22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani was born in Iran in 1948, grew up in Uganda and studied in the US and UK, where she became a British citizen. She has worked in Canada, the United States, Cyprus, Israel, Africa and Belgium, where she taught European and American literature.

She celebrated her debut as a writer in 1979 with the non-fiction book »When We Grow Up«, which was about raising children from a Baha’i perspective. After three further books also based on and inspired by the Baha’i writings, (»Response«, 1981, »Four On an Island«, 1983, »Asking Questions. A Challenge to Fundamentalism«, 1990), in 2000 she published her first novel, »The Saddlebag. A Fable for Doubters and Seekers«, which became an international best-seller. The story is set in the middle of the 19th century and in the middle of the desert between Mecca and Medina, and it follows the adventures of a saddlebag filled with scrolls of writing that is passed from hand to hand, changing the fates of all those with whom it comes into contact. Over the course of twenty-four hours, the reader experiences the same events that take place in the same spot but from the perspective of nine different characters. Reviews of the book emphasise the clarity of the language, which simultaneously conveys the magic of a past, mystical world: »With her fable of peoples’ eternal search for the meaning of life, the endless cycle of becoming and decay, Bahiyyi Nakhjavani has written an extraordinary novel whose atmosphere and intensity are deeply moving« (»Lovely Books«). The »London Times« compared the author’s debut with the early works of Salman Rushdie, while »Publishers Weekly« found parallels to stories by Michael Ondaatje, whose characters also hail from seemingly irreconcilable cultures, but who through irresistible turns of fate discover a kinship of souls that spans all their differences. Nakhjavani’s second novel »Paper. The Dreams of A Scribe« (2004) was also acclaimed by critics for the meticulous construction of its story of the travails of a poet struggling to put his words to paper – in two senses, for paper was a rarity in 19th century Asia. Her most recent work »La Femme qui lisait trop« (tr. The Woman Who Read too Much) was published in 2007 and has been translated into Spanish, among other languages. It will be published by Stanford University Press in the spring of 2015.

Nakhjavani lectures on creative writing and the Bahá’í faith. She currently lives and teaches in France and received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Liège in 2007.