that, I was mostly just glad to finish :/
Dorothy
"A woman should know her place."

- the grand Mullah, uncle/father-in-law of the poetess of Qazvin


This is a story about a woman who most definitely did not know her place, or rather, she rejected the "place" that her society assigned to her. The story is based on a real woman, Tahirih Qurratu'l-Ayn, the poetess of Qazvin, who lived and died in the mid 19th century in Persia, during the time of the Qajar dynasty.

The poetess was the daughter of a Mullah who took the unusual step of defying the stri
...more
J.S. Dunn
Dense prose, the specific gravity of say, the planet Jupiter [ if that is still classed as a planet]. But the subject matter is the downer. Bring a rusty razor blade for the human condition looks hopeless in the mideast. After all, they have yet to have plumbing.

My appetite has dwindled for tales of how awful certain mideastern cultures are. When are they going to catch up? What's with the willful ignorance?

The most striking thing about this tale is how little society has changed in Iran since
...more
Jeffrey Brown
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best I've read
Monica
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's too close to me finishing this to be coherent and 'review'. For now: I loved it. I want to read it again. I wish I had read it slower to make it last longer. Read it.
Jim Puskas
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I realize my assessment of this book is far out of step with most readers but I had several serious problems with it. First of all, the time-scale and sequence of events is so badly scrambled that it becomes almost impossible to follow the plot; there are several events that could not possibly have occurred as as described. Likewise, the actions of more than one character are at times blended together so seamlessly, even within a single sentence that it makes no sense. This is not being clever, ...more
Esther Bradley-detally
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read this quite a while back. It is about Tahireh , the famed Poetess in Persia, herald of a prophecy of women's equality, and much much more. So fine.
Autumn
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
There was nothing terribly wrong with this book, and I wish I had a better idea of who what's out there as far as middle eastern lit, besides the kite runner or other nonsense that looks to be marketed or created for a western audience. (Maybe it's not, I don't know, thats a total judgment without any real basis) My main problem with this book was that the jumping back and forth in time was confusing and it kept me from feeling very engaged with any of the characters.
Avril Martin
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book so much because of the title! I didn't really like it till the last section where you really understand the central character. The book is split into 4 sections from the point of view of different narratives. Within each section they flitted from one time period to another and it became really confusing. By the end, I finally liked it but I almost didn't finish the book because of how haphazard it felt.
Nic
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"There is no such thing as a complete woman in this world."

Brilliant. Just brilliant. This tale of court politics, domestic life, and gender in late 19th-century Tehran isn't the fastest-paced novel in the world; it's written in a deliberately elliptical (even allegorical) style, and with a structure that sips back and forth in time, frustrating straightforward readings of both plot and character. But with every revisiting, new layers are revealed; the before and after of a series of deaths of h
...more
Tammy Rhoades-Baldwin
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: eastern-fiction
I loved this author's writing style and the story was beautifully arranged. Most of the specifics of Tahirih's life is unknown but for a few amazing events, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's fictional details were plausible and interesting. I'm so glad this book was recommended to me by Sandra Hutchison when taking her creative writing course through the Wilmette Institute.
World Literature Today
"Bahiyyih Nakhjavani’s third novel, The Woman Who Read Too Much, retells the life and martyrdom of the nineteenth-century Persian Bahá’í leader, poet, and early champion of women’s literacy and emancipation movement, Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn (ca. 1814–52). . . Nakhjavani’s treatment of the historical figure is not so much to paint her as an eloquent proponent of the nascent faith but to apply her considerable narrative dexterity to an imaginative novel portraying the life and times of a woman with ...more
Claire
Oct 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
This specific text is not a book against women reading! It is a 19th century Iranian feminist text. It's about a family, and is split into three books: of the mother, of the sister, and of the daughter.

The importance of universal literacy made me so uncomfortable with this novel. But what is important is not just being able to read, as much as understanding the implications others have attempted to communicate through the medium of text.
So, of course, a 100% in the mechanics of language is wond
...more
Nadia Marques de Carvalho
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read a book like this one before. It seems to verge in different times, spaces and energies. It was a beautiful read overall. There is quite some criticism here on Nakhjavani's writing style - I am inclined to suggest that people didn't read past the first 80 pages, as the beginning was pretentiously written and I found everything to be unnecessarily convoluted. Nakhjavani spends far too long setting the context and the reader can't be blamed for losing focus. If I wasn't reading it fo ...more
Renee Gimelli
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Translated texts demand commitment. This was a challenging read and it looks like I am late to the party. The title was irresistible to me (often accused of the same) but the history of Iran is like looking at a traffic accident and being unable to tear your eyes away. Unfortunately, it seems as if the poetess of Qazvin made a very little difference in that society's advancement into the current century
A Yusuf
Sep 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I personally enjoyed only the first half of the book.
It seemed to me like the author was struggling to keep the story going after that, and the whole mixup between timelines and chronology was a little too much to bear. This was a fascinating read, all said and done, but the author could have tried to make it a better read without confusing the reader throughout.
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Bahiyyih Nakhjavání is a Persian writer educated in the United Kingdom and the United States. After teaching literature at universities in North America and Europe, she came to live in France where she has been conducting workshops in creative writing/reading for the past decade. Bahiyyih Nakhjavání's books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been translated into many languages. In 2007, she recei ...more

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