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Iranian Author Finds Solace in Storytelling

Local resident and author Rahimeh Andalibian shares her family’s secrets about their flight from Iran after the collapse of the shah’s regime.

Laguna Beach resident Dr. Rahimeh Andalibian experienced the chaos and upheaval of Iran’s 1979 revolution as a confused 4-year-old whose family subsequently fled the country. By the time the family landed in Orange County in 1986, those traumatic events were as good as swept under the rugs of her father’s Persian carpet business.

Andalibian said that “one awful choice” as the revolution unfolded led to the death of her 16-year-old brother and profoundly affected the family for the next 30 years.

It took a new upheaval in Andalibian’s life to trigger her decision to exhume the tragic events of her family’s past, a process that culminated with the publication of her true-life novel, “The Rose Hotel.” She self-published through Nightingale Press in September and will discuss the work at a reception open to the public at GG’s Bistro, 540 S. Coast Highway, at 7 p.m. tonight, Friday, Nov. 16.

Coinciding serendipitously with the recent release of the movie “Argo,” “The Rose Hotel” offers readers an insider’s view of the Iranian revolution that also serves as the setting for the movie’s action involving a CIA mission to extract U.S. Embassy personnel from Iran.

In giving readers a gripping tale about her family’s flight from their homeland, Andalibian, a psychologist and family therapist with a practice in Laguna, became enthralled by the healing that came from shedding light on the buried past, not just for herself, but her whole family.

Family and addiction psychiatrist Ed Kaufman, another local who discovered his own creative writing muse a decade ago, attested to the therapeutic value of telling one’s story. “In many ways I learned as much about myself from my writing as I did from my training in psychoanalysis,” he said.

In confronting her past and freeing the family secrets, Andalibian felt transformed by how her own growth influenced the family dynamic and broader community. “It really ripples out.”

Attuned to the stress and tension in her family, Andalibian became the “peacemaker” by helping her parents communicate with her remaining brothers who, in addition to a denied past, found growing up in Orange County with traditional Iranian parents to be a “tremendous challenge.” While her brothers went into their father’s Persian carpet business, Andalibian, found solace in school and continued her education.

It only took one college psychology course for her to become hooked on the discipline. She earned a doctorate at 24.

Always enterprising, Andalibian flipped properties to pay off her student loans, eliminating her debt within two years. She eventually bought a home in Laguna Beach and started a cognitive training center for children in Mission Viejo. Finding the work more fulfilling than lucrative, Andalibian relied on home equity to sustain her. With the collapse of the housing market in 2008, Andalibian lost everything – home and business, a reversal of fortune that echoed her family’s tribulation in Iran.

Asked what she would do then, if she could do anything, her answer, “I would write a book, the story of my heart,” set loose uncontrollable sobbing. Her friends encouraged her to follow that instinct.

Not one to do anything by half, Andalibian threw herself into telling the tale. “It was the hardest challenge of my life,” she said. Living on a limited budget, pouring all of her resources into the project, she sacrificed “a lot of comfort” so that she could write full time for three years. A virtual vagabond with no home of her own, she relied on friends and family to put her up, in a way reliving circumstances that preceded her fleeing Iran.

To give herself the leeway to write in a compelling way, Andalibian chose to call her work fiction, a “true-life” novel. Lacking training in creative writing, she determined to maintain high standards and sought the guidance of professionals, in the end spending nearly $60,000 on writing coaches and editors, as well as web site design and public relations.

Delving into the long-ignored past by interviewing her parents for hours on end, Andalibian found it “surprisingly therapeutic” to ask her father about the painful details. The exercise proved a cathartic experience for him, as well. “It gave everybody the freedom to talk,” she said.

Not unexpectedly, the experience adds depth to her professional work as a family therapist and has made her eager to help others find paths to their own transformation.

Hande Gundogar, who owns GG’s Bistro with her husband, left Turkey eight years ago to start a new life in Orange County. She jumped at the chance to host the event for a fellow immigrant, now a good friend, and her endeavor to come to terms with old narratives and create new ones.

“The Rose Hotel” opened a door for Andalibian’s next project, “Glass Houses,” a collaboration with two playwrights. They intertwine biographies of individuals that set off a chain reaction of change and healing. Conceived as a dynamic work, she plans to incorporate stories from the audience into the second act. For more info or to see a video about the play, visit www.draconnect.org. The book is also available at Amazon.com.

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