Breathlessly quoting literature in a dozen of languages, Call Me Zebra takes an Iranian-Amerian back to Spain where she spent some time in exile with her father. If you long for your college days and your lit classes, this book is for you.
Tag Archives: Iran
Refuge stars an Iranian family who is split up by exile to the US, leaving the daughter-narrator to alternatively miss and bemoan her father, whom she only sees very occasionally when he can get a visa to meet her and her brother in various cities around the world. The complicated relationship of the addict-father with the rest of the family is the best part of the book. Alas, it is surrounded by many meandering stories about the daughter’s geographical moves, her marital issues, and the refugees she is helping on the side, none of which seems to get anywhere.
The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.
And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.
The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran is the memoir of a woman journalist who grew up under the revolution in Iran, and who eventually was forced to flee after the regime had her followed and threatened. She tries to combine her personal history with that of the country, and she is much more successful when she conveys personal experiences, whether it is the conservative revolutionary chasing her and all girls away from the swimming pool in her apartment complex or forcing her to wear clothes that made it hard to breathe. There are stories of the family maid, whose revolutionary daughter scores them a new apartment, and of the morality teachers railing against “original packaging”, which they mistakenly thought was the name for Walkmans, and many street jokes that capture the Zeitgeist better than any lengthy considerations about policies, candidates, or statistics.
Feel free to skip the details of elections, and you will enjoy the personal stories.
The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran is the story of an Iranian-born man, exiled with his family in the West since a very early age, and his American wife and son who spend a year in Tehran as a cultural experiment. The book is an uneasy mix of personal experiences in cultural adaptation (after all, even he has never lived in Iran, apart from a few months) and serious considerations about politics and foreign affairs. In my mind, the personal wins handily, from the strangers feting his infant son to the complicated bargaining dances of cab drivers and the strange unevenness of the modesty police. The political I found rather boring. But the stories of everyday life vividly render the well-known pollution of Tehran, in the form of his son’s filthy clothes after crawling on the daily-mopped floor and the daily evasion of the Facebook prohibition. The most telling political stories in the book come straight from the scenes of daily life, since everyone seems to be discussing politics, from taxi drivers to the cable guy.
The Walking is a skillfully written novel about two Kurdish brothers who are forced to flee their Iranian hometown after a political massacre. The story focuses on one of them, who ends up where he dreamed to be, in Los Angeles, but only after a difficult and unlikely voyage through, of all places, the Azores. What I liked best about the book were the numerous portraits of strangers who help the brothers, whether with a bit of food, shelter, or protection, throughout the odyssey. But I did not feel that the book rose much above the standard immigrant story.
Honeymoon in Tehran is the story of a Californian reporter for Time magazine whose family left Iran decades earlier, pushed out by the anti-shah revolution and who unexpectedly falls in love with an Iranian man and proceeds to get married, have a baby (not exactly in this order!) and eventually leave Iran under duress as the Ahmadinejab’s government toughens the rules that govern everyday life, especially for women, as well as the constraints on foreign journalists.
I found the descriptions of everyday life in Iran fascinating — and by far the best part of the book. Life goes on regardless of politics so we hear the complaints about the rising cost of fruit and the games played with the theoretically-forbidden but ubiquitous satellite dishes. We see how the author, although desperate to be married, finds it almost impossible to obtain the necessary paperwork because her father cannot vouch for her (and she’s 29 years old!) And we see her proceed to receive a very frank, free, and apparently compulsory lecture by a government employee on contraception, including the morning-after pill. We hear about over-the-top weddings in which the dress itself costs more than the average monthly wage right and also the mysterious figure of her political handler.
The puzzling part of the book is the author’s decision making process. Right at the start of the book , she is living in Lebanon, realizes that the election is going to Ahmadinejab and wants to vote, only to find out that the voting day has already ended. She wants to publish whatever articles she wants when she lives in Iran but is stunned when her directness causes her journalist license to be suspended. She wants to live in Iran but she also wants her son to get Western vaccines. When she finally moves to London she is shocked to discover a thriving militant muslim community. It’s a good thing that her husband seems to be better grounded in reality.
An interesting book to experience daily life in a fundamentalist country.
Things I’ve Been Silent About is the memoir of the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book I found very boring despite its critical acclaim and intriguing subject matter: a group of women who study banned Western novels in Tehran. This book recalls the author’s entire life starting with her parents’ marriage within the comfortable lifestyle of the Iranian elite.
It’s not an idyllic childhood. Her mother, who herself lost her mom at a young age and was reared none too kindly by her stepmother, clearly prefers her son to her daughter and is drawn to complicated behaviors and demands with everyone, and especially her daughter. Her beloved father is imprisoned under trumped political charges and increasingly maintains a second life with other women, avoiding his wife but never coming clean with her. The author is sent to England and later Switzerland to study and is left alone at a young age in an unfamiliar country with a different language.
I liked two aspects of this book. One is the intertwining of personal and public history: how her dad’s rise in the Shah’s government changed the family, how his imprisonment broke it up, how the Iran revolution divided her extended family in unexpected and tragic ways. The other is the painful, detailed accounting of her mother’s convoluted, needy, miserable self. Was she doomed from the start or could she have been transformed with just a little TLC as a child?