The Girl from Revolution Road
Illuminating, maddening, and inspiring, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh’s debut collection of essays, The Girl from Revolution Road, is a difficult read. That’s not surprising, as it centers on immigration, identity, and finding where you fit.
Exploring experiences from her own life, Golbakhsh gives us a front row seat to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and othering. She relays complex information in an accessible way, making every story potentially relatable and often humorous.
Golbakhsh has researched her history and folklore. Hauntingly, the fairytale quality of each essay title lends the weight of a cautionary tale. The stories are a warning, a play between dark and light, a lesson to be learned. Her simple and direct delivery gives her subjects more room and impact. The book begins with The Shah of Grey Lynn and, while I was upset by the events shared, I was drawn to the people and culture through the language used; the story tells itself, unfolding easily.
I began to think more carefully about our social climate. I live in Aotearoa / New Zealand, a country with a reputation for being clean, green, friendly, and as close to utopia as you can get. We are spoiled here in many ways, but there is an undercurrent of toxicity that many turn a blind eye to.
“Microaggressions are elements or small moments that are seemingly harmless but deep down are linked to intrinsic racism” – from the essay “The Land of English”
The essay “The Land of English” poked a sore spot: names. Stating that someone’s “name sounds funny” or mispronouncing it repeatedly without asking for advice is microaggression. I grew up with a Cook Island surname that no one could pronounce or spell, and it was a source of racist nicknames from the other kids. In this essay, Golbakhsh has this experience tenfold. Not only is her name too ‘foreign’ for her teachers, but they assume she cannot speak English and she is placed in the English as a Second Language class. This is not an isolated incident, it still happens every day in New Zealand.
“They complain about buzzwords like ‘identity politics’ or ‘people of colour’ because they fear that which they do not understand” – from the essay “Brown Girl in the Ring”
“The Land of English,” “Brown Girl in the Ring,” and “War of Terror” are three of Golbakhsh’s essays speaking of the racism directed at immigrants. On reading “War of Terror,” I was so frustrated, I wanted to scream. My siblings and I have had our share of racism and othering, but nothing to the extent many immigrants experience in New Zealand every day. Reading about the hate spewed at immigrants simply because of their visage disgusted me. Golbakhsh was on a bus one day when a man started swearing at her to go back where she came from, simply because she didn’t look like him. In my own family, my father was forced to come to New Zealand by my grandfather. Even upon reading this book, I can’t get my head around what it must have been like living in a country that seemed not to want you. When he married my Irish mother, they both lost friends who didn’t agree with “mixed marriages.”
“…immigrants must prove their worth for having been given the privilege of living here, unlike the rest of the population who do not need to question that privilege” – from the essay “War of Terror”
As a biracial woman, I am afforded a certain privilege, my fairer skin giving me an advantage that many don’t have. Even so, it was a long road to standing firmly in both cultures, embracing being biracial as a key part of my identity, and no longer feeling like an outsider. Finding this quote in “Where Rockets Fall and Pohutukawa Grow”: “The power of being a hyphenate is that I do not have to be only one or the other, and both are celebrated equally” elicited a “Hell yes!” from me. It may not be quite the same, but I loved this cultural connection; Golbakhsh blends the western world and the Persian world together, maintaining honor for her culture.
“Assimilation means erasing your identity and past, and everything that has made you who you are. Integration is different. Integration asks you to include yourself in society as yourself. It does not ask you to murder your past” – from the essay “Brown Girl in the Ring”
Reading her bio, you may think Golbakhsh is a bit of an overachiever. She has written multiple short films shown abroad and in New Zealand, she has been published in The Spinoff and Villainesse, she is a Fullbright Scholar with a Master of Arts in Screen Production, and she completed her post-graduate in screenwriting and directing while working for the Sundance Institute. She is working on her PhD.
Full disclosure, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh is my friend and I am fiercely proud of her. I ugly cried when she told me her book release date – and I think she laughed gently at me while sending virtual hugs. I feel she is a supremely emotionally intelligent and clever individual; an innate storyteller, creating worlds in conjunction with impactful and important information. Am I biased? Maybe. Is this a book you can fence-sit on? No.
The Girl from Revolution Road feels important. I gleaned much information, and was shocked many times, but I felt inspired and urged to do more. It’s time to use our individual and collective voices to make sure every person is heard – and feels safe. In my country, we take for granted that we live in “good old NZ,” and I think we don’t do enough work towards making it great.
I pledge to do better, and I implore each of you to read this book, use it as an educational tool, and pass it on to the next person ready to do better.
“The other passengers ignored what was going on and waited for me to do something about it … Being a true ally means not sitting silently and watching from the outside, but stepping in to help when you can” – from the essay “The Land of English"