This article brings Iranian American return narratives into dialogue with reinterpretations of Freud’s analysis of melancholia in the works of Judith Butler, Jonathan Flatley, David Kazanjian, David Eng, and Shinhee Ham, among others. By refusing to relinquish Iran as a physical, geographical location, these narratives reverse the one-way motion of migration and assimilation, undermine the model-minority stereotype, and contradict the subtext of dominant Western discourses around Iran—that it is a place every sensible Iranian would leave behind if given the opportunity. Tara Bahrampour’s To See and See Again, Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, and Gelareh Asayesh’s Saffron Sky each seek confrontations with loss, contesting the relationship between the past and its remains by bringing personal and historical memory into direct encounters with present-day Iran. In this way, they articulate versions of Walter Benjamin’s call to interrogate the tensions among history, memory, and the present, to “brush history against the grain.” Seen as melancholic acts of rebellion, with failure necessarily embedded within from the start, Iranian American memoirs of return raise a series of questions: What happens at the site of return, when subjectivity fragmented by migration and assimilation seeks to recover a lost sense of coherence? How does the text itself become a geographical location in which narrative strategies are employed to bring the past into dialogue with the present? What creative potential is unleashed through a melancholic engagement with history, trauma, and memory, and what new forms of community and resistance become available as a result? This article takes up these sites of inquiry and sketches the contours of return narratives as a new archetype of ethnic American literature.

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