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Better Than War

Better Than War: Stories

STORIES BY SIAMAK VOSSOUGHI
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 148
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt183q45g
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  • Book Info
    Better Than War
    Book Description:

    The stories inBetter Than Warencompass narratives from a diverse set of Iranian immigrants, many searching for a balance between memories of their homeland and their new American culture. The everyday life of each character subtly reflects viewpoints that are simultaneously Iranian and American, of all ages and circumstances. These stories deal with family, friends, relationships, urban life, prison, school, and adolescence. They also contain powerful messages about what people want, need, and deserve as citizens and human beings. For instance, in the story "Better Than War" a young Iranian boy must overcome the fear of asking an American girl on a date. His friend tells him there is no shame in pouring your heart out to someone you like. The boy must realize that expressing emotion and sorrow is worth the embarrassment because it shows loved ones that you are better than hatred-and especially better than war.All Iranian immigrants, young or old, carry with them a vivid past in their contemporary life. These histories help provide perspective, thankfulness, and virtue to their families and friends. Vossoughi'sBetter Than Waris about growing up, coming of age, and raising children in America while still remembering the importance of retaining Iranian pride.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4852-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. SHOES (pp. 1-5)

    Hossein Mirzazadeh needed new shoes. The buying of the shoes themselves was a good adventure. He drove into downtown Seattle during his lunch break. There was a place that sold department-store items at a reduced price. The bustle of cities still made him think of Tehran, though it had been twenty-five years since he’d lived there. It was good to be a part of it. He could move within that city rhythm with familiarity.

    The shoes were black, simple, similar to the ones he had. As a boy he would get new shoes once a year, at Nowruz. It was...

  5. THE BROKEN FINGER (pp. 6-8)

    One of the men who set my course in life was someone I did not know. He was a man my father knew in the Shah’s prison in Iran. He was having his finger pulled back by one of his jailers when he said, “If you pull it back any farther, it will break.” They pulled it, and it broke.

    “You see now,” he said. “I told you it would break.”

    As a boy, all I saw was the courage and the sense of purpose. I wanted to have something that could look at a broken finger like that. The...

  6. THE STREET (pp. 9-12)

    The street: For some the street is a way to get to a place and for some it is a place. But it is a place. All it takes for a place is for a man to stop. The question is, who stops on a street? Where I lived it was beggars and writers. They were both stopping to ask for something, and what they were asking for was similar. Sometimes a beggar would ask a writer, and the writer would look at him because he was interested in a fellow asker. Sometimes a writer would ask a beggar, only...

  7. NINE INNINGS (pp. 13-17)

    She was in New York and I was in San Francisco, and I was getting better at not thinking about her each day, but on tv at Nick’s the Giants were playing the Mets, which meant that I could see that something in San Francisco could touch something in New York, and it was not me touching her, but still it was possible, a guy could get on a plane, and a little while later he’d be in New York, not at a ballpark but at a woman’s apartment, and so I told myself, Okay, you’ve got nine innings, then...

  8. THE MOVIE QUITTERS (pp. 18-21)

    The movie was wonderful, beautiful, heartbreaking. “The hell with this,” my uncle said. “I’m tired of being moved to tears by American movies. When are Americans going to be moved to tears by Iranian movies? It’s no good.”

    He wiped his eyes. “I’ve had it. I’ve had it with their joys and sorrows and their music in the background. It is too beautiful. I do not have the room inside myself anymore. I have seen too much.”

    “It was a good movie,” my aunt said.

    “Of course it was a good movie. That’s the whole problem. William,” my uncle said...

  9. IN THE LIBRARY (pp. 22-24)

    The two boys sat in the library after school. The newspaper on the table was opened to an article about their country. “Iran Sentences Woman to Death by Stoning,” it said. They had read it. It was difficult to go straight to their chemistry homework after reading it. “I don’t remember hearing about stoning when we were still there,” Mohammad Reza said.

    “You were probably too young,” Keyvan said.

    “I was seven.”

    “You were probably too young.”

    “Well, somebody should have told me.”

    “What good would that have done?”

    “I don’t know.”

    The two boys had both covered their chemistry...

  10. TOO MUCH GENIUS (pp. 25-28)

    The boys took off running as Allie began to count. Each boy showed the kind of man he was and his general philosophy toward life by his approach toward hide-and-seek. Tom Pemberton ran straight to the tree and climbed to the top of it. The efficacy of the hiding place was secondary to the adventure of reaching it. If a hiding place was effectiveanddifficult to reach, that was ideal, but the adventure came first.

    Louie Parenti curled up under the bench on the side of the house. He was a boy of ten who stayed close to his...

  11. BETTER THAN WAR (pp. 29-32)

    I was thinking of an Iranian boy waiting to ask an American girl in his class out on a date because he wants to know first if there is going to be a war or not.

    “What if we’re at a movie theater together, and they make the announcement that the war has started, and the whole place whoops and hollers?”

    “That would be terrible. Do you think she would whoop and holler with them?”

    “No. I can’t see it. She’s too wonderful.”

    “That’s good.”

    “But there’s her family. What if her father is a marine sergeant who doesn’t take...

  12. THE ROOM (pp. 33-38)

    Everybody was worried about Elham, but when they called Massoud at college and told him about it, he just laughed and laughed.

    It was a good sign, he thought.

    His poor mother and father. They had come to America hoping that their son and daughter would become doctors and lawyers. Now their son was studying Russian literature, and their daughter was fourteen, and her friends were seventeen-and eighteen-year-olds in recovery from drugs.

    There was a little room next to the drug counselor’s office at the high school, where those kids would go during the day. Elham spent her free time...

  13. PEOPLE IN PROFILE (pp. 39-44)

    People in Profile was Mrs. Leavenworth’s own creation. It had originally started with historical figures in general, but by the second year she had changed it to humanitarians. There ought to be a good reason children should get dressed up as people from history and sit on a stage being interviewed about their life and their historical significance as their parents watched. She didn’t want them to think of it as Halloween. She wanted the night to take a side.

    At six thirty, Cesar Chavez was being chased by Albert Einstein through the school hallway in their excitement for the...

  14. THE COUPLE (pp. 45-47)

    Among the homeless people of my neighborhood were a man and a woman who were very much in love. I would see them along Geary Street, pushing their belongings in a cart, and the woman would look very happy, and the man would look at peace. They looked like anybody else. They had their daily affairs to attend to, and they liked attending to them together.

    They were not a part of the main groups of homeless people I would see. They were not part of the group that was often around the liquor store on Twelfth Avenue and that...

  15. BOY IN PRISON (pp. 48-51)

    What an adventure, from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, a life spent behind enemy lines, you might say, but if he said it, he would do so with such a smile as to disarm any enemy, as to leave such enemies intact but thinking, introducing them to their own country, already having accepted that they are the last to know, that they are the last to know about a prison cell in his country, about a prison cell in all the countries like his. It was all an adventure, because no place where he...

  16. THE RAIN CHECK (pp. 52-56)

    Sarah Warslow ran. She ran all over our town, and if it hadn’t’ve been an island, she probably would’ve ran some more. I didn’t fall in love with her when she was running; I did it when she was sitting still. But she sat still like somebody who knew herself. She knew that this afternoon she was going to run, either with the cross-country team or as practice for the cross-country season. It made as much sense to me as anything. What could you do with the town you grew up in besides dream of leaving it and know that...

  17. THE EASEL (pp. 57-60)

    One day in winter Amaury Prado was walking home from the library in the San Francisco Mission District when he saw an easel that somebody had thrown out with some other junk on the sidewalk. It was standing on its three legs as though it was just waiting for an artist. Amaury was twelve years old, and he had never thought of himself as an artist. But he picked up the easel and walked home with it over his shoulder, believing that he was on his way to a great career.

    Amaury brought it home and put it in the...

  18. THE WORLD IS MY HOME (pp. 61-65)

    Just before he approached the young man and young woman walking on the college campus in Dresden, Germany, in the late evening, Arvin Khiavchi thought, Even if we don’t find a place to stay tonight, the world is my home. As long as there is a sun beginning to set, and a group of Arab students playing soccer on the grass, and a German man who gave us a ride today from Berlin, the world is my home.

    The young woman, he figured later, must have agreed with his assessment, because when he asked the couple if they knew of...

  19. 1953 (pp. 66-69)

    I might’ve been the only guy walking around through Jimmy’s Old Car Show and Picnic looking at all the big 1950s cars and thinking, I guess this is why they overthrew Mossadegh back in 1953 and brought back the Shah. It was funny because I looked at the American people and I knew that a lot of the ones who were alive back then didn’t know about it and a lot of the ones who weren’t alive didn’t know about it either, but there was nothing to do but look at their cars and look at their pride standing next...

  20. YOU DON’T LEAVE (pp. 70-75)

    They figured he had a girl up in Bellingham, and Armon didn’t know how to tell them that Caroline Cooper was a girl but that it wasn’t that sort of thing. He had certainly hoped it would be that sort of thing for a long time, all through college, but in their third year she had told him about something that he couldn’t tell them about. It was her father, and she had been a little girl. When she had told him, he had gone home and looked in the mirror and cried. He had asked her later if she...

  21. TAKE OUR DAUGHTERS TO WORK DAY (pp. 76-78)

    Take your daughter with you to the place where you work, the school had said. Take her to see where you work so that she can see herself working someday. Girls need to see that they can become anything they want to be.

    I do not want her to see where I work, Nasrin thought. I do not want her to see me sweeping up hair after a customer leaves. I would rather tell her about Iran, about the school and my classroom and how the other teachers used to come to me for advice. I would rather tell her...

  22. THE THEATER OF WAR (pp. 79-83)

    Fields of battle throughout history where men had fought and died had culminated in the beautiful sand dunes of the Presidio of San Francisco serving as the theater of war for a group of students from Presidio Hill School, and the young man who had brought them there thought that that must have often been the case—that even the sight of the bay in the distance added to the spirit of battle for its participants rather than contrasted with it. Each group had probably believed that nature was on its side, and nature hadn’t been able to tell anyone...

  23. BACK AND FORTH (pp. 84-88)

    There are two kinds of familiarity a man can have walking down the street. There is the familiarity of a place, of a place that is his place, and it is symbolized by the street itself, by its buildings, its stores and houses, its cracks in the sidewalk. It’s a familiarity he gets tired of sometimes, and other times he thinks how nice it is to have his own little place in the world. He goes back and forth until he sees that he is a back-and-forth-er, and then the street becomes the home for a back-and-forth-er, and there is...

  24. SUNDAY IN THE PARK (pp. 89-95)

    There were Iranians for as far as the eye could see, if those eyes were those of thirteen-year-old Bahman Sohrabi, and the first thing he felt when he arrived at the park was that he was a blank piece of paper, and in this place he could be what he showed himself to be. Nobody had any expectations of him except for the expectations each had of him-or herself—to be a speaker of the language, an appreciator of the food and of the music and of nature, and a general participator in the whole thing. At school he found...

  25. THE BOOKSHELVES (pp. 96-97)

    On her shelves were books of many kinds and a picture of her grandmother who could not read. Each time she finished a book, she put it back on the shelf, and she looked at the picture of her grandmother, and she thought, It does not make me wiser than you. It does not make me more anything than you. It makes me in America and you in Iran. It makes me in the present and you in the past. That’s all.

    What this fellow Vygotsky is saying, Grandmother, is very interesting. And Friere too. You would’ve liked them. They...

  26. PRINCESS (pp. 98-101)

    The whole thing is lousy to look back on because she would call herself a princess in those days when we first met and I wouldn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. I had a mind that was half-white in those days, so when she called herself a princess, I figured she was looking for a guy who was a prince, and to me that sounded like captain-ofthe-football-team kind of stuff. If she was looking for a guy who thought of himself as a prince, that wasn’t me. I had...

  27. WHY THE RABBIT LOOKS PITYINGLY UPON THE DONKEY (pp. 102-103)

    In Farsi, the word for “donkey” is khar and the word for “rabbit” iskhargoosh, which means “donkey ears.” Way back in the old days when words were still relatively new, the rabbits got together and started asking why they should be named after the donkey. Why couldn’t they have a name of their own?

    “You don’t see akerm(worm) get named after a mar (snake),” one said, “though their bodies bear a resemblance.”

    “That’s true,” another said. “You don’t see asag(dog) get named after arooba(fox), though they look even more alike.”

    “You’re right,” the...

  28. FLOWER-LIKE (pp. 104-111)

    I did not have a Lost Generation or a Beat Generation, but I had a group of girls that I coached on a basketball team, and I didn’t have to talk to the team about art because when we warmed up before a game outside the gym, the sky was something that we could certainly understandsomebodypainting, especially an artist. We happened to be dribbling and passing and shooting, but we might be painting someday, or looking at a painting, or looking at another kind of art, and we would certainly want to be doing that with our best...

  29. THE NARRATOR (pp. 112-116)

    It wasn’t strange when she said it somehow. It came within the flow of her conversation. When they first met, when she knew it was coming, she would say, “Now he is going to ask me for my phone number.” The men would be charmed. They would feel like they were inside a story. And then on their first night together, saying goodbye, it would be the same thing—“Now he is going to kiss me.”

    Then later: “Now he is going to come into my room.”

    “Now he is going to kiss my neck.”

    “Now he is going to...

  30. EVERY MAN A SHOWMAN (pp. 117-122)

    Maybe it’s the last thing that goes, a man’s performance, which is nothing other than him. It’s his walk into a room where he will be seen as less than a man, where the humanity of his movement is undeniable, so they will say, All right, he is a boy then, because performance is a boy’s world. It is comical because the show started before he walked into the room; it started when he woke up in the morning, and before that it started when he was born. Why would anybody want to draw a thick black line between the...

  31. DON’T FORGET ABOUT EGYPT (pp. 123-125)

    It was a joke his father and his father’s brothers and their friends liked to use when they were entering a conversation. They were men who liked to talk and who liked to talk about politics and who looked so at home talking about politics that the boy would wonder where that home was. They looked like American men talking about sports, only there was more—more heights and depths of emotion, more putting their arms around each other, more slowness in listening to another man’s heart coming out.

    “Don’t forget about Egypt,” a newcomer would say. “What is the...

  32. THE BOOK THAT WAS TOO GOOD TO READ (pp. 126-132)

    There was an Iranian family. They were in America. None of them knew what that meant. They were not dreamy about America. They were dreamy about other things. They were so dreamy about them that they did not talk about them very much. They did not say the words “love” and “justice” and “peace” very often because their dreaming was constant. It was the sunlight that ran through their house in summer and the darkness that ran through it in winter.

    The boy wanted to be a writer. He believed that being a writer had something to do with love...

  33. Back Matter (pp. 133-134)