It was mentioned in an interview with Somayeh Sharifloo

Documented oral history

Translated by: Fazel Shirzad

2020-08-04


Note: The book "The Most Beautiful Days of Life" is the memoirs of Fawzia Madih, one of the women of Khorramshahr, written by Somayeh Sharifloo. This book, published by Surah Mehr Publications in 2019, is the result of about three hundred hours of the author's interview with the narrator, a lot of library and field research, and repeated rewrites over several years.

The reporter of the Iranian Oral History website got an interview with the author about her method of interviewing and writing this book for those who are interested in the field of memoirs.

How did you get into memoir-writing in the field of Sacred Defense?

To answer this question, I have to go back a little. My father was in the army and we lived in the fourth airbase of Dezful. During the war and the rocket attacks, one or two of the houses around us were shot by rockets and destroyed. In 1990, when the war had just ended, we went there through the officials of the airbase with several military families to visit the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr. I was nine years old at that time. When I saw Khorramshahr as the bus was passing through the unpaved ruins with great difficulty, it was very strange to me what we came to look at and I asked the elders this question. The elders explained to me a little what had happened here, but it was still strange to me. Of course, they were reluctant to talk about those days because they had damaged from the war. In high school, I was interested in everything related to the Sacred Defense era, whether watching movies or reading the limited books available to us, until I was a sophomore, I traveled with the students of the university as "The Travelers of Light" for the first time. The most important thing in the journey of "The Travelers of Light" is the spiritual use of those climates by students, but in addition to the spiritual use, it was very interesting to me that some students and graduates came there and narrated the history of the sacred defense of that area where we went to. After attending these classes, I gained more information and was very interested in the topics related to Sacred Defense, Khorramshahr, the resistance of Khorramshahr, and the events that took place there, because I think the most important document for the aggression of the Ba'athist regime and its support from various Western countries and Arabic is the issue of attacking to Khorramshahr. That is to say, the most obvious place where we can prove that they were aggressors is what was happening in Khorramshahr, and I followed this case so much that among all the periods, I had the best and most information about Khorramshahr. Because of my excessive follow-up in this case, if someone wanted to know about Khorramshahr or gain information among my contemporaries, I would be asked for talking about it; I was there for one or two years as the narrator of the Khorramshahr’s Cultural Center for Sacred Defense. Beside narration, I talked to the natives I knew who lived and fought in the days of the resistance, and the defensive fighters I knew. I also talked to commanders and combatants who were present during the Sacred Defense and improve my knowledge. Besides, I was studying carefully the books of Sacred Defense, which were specifically related to Khorramshahr and were narrated directly and indirectly by Iranians and Iraqis, and specialized books such as the diaries of the IRGC and the army, which dealt with military and even political issues related to Khorramshahr. I had scrutinized so much that I could have made a mistake if there had been a mistake in the book. After a while, it seemed to me that narration alone is not enough and I have to enter the field of writing these narrations. I continued my studies until I  met Ms. Seyedeh Azam Hosseini, the head of the women's unit of the Office of Art and Resistance Literature, and worked with her to transcribe the audio files. Most of the book "The Most Beautiful Days of Life " relates to Khorramshahr, and I agreed to transcribe the audio files of the interview, and when I was not successful with cooperating with the previous author, I agreed to do the interviews and write the memoirs Ms. Madih.

■What were the features of the book "The Most Beautiful Days of Life" caused you to agree?

I did not choose the memoirs of Ms. Madih solely because of she was a martyr's wife. A combination of several factors encouraged me to compile her memoirs. Until that time, most of the books related to women were about their presence on the battlefield. I was very insistent on narrating the effective presence of women outside the war. That is, the narrative of life behind the battlefield was very important to me. In fact, what is said in the book is not only the issue of Ms. Madih as the wife of a martyr, but her life during the Sacred Defense in the city is also narrated and it is stated what was going on in the city.

During the periods of acquaintance with the Sacred Defense, we were deeply convinced that the role of a woman in the Sacred Defense means being attended in a war city and the battlefield as a medic and relief worker, fighter, and the like. Of course, all of these things are very important, and if hundreds of books are written about them, they are still not enough. But Ms. Madih was forced to leave the city, and it was important to me what happened to her there. The issue of the victims and the events that took place for them needed to be considered in this book; those who were comfortably living in their homes and were displaced by the start of the imposed war. After passed these years, when I think about it, it is very difficult for me to believe that someone locks her door and puts Qur'an behind the door, hoping that she will return very soon, but she can't return. I talked to many women and they said that when they were leaving Khorramshahr, they did not take anything with them and they did not even wear our good clothes, and they thought that the clothes would get dirty on the way. I worked on it in great detail, but unfortunately, we could not bring all of them to this book. I have prepared the attachments of this discussion to present to the addresses elsewhere. Another thing that was interesting to me was the lifestyle of her grandparents. In my opinion, it is true that the theme of this book, according to friends, is love, and this love is chaste and pure one, but only the love of Ms. Madih and her husband was not for each other, the love of their grandparents and parents was also important to know how they lived together and how they behaved together in different situations. All of this was important to me.

Some readers of the book say that they got bored in the first third of the book because I explained a lot, they say that when the book is over, they understood why it is so long. Because all these topics are discussed in the book, and we readers couldn’t analyze the rest of the book if we are not familiar with them. In fact, along with the narration of Ms. Madih's life, I would like the reader to get acquainted with the lifestyle of our Arabic-Persian Iranians. In many parts of the book, I have ever dealt with the traditions of these lovely persons in various ceremonies and their dress and the way they speak. I consider this book to be a kind of lifestyle book. But of course, now I believe that if a book is complete but more summarized, it will be better in all respects. But if summarizing a book is to be done to shorten it in less effort, this is not acceptable.  I try to make the content shorter and at the same time clear and complete.

■So in fact, in addition to dealing with the narrator's political and historical memories, recording socio-cultural history and popular culture was very important to you.

Yes, I just did not want to see Ms. Madih; I insisted that these issues be recorded alongside the issue of war.

■How did you start the book interview? Did you start only once from childhood to the end of the memoir, or did you repeat different topics in the interview several times?

From the beginning, the structure of the book was very clear to me and I had drawn the structure for myself accurately. I wanted to narrate a documentary story linearly, so we narrated Ms. Madih's memories from her childhood and maybe even her father's childhood, and we went forward linearly until the martyrdom of Mansour. According to the plan, his memoirs were supposed to be written here, but then I concluded that if I did not narrate the continuation of his life, the book would be incomplete. So I continued it until I thought the narration would be complete. We always had a supplementary interview, that is, I always had questions from them that they did not come to my mind in the previous interview, but while I was transcribing the interview, I found that they should be asked.

■How important are details to you?

Some friends discuss the management and economics of time and say:" why do you need to ask for these details? In my opinion, this is right. Of course, it does not matter, for example, if I say that her dress had orange or red flowers, but I insist on asking what a scene looked like. I believe that the more sensitive I am in documenting, the more accurate it will be if a novel or a feature film is later made from this book.

I tried to ask the generals and details together. That is, at the time I was interviewing, especially since I insisted that the work should be documented completely, it was not like I gain the generals and then allow myself to add their feelings. One reason for the length of the interview process and the recording of nearly three hundred hours of interviews was that the smallest detail of his state of mind and the smallest detail of what was going on in her mind came into the book as far as her description was logical and necessary. I used to asked Ms. Madih about these details immediately and at the point of the interview. If, for example, she talked about the hotel where she was staying in Ahvaz, she would first say the whole thing and not talk initially about the hoteliers' clothes or the appearance of the hotel. I used to ask if I had any questions about the generals, and then I came into the details.

■Did you travel to Khorramshahr and Abadan while working on the memoirs of Ms. Madih? Or did you get help from your previous information?

Apart from those previous detailed trips, I went there three times for fifteen, sixteen days; just to talk to the people she mentioned.

In your idea, how important is research on memoirs and how much time do you spend on it?

I know myself as a researcher before knowing myself as a writer. I was not an author before writing this book. I have studied in one of the technical- engineering fields which are not related to literature and humanities. From the beginning, when I wanted to start the book compilation, I felt the responsibility that I should present documents and evidence for my words. I felt the need to write documentary material. We do not want to write a novel, we want to write a story and a true story. The research was very important to me. I tried to research well and extract information from first-hand sources. Of course, in my opinion, we don’t work in oral history. Oral history has its clear ways and method, but I think if I am going to present a narration that belongs more than thirty years go, it must be done in the best way, and its documents are very important. People who are not computers, even the computer may lose a lot of things. In addition to the main focus of the book, which is the narrator's speech, I must also document what has been said to tell a healthy and honest documentary narration. If Ms. Madih raised a historical issue, I would have followed it through valid written and non-written sources. If she came up with a story, I would search it to see if anyone was alive? If, for example, five people were available, I would do a lot of research among those five to see whose narration is more real and logical. For example, in the issue of the Isfahan Hosseiniyah of Khorramshahr, more than ninety-eight percent of the people of this Hosseiniyah were martyred. It was very difficult to choose someone to talk to. I talked about some issues related to the Hosseiniyah with the brother of one of the martyrs, who was eleven or twelve years old at the time. At first, I could not believe that I could conclude by talking to him, but I achieved good results. I brought them in footnotes. Of course, I mentioned twenty-five people with whom we had additional interviews, but in fact, these twenty-five people were the ones with whom we had more detailed interviews, but apart from the interview with Ms. Madih, I talked to maybe sixty other people to find the citation of stories. Sometimes I got help from different books. There were some cases that Ms. Madih inadvertently told some points wrongly. Anyway, the mind makes mistakes, after several years mind may replace some things that are not right. It was interesting to her when I explained from the available documents and corrected what she had said. she said: "You are right here, I said it wrong." Of course, the main focus of the talks was ultimately Ms. Madih."

Therefore, your library and field research helped to solve considerably the historical problems raised by the narrator.

Yes, a very effective point in getting the trust of Ms. Madih was my mastery of the issue of Khorramshahr. She found that when she raised issues, I knew most of the different parts of the city or people she mentioned. For example, if she was talking about the martyr Behrouz Moradi, she would see that I have information about him; it was very interesting to her. I once told him: "If you want, I will draw the map of Khorramshahr city with its alleys for you now." In some points that she may have forgotten something, I would tell a part of the whole story and she would remember many things.

■Why did you decide to bring the people's names in footnotes?

As I explained, I had to refer to other people to complete some of the narrations. For example, Ms. Madih told a story and maybe told three-quarters of it, but a quarter of it was unclear and fade for her, and the remaining quarter was completed in an interview with another person like Javad Rabieizadeh. Then I matched his speech with Ms. Madih's speech and shared it with. It causes the narrator to recall other parts of memory and re-narrate it herself. I promised my readers to narrate the documentary. The readers should know that this part of my book was taken in talking to someone. I think I am the first address and I expect the authors of other books to give us this information.

Did the readers react to this method?

You are one of the few people who talk about the scientific sides of book. You may not believe me if I say there are just a few people who talked to me about these issues and valued it. Some may have thought about it, but they did not talk to me. the media does not care about these things. If I got feedback from the book, it was more about the fluent narration and, according to friends "Pen's Eloquent ". but I did not have much feedback about the research and scientific issue. Not only about this book, but also they do not pay much attention unfortunately to other books.  

■Why do you insist on transcribing interview files yourself?

Although this is very difficult and sometimes really boring, but according to Mr. Samadzadeh, the head of the War Special Library of Art Center, transcribing an interview by the author greatly adds value to the book. While transcribing the interviews, I noticed a lot of material and missed words, and new questions came in my mind at that time.  That is to say, the time between the two interviews did not allow me to forget many things. I think hearing the voice of the interviewer during the interview can be more effective for me than someone else wants to transcribe the files. The next point is that I insisted that the words of the narrator be transcribed carefully and exactly.  I even used correct spelling so that no one judge wrongly about what the narrator said. For example, when Ms. Madih wanted to say, "I went here and there," they would say, "I went here and, oh, I went there." They used to say" oh" in her words a lot, and they had special accents that I carefully considered it. Perhaps, someone else who transcribed the files, would not notice her special accents and words. Also, [another advantage of ] transcribing the files by myself is that it saves time. Of course, I emphasize that this method has its difficulties, but it helps a lot.

■ If Ms. Madih, for various reasons, did not want to retell a part of her memoir that you thought it was important, how would you please and encourage her to retell that memoir?

In an interview with Ms. Madih, luckily, I did not encounter such a problem. I did not go into detail that does not contribute to the growth and development of the work. Of course, there were issues that she did not think that they were important; therefore she tried to ignore them but I said to her:" please, tell them me!" she was surprised and said: "This is important!?" I would reply: "Yes, it's important. Our work should not be disturbed logically and the narration should be complete." In recording some of her memoirs, she didn’t like some part of her memoir  about  her family, and said: "If someone hears these memoirs, s/he may be upset or interpret or narrate it in a different way." In some cases, she said something but then insisted that you do not write it, my relatives may be upset if they read.

■How did you convince them in such cases?

I talked to her a lot and said, "Don't look at the present. look at the next Fifty years or a hundred years, if someone refers to this book and your words do not make sense, then this book cannot be cited at all. We are presenting a documented text to the addresses." Therefore, they were satisfied and allowed us to write those memories. Of course, there were cases that she was not satisfied to be written;  I did not bring them in the book because they did not disrupt the whole narration.

■ Did Ms. Madih communicate with you from the beginning or did she trust you over time?

Tanks God, She and I became intimate very soon. Ms. Madih was like my older sister and she trusted me very easily. it's not like that there was something important and but she didn’t say until she trusted me and said it. It did not happen that she wanted to hide. But over time, that intimacy grew, and I asked her for more details.

■Did you ask any question caused her to say that the tape recorder should be turned off and then told you?

Yes, it happened. But she said something that needed to be mentioned in the book, I would justify her.

Did you get emotional while listening to the memories or did you just focus on the interview?

In interviews, I often get emotional. Sometimes this feeling was so serious that I tried to control me so that Ms. Madih would not be bothered. When I was listening to his words, I did not get emotional during Sharifloo's interview, but I got emotional in the interview with Ms. Madih that I felt that I  was present in all those scenes. For example, it was very difficult for me to hear the memories of the martyrdom of each of the comrades of the Isfahan Hosseiniyah, because I had lived with them during my works. I was very upset in such cases, but I could not cancel the interview. I was under a lot of pressure, but I could not show it to Ms. Madih, and that was one of the hardest parts of my job. Apart from the interview sessions, the time of transcribing the audio files and rewriting of these memories causes the effect of them constantly to be repeated for me. Ms. Madih had defined it once, but for me, it was repeated four or five times. However, we must always ask God for getting help to do the interview. I prayed a lot that I could control my emotions because I was having a hard time to hold interview sessions. I had to come to Tehran from Qom, where I live, and live in my father's house. We talked for many hours with Ms. Madih for two weeks in the morning and afternoon. If I gave up, I would be too late and I could not prolong my time.

Of course, she and her family coped with my situation and were very supportive. Of course, it was not that the house was only provided to us, but the family members tried to move less in the interview room. I am always grateful for the kindness of Ms. Madih's family and herself for allowing us to do the interviews in this way. She was very considerate of me and provided her home and life and everything just for my work. What bothered me a lot was that I only went to my parents' house for short breaks, that is, if I got there at night, I would go to sleep and go to Ms. Madih's house again in the morning. I used to come at noon for having lunch and come back a few hours later; I was actually with my family, but at the same time I was not, and it was very difficult for me.

When did you start interviewing and writing this book and when did it end?

I think, I started it in the summer of 2010 and finished in 2014, but due to the large volume of memories, I was still rewriting until 2016.

The longest interview took two or three years. After that, I started to organize topics, compile the book historically, which took me a long time. Many times I felt that my patience was running out and I put a lot of pressure on myself and comforted myself that the richer book, the higher its value. But Ms. Hosseini helped me a lot in this regard. She recommended me to be patient; it was useful in my job and helped me a lot. I rewrote the text several times. As much as I insisted that the book be documented, I also insisted that the book be readable and interesting.

During all time of my work, I tried not to impress upon Ms. Madih in any way. Everything mentioned in the book is what she said, but of course, I am not saying that Ms. Madih spoke in such an order as the contents of the book. So if someone claims, if you had a tape recorder, I will show you the different parts of the interview to see what our initial conversation with Ms. Madih was, what her literary focus was, and what kind of talking was done and what was done on it. It was very difficult to be faithful to content and interviewee's speech style, because I had no previous samples, and on the other hand I did not want to write literary prose at all. I did not know how to do it and I did not want to include literary descriptions in the book. So after various rewrites, I decided to write colloquially, because it is a type of writing in which we can convey the interviewee's speech style and mood of the narrator, whereas it is not literary prose and it is easy to read. Of course, I did not want it to be colloquial, completely, I wanted to have a certain standard.

The text had to be edited after rewriting. In my opinion, it should have been edited by someone aware of the issue of Khorramshahr and the resistance and everything mentioned in the book. Only a person with editorial knowledge could not edit the text. One or two people edited it, but it was clear that the person who did it was not aware of the quality of the Khorramshahr resistance and where the work was important and where it was not, and in the first stage he had deleted a hundred pages of work. I told Ms. Hosseini:" I do not accept this editing in any way and I will not allow this book to be treated in this way." Her opinion was that the book was not properly edited. We wondered what we should do to have a good result. Ms. Hosseini was kind enough to edit the book herself. Considering the edition, I can claim that the value of the book was increased. She is very busy and editing the book took time. She should spend time to read the book carefully, and edit it so carefully. I am always grateful to him.

Tell us about your experiences in this work.

The first experience was that in any work, if we are patient, we will reach higher quality and that it will be possible to present something that is not a story or a novel but is readable and documented. Sometimes I think that we were often boycotted in the field of technical-engineering, military, and medicine, and we thought that nothing could be done, but we were able to succeed with the solutions that we invented or found. In discussing the presentation of a text on important topics such as Sacred Defense, which is one of our honors, I concluded that we can also develop ways to increase the addresses.

In your opinion what are the problems of writing a memoir?

First, it is very important to determine where the interviewer's position is and what his or her intellectual rights are and what his or her duties are. When I talk to a narrator, I have to take my place for him, as I know what I want to do, what my duties are, and what details I have to follow.

The second point is that I think the position of the author [the compiler], whether for the publisher, the narrator, or the actors involved in this work, needs to be fully defined. Although there some factors such as intimacy and friendship, the legal issues are not very well known, and in the end, or somewhere in the work, both the writer and the narrator will be beaten, and the writers will be beaten more than others. Another problem is that memoirs are not studied in terms of textual and typological. There is no difference for a publisher between me, as a memoirist, spending as much as two or three years for doing the interview and two or three years for making documents and adapting historically, and someone who has not worked hard in this way. this is so bad. In terms of material rights, the two are considered the same.

The next point is that I think the persecution of hard work in the field of Sacred Defense is a deficiency of our masters. AS a person has devoted about ten years of her/his life to working and has done his duty to the country and the proud history of the country, so the masters of this field have to talk about this work. Professors should read the book and talk about its scientific issues. It might be interesting for you to say that friends came again and again and said that in some cities we want to have a Signature Party and unveil the book, but I did not accept it at all. Because, at first, scientific issues of the book should be talked and a fair expert and critic who has enough expertise have to comment on it. A fair criticism of professors will make us have better texts in the future.

We need to talk about these books and study in terms of textual and typological. It is necessary to find out which work has subtleties. For example, one of the points that a master said about this book was that the issue of love is considered a lot in this book. I had been careful about words not only to use for approaching the speech style of Ms. Madih, but also to respect the red lines completely and accurately.

Finally, I would like to thank Ms. Seyedeh Azam Hosseini, the head of the Women's Office of the Literature Office, and I insist on naming her as a fighter in the field of cultural jihad. Much of the points I learned during the interview with the narrator and the writing of this book is due to her guidance; I should be grateful to him.

 

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