11611 foni Af:fylfii bt Azadeh Moaveni HONEYMOON TEHRAN allow him to cast himself as a modernday Mossadegh, standing up for principle against a Western puppet.” Azar Nafisi, author of the 2003 bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, has more personal reasons for writing her recently released memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories. “I do not mean this book to be a political or social commentary, or a useful life story. I want to tell the story of a family that unfolds against the backdrop of a turbulent era in Iran’s political and cultural history.” Later, she adds, “Ever since I can remember, my parents and their friends spoke of Iran as a beloved but prodigal child whose welfare they constantly quarreled about. Over the years Iran acquired for me a paradoxical identity: it was a concrete place, defined by where I was born and lived, the language I spoke, the food I ate, and at the same time it was a mythical notion, encouraging all manner of virtues and values, a symbol of resistance and of betrayal.” Nafisi’s denial of sociopolitical intent should be taken with a grain of salt. Amid two ongoing wars in the Middle East and an ever-increasing Western focus on Iran’s role in the region, one can hardly write a book about Iran that doesn’t function on at least some level as political or social commentary. Among Iranians and Iranian-Americans, Nafisi is a polarizing figure; her previous work has been embraced by a general readership, but disparaged by some critics who see Reading Lolita in Tehran as a confirmation of western stereotypes about the Middle East. Nafisi’s story is fascinating regardless a coming-of-age memoir that follows her close relationship with her father, a former mayor of Tehran who was imprisoned under the Shah’s regime for four years, and her troubled relationship with her mother, the first woman to serve in Iran’s parliament. From the outset, Nafisi makes clear that a memoir is no small matter to an Iranian: “It is such a strong part of Iranian culture to never reveal private matters: we don’t air our dirty laundry in public. …” In that moment, Nafisi invokes the aura of the genre to seduce readers with the promise of tantalizing secrets. But unlike a contemporary American memoirist like, say, Augusten Burroughs, Nafisi uses her platform not just to reveal skeletons in her family’s closet, but to open a window on the “turbulent era in Iran’s political and cultural history” in which she grew up. Nafisi comes to detest the Islamic regime that ultimately chases her family out of Iran. Though she’s certainly not alone in this feeling, her reflections are best read as part of an ongoing conversation about Iran. In one instance, Nafisi recalls being accosted by a young soldier who screams at her for wearing her veil too loosely. To the author, the memory is undoubtedly infuriating. To Western readers, the anecdote reinforces an image of the Middle East that’s reductively symbolized by the Islamic headscarf. While Nafisi provides a valuable eyewitness account of political upheaval, one turns to Majd for the deeply explored context. Prevailing Western attitudes might disparage the Islamic Republic law requiring women to wear the hijab in public, but as Majd points out, the law was a reaction to an earlier mid-20th century mandate by the last shah’s father, Reza Shah, forbidding the hijab. “In the 1930s,” Majd writes, “women had their chadors forcibly removed from their heads if they dared wear them, and were sometimes beaten as well if they resisted.” \(Hijab refers to a simple headscarf specifically or, more generally, the Islamic dress code; the chador, literally “tent,” is a black garment worn in Iran “Of course, back then the vast majority of women in Iran could not imagine leaving the house without the chador, so the effect was even more dramatic than Khomeini’s enforcement of the hijab” nlike Majd and Nafisi, both of whom were born in Iran in the 195os and experienced the 1979 Revolution as young adults, it’s the present-day, post-Revolutionary Iran that provides Azadeh Moaveni with her formative experience. Born in California in 1976 to parents who emigrated in the mid1970s, Moaveni belongs to a generation of Iranian-Americans whose parents left Iran because of the Revolution. \(Nafisi’s children, just a few years younger than Moaveni, are part of that same generaStates, Moaveni’s parents returned to Iran after college, only to come back to the U.S. a few years later to accompany an elderly family member to the Stanford University Medical Center. Her parents had not intended to stay in California; the Revolution made their decision for them. Moaveni writes: “…I grew up with the migr child’s ambivalent yearning for homeland.” Then, during a brief trip to Iran during a Fulbright scholarship year in Cairo, Moaveni “discovered the fascinating debates over Islam and democracy that were underway in Iran, and concluded the country had more to offer than just pistachios and Islamic militancy.” Moaveni’s memoir begins with her first trip back to Iran after the publication of her 2005 book Lipstick Jihad, in which she described “drug-soaked underground parties” among Iranian youth and offered criticism of the Iranian government. Upon meeting with “Mr. X,” the government agent in charge of monitoring her conduct as a journalist, Moaveni is understandably anxious. Her own observations about Iranian culture had, “in the mouths of other Iranians, led to prosecution and imprisonment.” But, toward the end of her meeting, Mr. X breezily tells her, “We would like you to know that we consider your book worthy of appreciation.” He assures even further: “So do not be worried. Go back to America, and tell them we are democrats.” JULY 10, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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