Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Scent of Rosewater: A New Zealand Bride in Iran - Anna Woodward Swinburn

This is really a love story, a truthful and moving and quite educational story, and a beautiful and elegant book.

It is also an interesting and sympathetic look at Iran and the people of Iran during the time of Ayotollah Khomeyni's leadership of that country. Anna writes simply and gracefully of the wonders of Iran both old and new, and the rich culture of the Iranian people.

How it all came about: Anna, while overseas in the UK on her OE (kiwism for overseas experience) met Bijan, a handsome Persian from Iran. After living together quite happily for a number of years in England and in New Zealand, Bijan became increasingly worried about his family back in Iran. He had been parted from them all through the hard times of the revolution that had taken place there, and the difficult years that had followed.

Anna and her family, knowing the importance of family ties in his culture, supported his decision. Unfortunately, what none of them realised what might happen, did happen, and it was on the very day that Bijan flew away that the war between Iran and Iraq exploded, and once Bijan set foot in his own country he became trapped. His passport was removed because all young Iranian men between the ages of fifteen and thirty were forbidden to leave in case they were needed for war.

My friend Maryfaliha (if she ever reads this) may be interested to know that Bijan's father was a Kurd. Several centuries earlier a number of Kurdish families had been persuaded by the great Shah Abbas to leave Kurdistan and settle, in return for land grants, in the north-east of Iran. They were to be a buffer of warriors against the Turkmans, who for centuries had plagued plainsmen by carrying of their livestock and women.

Anyhow, Bijan tried to escape Iran but was thrown into prison. Another attempt would have cost him his life. So Anna finally went to him, after two years of waiting for her visa to come through. This book is the story of her life in Iran with Bijan, her learning of a new culture and of how she coped with life in Iran, and the people she met and learned to love. She learned to speak Farsi and married Bijan while she was in Iran.

After he turned thirty Bijan was given his passport back, and the couple returned to New Zealand. Later Anna was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer (in 1991). She was to die in June of 1993 with Bijan by her side holding her hand.

Realising how important the project was to Anna, her mother, Mary Woodward, from a not-quite completed manuscript, took on the task of completing it, using notes and letters and diaries of Anna's.

This book was published in 1998 by Shoal Bay Press.


  1. Interesting story Iri. Its sounds as if Bijan left Iran at about the time I arrived there in 1978. I was there for about 5 months mostly in the run up to and during the revolution that overthrew the Shah.
    I too have very fond memories of Iran and its people. I went there after 18 months in Saudi Arabia and to me the country was a wonderland of changing environments.
    The first day I was there was in a southern arrid region on the border with Iraq. I went to bed that night in a familiar to me (from Saudi Arabia) desert and awoke next morning in a field of vibrant green grass. It had rained during the night and the desert was turned into fields, the grass had grown a couple of inches (5cms) fresh green shoots bursting with life and in the drains a million frogs!

    It really is an amazing country historically as well as geologically or topographically. I travelled in a big arc from the west to the northeast and then from the Caspian south through eastern Iran to Mashad and on to the Pakistan border ....good times!

    It sounds like a very moving story and an insight into a country mystified by disinformation and propaganda.

  2. It really does sound an amazing country. What an awesome trip indeed. One of the things I really did like about this book was the way in which it redressed the balance from all the propaganda and bad press the country and its people usually receive.