Moaveni writes a revealing and fascinating memoir of her life as an Iranian-American growing up in California and then moving to Iran in her twenties. She went to Iran as a reporter when the country was experiencing the “Prague Spring” of the Khatami presidency. The spring turned to winter after Bush declared Iran to be part of the “axis of evil.” She writes that the President Bush’s name-calling and threats were “a divine gift to the hard-liners, who were running out of excuses for their ongoing repressiveness.”
Moaveni struggles with her own identity and with feeling like an outsider in both places. She explains the path taken by the Iranian Revolution since 1979 as she learns about it herself. In particular, she explores the role of women in post-revolutionary Iran. She posits that the political conservatism of the Islamic regime in Iran (and elsewhere, I would add) is “bound up in its fear and hostility toward women and their sexuality.” How women cope in Iran, how they manage to make their way through the patriarchal world, is a wonderful and uplifting story.
Moaveni’s story is enlightening and inspirational, and her exploration of the underside of life in Tehran reminded me a great deal of The Russians by Hedrick Smith, a wonderful book performing a similar service during the Soviet/Samizdat years. But Moaveni didn’t answer all my questions. For example, she and her fellow Iranians evince a fierce anti-Israeli attitude. But rarely does she mention Palestinians, and I was left wondering what was the source of all this animosity. She describes many Iranian cultural customs she loves, but there is not much about the impact of Shia Islam on her life (as distinct from the radical Islam of the mullahs, about which there was a great deal). In her book she expresses understanding of mothers who would not want to raise a child under the madrassah-system of the mullahs, but then it seems she went on to do so herself. [Her next book of memoirs has now been published, Honeymoon in Tehran.]
In sum, although it was a very enjoyable book, it left me wanting more. Still, I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting an actual “insider’s” look at a Muslim country, especially from a woman’s point of view.
Published by PublicAffairs, 2005