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05/27/2024 | Literary criticism

"Ministry of Dreams" by Hengameh Yaghoobifarah - Trapped in the dream(a)factory

by Jenna Marlene Dittig

Dream or nightmare? This is the question Nasrin has to ask herself after fleeing Iran for Germany with her mother and younger sister Nushin in the early 1980s. It soon becomes clear that life in Germany is not a dream, but a harsh reality awaits them. Hengameh Yaghoobifarah's debut novel Ministerium der Träume (2021), published by Blumenbar, tells the family's story in an authentic way, incorporating the past and present.


When Nasrin learns that her sister Nushin has died in a car accident, her life changes abruptly. Not only does she have to come to terms with her sister's death, she also has to take on the role of her niece Parvin's legal guardian. When she finds a message on her sister's answering machine that she recorded before her death, Nasrin decides to get to the bottom of the mysterious causes of her death. In search of answers, she embarks on a journey through time to her past in Tehran, her childhood in Lübeck and her present life in Berlin.


Readers are given an insight into the formative events in Nasrin's life. They learn that the family's hopes for a better life in Germany were dashed after their father was executed in Iran. "Baba won't be coming to Germany," the mother announces. No open mourning, instead emotional coldness in the family. Life must go on. But is the family's life in Germany really what they imagined it would be?


Preoccupied with her own pain, Nasrin's mother is unable to create a home for her daughters in Germany. Instead, Nasrin constantly feels like she doesn't belong. She is an aunt who is overwhelmed by her role as a mother. A "Nasrin" among all the "Annikas" at the parents' evening. A migrant lesbian in her forties in the young, queer Berlin club scene. A disappointment for the homophobic mother. An ostracized member of the original clique. A stranger in a (no longer quite) new country.


With Nasrin, Yaghoobifarah has created a character who seems to be trapped in a web of xenophobia, right-wing extremism, homophobia and trauma. Although Nasrin wishes to escape from the traumatic memories of the past, they catch up with her again and again. She has not yet been able to come to terms with the loss of her father and her home as a child or the rape she suffered as a teenager. Nasrin's traumas are vividly depicted in recurring sequences in which the boundaries between dream and reality seem to blur. The same motifs appear again and again: a telephone, fire and spotlights. Ghosts of the past that do not allow Nasrin to forget her past. Instead, she remains trapped in the trauma factory.


Hengameh Yaghoobifarah describes the story of Nasrin and her family in a way that is both compassionate and brutally honest. The use of extraordinary linguistic imagery creates a visualization of the events that gives readers the feeling of being part of the action themselves. Alternating between seriousness and humor, Yaghoobifarah denounces stereotypes and shows the abysses of German society. As usual, Hengameh Yaghoobifarah does not shy away from addressing conflict-laden topics, such as police violence, and thus provides food for thought. The debut novel Ministry of Dreams therefore attracts the attention it deserves.