While reading Heather Roffo’s “9 Parts of Desire” I was struck by how intimate and detailed each monologue/character was and the depth of the emotional response each provoke. Even though I was aware that the characters (and the play itself) are dramatized, fictional composites of the many testimonies of Iraqi women, the narratives still ignited powerful feelings and responses within me.
Due to previously mentioned depth of detail and descriptions of living through war I was shocked to find out that Roffo, who was raised in Michigan, had only traveled to Iraq once as a child. She had never experienced the war first hand, especially not in the way almost all of her characters had. I wondered if this at all hindered or lessened her ability to accurately portray the struggles of Iraqi women whose lives are constantly consumed by the war. This is not to invalidate her experiences as an Iraqi American woman, but it does call into question the possible flaws in her retelling of other people’s stories. Roffo runs the risk of generalizing or misrepresenting the reality of Iraqi women. She could also unintentionally and unknowingly perpetuate stereotypes, harmful or not. I wondered if on a universal level it’s possible to truly capture all nuances of an experience or struggle that you’ve never directly felt?
In the case of “9 Parts of Desire” I would say that it is possible.
Roffo accounts for these possibilities and addresses them through her incorporation of the interviews she conducted. By doing this she is, in a sense, using direct evidence and therefore diminishing the possibility of misrepresenting Iraqi women. She also uses many different women and their very different perspectives and struggles to avoid generalization. By using these unique and personal stories Roffo humanizes the insanely high death toll of the Iraq War. She uses the intimacy created between the characters (through their deeply personal struggles) and the reader/viewer to bring nuance and variety to women who are often reduced to nothing more than victims. Although Roffo focuses on the specific and unique lives of varying Iraqi women during the war, she also shines light on universal experiences such as freedom, love, loss, and pain. Through Layal I was pushed to question the meaning of true freedom and love. The American created a connection with me through her pain and fear of loss. The uncertainty and inability to fully comprehend experienced by the Iraqi Girl reminded me of my little sister. Each character presented a new perspective on these deeply human themes, which simultaneously intertwined and separated them. Their shared experiences of tragedy and womanhood also produce their different and sometimes contradicting views on pain, freedom, love and loss.