Shusha Guppy: Singer and writer acclaimed for a memoir of her Persian childhood

Shusha Guppy was a singer of ballads and chansons who, in the middle of her life, became better known as an author of memoirs, notably of childhood in her native Iran, which she had left at the age of 17.

The Blindfold Horse: memories of a Persian childhood, published in 1988, evoked with nostalgia civilized life in patrician Tehran long before the fall of the Shah had sent others of her family into exile. The book won several awards including the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. She was born Shansi Assar (taking the name Shusha while a student in Paris). Her father was a leading thinker and teacher in the Iran of his day and her lifelong interests reflected that legacy.

She was ever spiritual and philosophically oriented. "Always be on the side of life, darling," she remarked to one of her sons during her last illness. Those who visited her bedside – and they were many and varied – were likely to be met by the large brown eyes sparkling open and the famously sonorous voice reciting passages of Shakespeare, Racine, Rumi and Baudelaire.

The voice will be remembered for her singing, not only songs from Iran – she recorded several albums in the 1970s and 1980s – but also poems by her friends Ted Hughes and Christopher Logue, as well as greats of an earlier epoch such as W.B. Yeats. Shusha Guppy's performances were always emotionally felt, if not pedantically accurate. She was a self-styled romantic and sometimes known to inveigh against the perceived decline of standards in contemporary culture. Her friends came to include literary editors, writers, publishers and booksellers whom she considered to be among the happy few in keeping a great tradition alive.

This tradition for her was substantially francophile. She loved Paris, where she had lived as a student; it became the subject of a second volume of memoirs, A Girl in Paris (1991). Serving for decades as London editor of The Paris Review, she occasionally wondered why she was not back in that city: "Buy a flat there, darling; I'll come visit – I'd buy one myself if I could afford it." At her soirées, peppered with international types, one often felt as if one had one foot across the Channel. The London to which she had migrated in the 1960s on marrying the explorer Nicholas Guppy was most tolerable in this guise of a Nouvelle Athènes or Left Bank of the mind.

She came to love England, though she would never write a third volume of memoirs about it. With Nicholas she settled in Chelsea and, once the marriage broke up, remained there. The French attachment led her to send her two sons to the Lycée nearby; she featured for decades in the programmes of the French Institute, as both introducer and star-turn.

Her interest in matters English was deepened through a growing, well-tended circle of friends. Particularly influential were the poet Kathleen Raine, with whom she shared enthusiasm for the Temenos Institute; later Anthony Smith, President of Magdalen College, Oxford 1988 to 2005, with whom she shared political and social attentions characteristic of her later years.

Though active in "the visible world that exists", to quote a favourite French poet, Shusha also inclined towards the view that "la vraie vie est ailleurs". The first led her to interview living authors, results of which appeared in Looking Back (1991). The second prompted her to collect old Persian tales, published as The Secret of Laughter (2006). Somewhere between lay her travel writing, a taste of which was included in Three Journeys in the Levant (2001). She also wrote reviews and obituaries, notably for The Independent.

As her work developed, Guppy found ways to express a growing belief that the great religions were fundamentally united in purpose. Though Shia Muslim by background, she was fascinated by Sufism and attracted to Christianity. Nor did she let disillusion over western policies in the Middle East dissuade her from close study of many thinkers in the Anglo-Saxon cultures to which her family had fled.

If this made for the occasional anomaly or dichotomy in her pronouncements, Guppy would rarely let an argument or petty difference get in the way of interpersonal warmth. "I feel strongly that loyalty in human relations is the most important thing," she would say, noting that during a period of trouble for one of her sons, "my friends came up trumps". She considered herself lucky in this and ascribed it to the fact that she came from a place where "the cult of friendship is kneaded in its history and culture – the verb for 'to love', dust dashtan, means literally 'having for a friend', so that 'I love you' is in Persian: 'I have you for a friend' ".

English was Shusha Guppy's third language. Though a fine stylist in it (she believed that French was the perfect grounding), it was the Farsi at base that was most determining for her worldview. "I think language gives an insight into the psyche of the people," she said. "We say in Persian about someone who is generous: 'He/she is open-handed and hearted' – dast o del vaz – the two often go together. Not that anybody is after someone else's wealth or possessions, but people who are mean are mean also with their time, care, affection, love."

As a hostess and friend, Shusha was the opposite of mean-spirited, tempting though it may have been on occasion. Nor was her ability to love as described least in evidence at her passing.

Stoddard Martin

Shansi Assar (Shusha Guppy), singer and writer: born Tehran 24 December 1935; married 1961 Nicholas Guppy (two sons; marriage dissolved); died London 21 March 2008.

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice