A biography that asks big questions: Know your place by Golriz Ghahraman

I've had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman's new autobiography Know your Place over the last week or so. I had to wait a bit longer than originally planned, thanks to COVID-19, but boy was it worth the wait!

'Know Your Place' is a highly personal and bracingly honest look into what it's been like growing up and living as an Iranian refugee and a woman in New Zealand, through Golriz's eyes, from her childhood in Iran to her experiences as a human rights lawyer and then the first refugee elected into NZ Parliament. It gets right into it, with the first chapter detailing Golriz's and her parents' anxious flight from Iran, before going into the political and social context that made their departure so necessary. We also get to learn more about her and her family and their life in Iran before coming to New Zealand.

I found this a great way to start her story, since it means we get to meet her and her family, so to speak, while also learning about the crucial history and environment in Iran at the time – which I especially appreciated as someone with an embarrassingly poor background knowledge of Iranian history and the Islamic Revolution.

The writing style makes this book informative and easy to read (without being an 'easy' read – there are some big big issues in here, that really make you think), and very easy to empathise with. Many of the experiences Golriz talks about as a young person in NZ are similar to the experiences of others growing up between the 80s and early 2000s, yet it is the way these experiences were simultaneously so different because of issues like racism and xenophobia that makes it so poignant.

Add to the mix Golriz's reflections on her experiences as a woman, and all that that entails, as well as her work with Amnesty International and as a defense lawyer, and you have a biography with a multi-faceted world view, that gives this book a broad spectrum of lenses to look through.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is that it makes you think about all the themes that Golriz brings up, from race and gender, to xenophobia, discrimination, privilege, and what it means to be different. This may make it an uncomfortable read at times for many of us.  Yet, it does so in the way that it should make us uncomfortable, because it makes you ask questions and challenge your ways of thinking by encouraging you to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

So, to sum it up, 'Know Your Place' is a poignant, enjoyable, and important addition to biographical literature (particularly NZ biographical literature) that asks us to think about some big questions and issues while learning a bit more about someone else's life experiences.

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