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Story of Cross-Cultural Love Affair an Eye-Opening Look at Iranian Women

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Story of Cross-Cultural Love Affair an Eye-Opening Look at Iranian Women

In a land where music is banned, Gohar sings, and while confined in a windowless house, in a city seven days’ horseback ride from any other, she dreams of seeing the world and falling in love. Silenced Whispers is her tale of courage, hope and love…

While other Iranian girls of the early 20th century cook, sew, pray and dream of a family, Gohar climbs trees, reads books, plays tar, and imagines escaping her forsaken desert town to travel and seek the identity of her parents. But when her forbidden correspondence with a Zoroastrian boy is discovered, the prospect of banishment terrifies the fatherless Gohar. She welcomes the protection of Saleh Mirza, a powerful nobleman, and submits to his choice of a husband: a 55-year-old politician. At just 14 years old, she bows to her fate to enter her marital home in a white chador and exit in a white shroud.

In the captivating new book, Silenced Whispers, Afarin Bellisario draws from her upbringing in an Azeri family in Tehran and true stories shared by elders, including those featuring her Russian great-grandfather, to tell the tale of an Iranian woman’s battle for freedom — her own and her country’s — set against a backdrop of profound social change and imperial power grabs. Vividly portraying life in Iran at the dawn of the 20th century, Bellisario said the book is inspired by women who have fought and continue to fight for Iranian democracy.

“Iranian women are very strong and very courageous and have been fighting for their rights for many, many years,” Bellisario explained during a recent interview. “Nothing has been given to the Iranian women.”

In Silenced Whispers, destiny has more in store for Gohar. In Tehran, dazzled by the electric lights and gramophones, people’s misery appalls her. Guided by Saleh Mirza, she joins the movements to modernize the country and end Russian meddling against her conservative husband’s wishes, endangering her life — and marriage. While navigating a rapidly changing Tehran under the cover of her veil, her attention is caught by a mysterious Russian defending the Iranian nationalists against Russian spies and assassins.

Barred from contact with non-related males, she watches him from afar. Bound by marriage vows, her duty to uphold the family’s honor and her pledge to the future of Iran, she battles her growing attraction to the young idealist. Then, Russia invades northern Iran. And everything changes. Is there a future for a married Iranian Muslim and a Russian Christian, hunted by the Russian secret service amid a world war?

“While a work of fiction, Silenced Whispers depicts historical events, including the Russian takeover of Northern Iran and the march of women to the Majles in protest,” Bellisario added. “It is a history of a unique land, told through a love story. It is a fresh perspective, that of a young woman from under her veil who dares to be different.”

Afarin Bellisario grew up in Tehran in a family that “had its feet in the past and its head in the future.” She has spent most of her professional life in high-tech, especially in commercializing emerging technologies. Always interested in the human condition, Bellisario wrote professionally in pre-revolutionary Iran. Today, she mentors startups (so far 300-plus), teaches entrepreneurship and writes about what she sees as a clash between the old — that used to be new — and the new. She actively seeks to create a conversation around the subject and has published op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe. She is currently in the process of writing a nonfiction book about human agency in the time of AI.

Silenced Whispers, on sale now, ISBN-13: 979-8990004412 (B&N). Available from BN.com and Amazon.com

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