Discussion Guide: Song of a Captive Bird

1. Is Forugh the only “captive bird” of the book’s title? Which other characters, both female and male, are trapped by circumstances and how do they cope with their captivity? Do you think some find comfort in captivity? 

2. Motherhood figures prominently in the novel. Do you think Forugh would have eventually adapted herself to motherhood had she stayed? What do you think made her feel inadequate as a mother? 

3. Do you think Forugh could have found similar success as a poet had she remained in her marriage? Do you think the poetry itself would have been different had she stayed with her husband?

4. In the early days of her publication, Forugh found an audience among the literati of Tehran, yet she still faced prejudice. What traditions and taboos continued within this ostensibly progressive group?

5. Forugh’s first published poem was titled “Sin.” Do you think she really felt like she had sinned? Did she understand the consequences of her romantic liaison at the time, or was she just an impetuous young girl following her heart, throwing caution to the wind?

6. Consider the poems that appear in the novel. Were there particular poems you found meaningful? How so?

7. Throughout the novel The Colonel exerts tremendous power over Forugh. Does he exert a positive influence over his daughter as well as a negative one?

8. Did you find the character of Forugh’s mother to be sympathetic? Why or why not?

9. Leila’s wealth and privilege allowed her to live beyond the confines many women of lesser means faced at the time. She used her power for good in rescuing and supporting Forugh, but do you think Leila would have been the same person had she been poor or bound to a husband she didn’t love? 

10. Forugh’s relationship with Darius is complicated and tempestuous. Do you feel their union ultimately freed her from the constraints of her life or drove her deeper into them?

11. Towards the end of the novel Darznik writes, “Art could survive; even when suppressed, even when outlawed, it could survive far worse fates than fire.” How do you interpret these words?

12. Many Iranian writers and artists have chosen to go into exile since the 1979 Revolution. Why do you think Forugh stayed in Iran even as the political and social climate grew increasingly hostile? Do you think she would have stayed in the country if she’d lived long enough to experience the revolution? If so, would you agree with that choice?

13. Did the novel contribute to your understanding of Iranian history or culture? Were there things that surprised you in Darznik’s rendering of Iran?

14. Many of the themes explored in Song of a Captive Bird—women’s rights, political resistance, freedom of expression—arise out of the particular setting of the novel: Iran before the 1979 Revolution. How are those themes relevant to current events today?

15. In her Author’s Note Darznik says/reveals that in writing Song of a Captive Bird she “embraced the unique power of fiction to illuminate the past.” How do you feel about fiction, versus traditional biography, as a means to tell the story of a life?