Moon at Nine

Fifteen-year-old Farrin has many secrets. Although she goes to a school for gifted girls in Tehran, as the daughter of an aristocratic mother and wealthy father Farrin must keep a low profile. It is 1988; ever since the Shah was overthrown, the deeply conservative and religious government controls every facet of life in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guard finds out about her mother’s Bring Back the Shah activities, her family could be thrown in jail or worse.

One thought on “Moon at Nine

  1. Seemi Aziz & Melissa Wilson says:

    Debra Ellis book is mysteriously titled Moon at Nine. Ellis has, of course, done it again. This self-proclaimed expert on Muslim cultures has taken on another ‘forbidden’ topic on, which seems to be an extension of a larger issue of Muslim female oppression and the evil of Iran. Ellis wrote her novel that is historically set in the time of Ayatollah Khomeini after the revolution that ushered in the restrictive Islamic rule and overthrew the Shah of Iran. Iran is also at war with Iraq and there are bombings almost every night. Plus there is the Revolutionary Guard to contend with in everything Iranian civilians do.
    The story is about 15-year-old Farrin and Sadira. Both go to an elite gifted school in Tehran, capital of Iran where you can only test into. Both girls come from very different backgrounds. Farrin’s father is a go getter and has built his empire of wealth through taking advantage of Afghan refugees who essentially work for food. Her mother, on the other hand, is an elitist good-for-nothing who thinks very highly of her family background and wealth. Farrin is growing up with highly social parents who follow the Shah and want the royal offspring to come back into power. (Partying, smoking, drinking is common in her house). Sadira has lost most of her family in Iraq’s war on Iran. Her father, on the other hand is an enlightened cleric who has studied all major religions of the word. His influence on his daughter is clear from the start. While Farrin is isolated and friendless, Sadira is intelligent and forth coming. It seems inevitable that opposites will attract.
    One look at the cover brings back the images in most books about Muslim females. The Hijab covered face with only the eyes showing are typical of books about Muslim women. Usually these characters on the covers look straight at the audience but in this cover the eyes of a girl, are looking at the sky somehow pleading with a higher authority. There is a barbed wire cutting across the eyes that may suggest to the audience that even merely looking is forbidden.
    In terms of relationship and its development the reader is exposed to the isolation of Farrin and the inherently dynamic nature of Sadira. As Farrin and Sadira interact with each other, they begin to know each other more. Farrin has lived her life friendless as her parents do not want their wealth and wish for monarchy to be known to others, ‘others’ being the strict followers of the Islamic revolution. Initially Farrin’s romantic reaction is that of mere curiosity and Sadira seems to act indifferent and behaves with Farrin as she would with anyone.
    The reader comes to know of deeper feelings when Farrin sees Sadira’s face as a focal point for sanity while they are hiding in a bomb shelter protecting them from an Iraqi air raid. Sadira abruptly changes when Farrin visits her home for the very first time. There she suggests, out of the blue, that they look at the moon exactly at 9 o’clock so that each knows that the other is reaching out and connecting (hence the title of the book).
    Seemi, I love the line in your week one take that Debra Ellis has “done it again.” I was actually thinking the exact same thing. In this case she may feel like an insider as she identifies as a “proud gay woman,” writing about gay young women coming to terms with their sexuality (p. 218). Ellis is, of course, an outsider to Iran. And as I read this novel I wondered how much of it was Iranian history and politics filtered through a Canadian eye and how much was representative of a possible experience. Ellis seems to say that it is authentic as the novel is “based on a true story.”
    It is problematic to write another’s story. Even if “some of the details have been changed, but this story is essentially hers” (p. 215), there is still the issue of telling a story from a different time, place, and culture. As a reader I came away from Moon at Nine with the idea that Islam is unyielding and misogynistic and corrupt because that is how it is portrayed in the novel. The poor girl, Sadira, is hanged for being a lesbian. Her rich beloved, Farrin, survives by escaping Iran thanks to influence and money.
    Another issue that I often think about when reading other cultures is the balance between acknowledging cultural and religious values versus respecting human rights. It is a rich area for thought and teaching and learning. Being a homosexual is “wrong” in many cultures and religions (including in many spaces in the United States). Yet people have the human right to love whom they chose.
    Except in Iran they don’t. This plays out in If You Could Be Mine (Farizan) as well in a much more balanced and nuanced way. Like Moon at Nine, this is the story of forbidden lesbian love in Tehran. Except it is set in the present day and the girls’ love is torn asunder by marriage rather than death. This novel challenges some Western stereotypes of Iran/Islam by introducing the idea that the government will pay for transgendered people to have gender reassignment surgery under the premise that it is not the person’s fault if she is born in to the wrong body. Who knew? It also shows a Tehran that has spaces for homosexuality at its fringes. It is still a dangerous place, but it is inhabited by some people who understand about different kinds of love. To me Moon at Nine’s setting was some living dystopian hell while this Tehran was a place that seemed human. And isn’t that the point of reading international literature?
    Seemi, I am interested to hear what you thought of If you could be mine.
    I had the same concerns of insider/outsider issue while reading Moon at Nine that you had, Melissa. I also agree that most religious states were/are against LGBTQ issues, as was the case in the US until very recently. I also believe that Ellis is struggling as an author in her recent ventures especially. Her novel, No Safe Place also left a lot to be desired in character development and setting choice, as did Moon at Nine. She seems to want to say too much and ends with a weak narrative that neither does justice to the topic nor the historical layout of the regions she chooses to represent.
    Before getting off of topic with Moon at Nine I wanted to add that the punishment for being lesbian was not only from the government but also from Farrin’s parents. They are not only represented and mean and evil by being messed up in their style of living but especially so in what they do to their daughter. She is left as a wife of her father’s servant who wants her to live in filthy and unlivable conditions for the rest of her life. Their money and power saved her from death but gave her a life that is death every minute of every day. They are non-practicing westernized Muslim people living their lives as best as any go-getter couple could, under their circumstances. Sadira’s voice is completely silenced before she is hanged. The reader knows nothing about what she is going through except the final line in which Ahmad says that she is dead. Muslim leaders of the regime that both the girls come across are presented as disinterested, almost bored, with how the regime’s constructing image as malevolent and unapproachable. They have already made up their minds as to the punishment and there is no question in how they want the final outcome to be.
    You Could be Mine is almost the opposite of what Moon at Nine is. It is a stronger narrative with sincerity of an insider voice (Farizan). It provides a present day view of life in Iran and projects a different take on the same issue with a twist; In Iran, it is not illegal to be transsexual, as it is to be gay or lesbian, and the state will pay for sex reassignment surgery because it is seen as an essential medical procedure.
    One thing that does come across in both narratives is that Iranian women are presented as strong, independent individuals who have a strong voice and make up their own destiny. Be they negative characters like Pargol and Principal Kobra in Moon at Nine and positive ones such as, Farrin, Sadira, Sahar and Nasrin they are represented as ambitious and forthcoming never receding and oppressed.

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