A few months ago, when I read on social media about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar, I was immediately intrigued — the title conjures so many possibilities. Not long afterward, I became friends with Shokoofeh on social media, via a connection with mutual friend (and early Shelf Aware guest) Rashida Murphy. I’ve enjoyed reading all about the success of Shokoofeh’s novel and have watched several video interviews with her about the book, but we have yet to meet in person.
A few weeks ago, when I was having lunch with another dear friend in Rockingham, Shokoofeh was presenting a workshop at the Rockingham Art Centre, and during a break walked across to the cafe where I was seated at an outside table. She messaged me later that day to say she thought she recognised my face from social media profile photos, but wasn’t certain, so decided not to approach me. I wish she had! After an exchange of messages we discovered that we live just 10 minutes apart — so a meeting will definitely happen before much longer.
As I’ve had a big pile of books to read ahead of author interviews or reviews in recent months, I’ve yet to read The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, but it’s gorgeous cover beckons me every time I see it near the top of my “to read” pile. It won’t be long before I get the chance to open its pages and discover the magical world that Shokoofeh has created.
Shokoofeh’s personal story is a combination of loss, love and hope. You can watch a brilliant ABC Nightlife interview with her here (and I hope you will). For now, I’d like to welcome Shokoofeh as my latest Shelf Aware guest. As you will see, there is some sadness associated with the books she has collected and loved in the past. But in her words you will also recognise the healing power of books and reading.
Q. Shokoofeh, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I am a fiction writer. Mostly I am write in magic-realism style. My stories are on base of political or social issues, surrounded by Iranian legends, myths and traditional superstitions and metaphysical beliefs. Plus using elements of classic Iranian storytelling techniques and language.
Q. What can you tell us about your new book?
A. My novel titled The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is on base of several political and social true stories which friends or I were witness of them or I read about them as a news. These all true stories have combined with Iranian legends, myths and traditional metaphysical beliefs. Also this novel is overflowing with Iranian mysticism and classical storytelling techniques.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A, This question has a long and upsetting answer. When I was in Iran I had over 3000 books plus my father’s books which had been heritage to me. My bookshelves had books from 100 years ago till now. Also, I had several hand-written books reminded from my father’s library belong to 300 or 400 years ago. All of them been in my writing room in beautiful wooden shelves. After I came to Australia by force as a refugee, my mother kept them in a shed in the boxes. We had plan to transfer them to Australia by the ship, until one day my mother went to shed and accidently found most of boxes empty! After police research, they found a drugs addicted neighbour, has stolen them. My mother did not tell me this until two years later because she knew how much I am depended to my library. I even knew the name each book’s publisher or translator… Recalling of this accident, still makes me so upset. Because my library was the history of our family books and library always was/is an important element in my stories.
Anyway, after that I start to buy more books here. Even I bought some books that I had in my previous library at Iran. I expend lots of money to buy them from Iranian publishers or bookshops out of Iran. The price of postage sometimes are more than books. Now I have only about 400 books. All in my writing room.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A, My books always organised by genre and category. For example, category of: modern fiction, classic fiction, mythology, legends, traveling, interviews, literature critics, essays, poets, physiology, political science, social science, philosophy, theology and etc. Also I have English and Farsi bookshelves. In fiction bookshelf, I consider another category. First my favourite modern writers. Then the writers that are important but maybe not very much. Also I always sort books by name of writer. For instead all books of Milan Kundera sit next together no matter they are novel or collection of short story or essays.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. First of all, modern fiction (novel and short stories), then fiction analyse, mythology, symbolism, poems, theology, legend and classic literature. After that social science and political science and etc.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. A chair in my studio while I put my legs on the table and smoke with a glass of wine or coffe or black tea. Then on the sofa under the shade of an old tree in my back yard, or sofa in living room when no one is around me or in the mid night when everybody is sleep.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. Right now, I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, translated in Farsi, and I feel so sorry that I did not read this great book earlier… I watched the movie years ago but the novel is absolutely something else. The technique of narrating and viewing angle are very interesting. Also, the story is very touching. One of the other reason that I like this novel is the story narrates by a little girl. I have strong empathy by child narrations.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A, It will be a long list. 😊 Briefly I can say: Writers and mythologist: Jorge Luis Borges, G. G. [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez, Milan Kundera, Marguerite Duras, Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro , Yasunari Kawabata, Vladimir Nabokov , Kenzaburō Ōe, Mircea Eliade, Herman Hesse, Carl Jung, Herta Müller, E. L. Doctorow, J. D. Salinger, Heinrich Böll, Raymond Carver and etc.
And Books: One Thousand and One Nights, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Darab Name (Iranian classic story), Gilgamesh (The oldest myth of Mesopotamia), Ardaviraf Name (The ancient myth of Iran), The Clown, Of Love and Other Demons, Kafka on the Shore, Nothing and Amen, On Mantuleasa Street and etc. Some important books like Ulysses unfortunately never permitted to publish in Farsi but I am sure if I am able to read it in English or Farsi it will be one my most favourite novel (I already read only few pages).
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be?
A. One Thousand and One Nights 2. One Hundred Years of Solitude 3. Ulysses or On Mantuleasa Street.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I wished you asked me about writers and immediately I’ve answered: G. G. Marques, Mircea Eliade and Carl. G. Jung.
But choosing characters between so many books is really hard. But anyway maybe: Remedios the beauty (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Hans Schnier (The Clown) and Kafka (Kafka on the Shore).
I love to ask from Remedios the beauty: What new from the up?
I love to sit with Hans and talk about the meaning of love.
I love to sit with Kafka and talk about the meaning of life.
Thank you, Maureen. I loved the questions. They are fun and also very important to writers.
Find out more about Shokoofeh Azar here.
You can buy her novel The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree here.