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"About the Work" with Siavash Saadlou

In our "About the Work" series, Natalie Tombasco asks recent contributors for insight into their writing or for current sources of inspiration. Read Siavash Saadlou's essay, “My Mom Told Me," in SER Vol. 40.1.


In 2018, my then-five-year-old niece was giving me a quick tour of their remodeled house in Shiraz when she pointed at a framed photograph of my dad on one of the walls and said, in her innocently homespun verbiage, “That one is my mom’s dad; his name’s Mahmoud; he’s dead.” This served as a stark and poignant reminder of my very own childhood in 1990s Iran, where I thought of my father’s so-called “martyrdom” in the Iran-Iraq war to be as quotidian as Tehran’s traffic. All that mattered to me was the day-in, day-out disquietude caused by his absence, the nettlesome challenge of growing up without a father figure in a country that glorifies men and masculinity.

“My Mom Told Me” has its genesis in the juxtaposition of two narratives: my life at home vis-à-vis the one at school. I wanted the writing to be imbued with images of life after war—such as it was—not the war itself. Reliving childhood trauma, or perhaps any trauma for that matter, could potentially chivvy you into writing a self-commiserative or self-congratulatory piece; staving off prosaic language and mawkish bromides can be a tall order.

Essentially, the essay is an attempt to call to account those who extol the virtues of war contrived by power-hungry people. As the French poet and philosopher Paul Valery once said, war is “a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of those who know each other but don’t massacre each other.”


SIAVASH SAADLOU is a writer and literary translator whose short stories and essays have appeared in The Margins, Plenitude Magazine, and Minor Literature[s], among other journals. His poems have recently been anthologized in Essential Voices: Poetry of Iran and Its Diaspora (Green Linden Press). Saadlou is also the recipient of the 55th Cole Swensen Prize for Translation. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California.

Photo Credit: Foroogh Hantooshzadeh


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