A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life


1. Jasmin introduces “the Good Daughter” in the prologue. Who is she and in what ways does Lili allude to her when Jasmin is growing up? How does Jasmin’s notion of “the Good Daughter” change as she gets older?

2. Why do you think Lili’s first tape for Jasmin relays the story of her own mother Kobra’s childhood, adolescence, and marriage? In what ways do Kobra’s and Lili’s lives as girls and then as women differ, and in what ways are they alike? How might you compare your experiences with your grandmother’s or mother’s?

3. As a young bride, Kobra is reluctant to speak with anyone about the abuse she suffers. “Burn and accommodate,” she imagines she would be told. What does this phrase mean and what does it suggest about attitudes toward domestic abuse and marital discord in mid-century Iran?

4. When Lili discovers the nature of her husband’s mental illness, it’s through a French word,sadisme. Why do you think his condition is expressed in this way? What does it suggest about his family and about attitudes toward mental disease at this period in Iranian history?

5. Divorce in 1950s Iran was exceedingly rare. What makes it possible for Lili to divorce Kazem?

6. Lili’s family warns her, “don’t even speak your daughter’s name” after her divorce. Why are they so adamant that she cut off ties to Sara? What influence does this pledge of secrecy seem to have on Lili, both then and later? Have you ever carried a heavy secret with you?

7. What effect does Sohrab’s death have on Lili, Sara, and Kobra’s lives, respectively? What aspects of their lives become more difficult and which become easier in the wake of Sohrab’s death?

8. Much ofThe Good Daughteris devoted to stories of Jasmin’s mother and grandmother, but Jasmin includes her own memories of Iran and America as well. Would your understanding of the book be different if Jasmin had chosen not to include her own story?

9. Why is Jasmin called a “two-veined” child? Who is the mysterious girl who plays with her at her grandmother’s hair salon and why do you think Lili and Kobra keep her identity a secret from Jasmin? Do you agree with their choice?

10. What and who are the other major influences on Jasmin during high school and college? What factors does she cite in the emergence of her identity as an Iranian American woman? What can you point to in your own life as having had such an impact?

11. After she finally learns of her mother’s first marriage and divorce, how does Jasmin’s relationship with Lili evolve? How does her understanding of Iran and of her Iranian identity change? Can you think of an event or piece of information that rocked you on a similar level?

12. Is this book a memoir or a biography? An homage to a mother from her daughter or a mother’s story for her daughter? Is it a reclamation or a disavowal of the past? How else might you describe the stories this book shares?

13. Jasmin writes, “Just as some memories linger in spite of our longing to forget them, some loves will take in just about any soil.” What do the characters long to forget inThe Good Daughter, and which loves eventually take in new and unexpected places? Have you experienced the truth of this statement with anything in your own life?

14. Are there stories in your family that were hidden and then revealed or discovered later? How did learning those secrets help you understand your own life?