Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Madj, Hooman. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Reason read: the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Iran, a land of contradictions and gross misunderstanding. Madj shares historical facts and personal reflections revealing a side of Iran and Iranians few westerners get to see. Does he want to clear up misconceptions? He understands there is a widespread lack of thoughtful acceptance of middle eastern culture. The United States especially is not on solid ground with their relationship is an understatement. The two sides are polarizing when there is so much more to understand. How can westerners reconcile dead camels on display, their throats slit for religious sacrifice? Other illogical points to consider: Birth records in Iran were instituted in 1930. Also, the chador was illegal for women to wear in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, the Shah was persuaded not to enforce this law until it was finally changed in 1941. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 promised to do away with class. Even the employees of the President dress the same as the man who poured their tea. In contrast, Madj says “When American…politicians may often come from ordinary backgrounds their lifestyles usually change dramatically when they have reached the pinnacle of power, they are long removed from their more humble roots” (p 17). This doesn’t happen in Iran.
Madj sits comfortably in a dual cultural identity, western (educated in both England and the United States) and middle eastern as the son of an Iranian diplomat and the grandson of a professor of Islamic philosophy. It’s as if he wants us to understand him as much as he wants to explain Iranian culture. Take the practice of ta’arouf, for example. He recognizes that it is an exhausting and sometime ridiculous practice similar to an over-polite chess match. Or customary gestures of hello: in the United States you thrust out your right hand to grasp someone else’s right hand (and shake vigorously), but in Iran you instead place your right hand over your heart as a gesture of respect. It’s the little things…

Quote that struck me, “Just as one doesn’t have to be religious to feel and appreciate the emotion of a gospel signer, one doesn’t have to be devout to feel the emotion of Muslim religious music, and Shia chants reach into a place deep in the Iranian soul, formed by centuries of cultural DNA and the certain Persian knowledge that the world is indeed a wicked place” (p 87).

Author fact: Madj is a writer of short fiction and has his own website here.

Book trivia: Majd includes some really great color photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Iran” (p 108).


September Summer

It feels like it’s still summer. Never mind the nights are getting somewhat cooler. Never mind that we are back in school. Never mind there is a seasonal hurricane ripping its way up the eastern seaboard. Never mind all that. I’m still in summer mode. I started the month off by a good 3.24 run. Yes!
Here are the books planned for the month:

Fiction:

  • The Shining by Stephen King – in honor of King’s birth month.
  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just – in honor of Just’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan by David Chadwick – in honor of September being Respect for the Aged month.
  • Foreign Correspondence: a Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks – in honor of International Reading Day.
  • The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd – in memory of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Series continuation:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov – to continue finish the series started in January.

Early Review:

  • My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life by Ryan O’Callaghan. If you have been keeping score, I started this last month.

For fun:

  • The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly – because of the title.

From a Persian Tea House

Carroll, Michael. From a Persian Tea House. London: Tauris Parke, 2007.

Reason read: Khomeini died in the month of June.

One of the best reasons to read From a Persian Tea House is for the cultural aspects to a society some of us will never see. Carroll humanizes the middle east in such a way we can picture dancing with the happy couple at a wedding, striving to understand how common corporal punishment and corruption can be, and of course taking tea with the locals. Having said that, it is important to keep in mind when reading From a Persian Tea House that is was written from a mid 1950s perspective, when old Iran was romanticized and equally mysterious and evocative. Carroll and his traveling companion represent a British born curiosity. They traveled in relative safety, making friends with bemused locals while making keen observations about the culture and society. My favorite parts are the descriptions of a wedding, bartering for rugs, and retrieving their own stolen items.

Author fact: Carroll (not be confused with the lottery winner who blew his millions on naked women) was born in England but spent a lot of time in India.

Book trivia: From a Persian Tea House has fantastic photographs.

Nancy said: Absolutely nada.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 108).


Sacrificial June

June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:

  • sacrificed a camping trip,
  • postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
  • cancelled plans with my mother,
  • lost four training days,
  • lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
  • got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
  • spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
  • missed a day of work, and
  • have no idea if I actually helped or not.

Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Short Stories:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
    by Sherman Alexie
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
  • “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
  • “Ado” by Connie Willis

Persepolis

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2003.

Whenever I read a book like Persepolis I think about how gluttonous, how wanton, how extravagant my life within this country has been. Imagine being told what to wear and how to wear it. Imagine being told what to not to do or say. Imagine having a curfew. Imagine the banning of alcohol or parties. All common for coming of age, but as an adult? Imagine uncles being executed; bombs exploding and killing your entire family of neighbors. Here one day, gone the next. Persepolis was hard to read. Maybe it’s because Marjane is my age (younger by several months) so all along I kept comparing her her stages of growing up to my own. But, really, how can one compare such things when we are figuratively and literally worlds apart?

The Amercican version of Persepolis is a two-part story. Part one begins when Marjane Satrapi is ten years old. It’s her first year of having to wear the veil, of school segregation, and the disintegration of life as she knew it. The story follows the next four years of her life as she comes of age in revolutionary Iran. She is interested in all the things a typical pubescent girl should be: fashion, rock posters, friends. As she grows up her personal uprising and rebellion run parallel with her country’s political unrest. As the Iran/Iraq conflict escalates Satrapi’s childhood world becomes more and more dangerous. She struggles with religious trust versus media influences touting the extremist view. Finally, her Marxist parents decide her future is more certain if she is sent to a boarding school in Austria.

Striking line: “When I went back to her room she was crying. We were not in the same social class but at least we were in the same bed” (p 36).

Book Trivia: Persepolis was adapted into an animated film.

Author Fact: Satrapi speaks five different languages (according to the wiki I read).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphica” (p 105). Obviously.


Good Daughter

Darznik, Jasmin. The Good Daughter: a Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011.

There is a third party detachment to the way Darznik tells her mother’s story. It’s cool and aloof, without personal reaction or reflection. The Good Daughter reads like a novel because Darznik does not offer us any emotion. She includes so many fly-on-the-wall details about her mother’s first marriage and first born in such a way that the story could have been about anyone – friend or colleague. But, having said that – this is a story worth telling. In the early 1950s Iran, Darznik mother is barely into her teen years before she marries and has a child. After suffering abuse at the hands of her husband she does the unthinkable for a woman in Iranian culture: she arranges for a divorce. She is forced to abandon her daughter when she remarries moves to America. Upon having a second daughter she drops hints about the “Good Daughter” she has left behind. It’s a passive aggressive tactic to make Darznik behave, but the “Good Daughter” is never explained until Darznik discovers tangible evidence of her mother’s secret past.

Favorite line: “I was often lost those days and almost always the happier for it” (p 314).


August ’09 Was…

For the sake of sanity I have to recap the entire summer. Summer as we think of it in terms of the calendar, not the temperature. June. July. August.
June can only be thought of as a dark and hellish tunnel. In that case, July was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As a result, August was not only getting out of the dark and hellish tunnel but moving as far, far away from it as possible. August was an amazing month!

August was music (loved the Avett Brothers and had a great time at Phish). August was homehome with my best boys. August was also a group of good, good books:

  • The Moviegoer by Percy Walker ~ interesting story about a man watching life go by rather than living it.
  •  Turbulent Souls: a Catholic Son’s Return to his Jewish Family by Stephen J. Dubner ~ this was fascinating.
  • The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ another fascinating nonfiction with great illustrations.
  • The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch ~ a novel about Charles Dickens that I couldn’t really get into.
  • Those Tremendous Mountains: the Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by David Freeman Hawke ~ another nonfiction, this time about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (like the title says).
  • Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Expery ~ all about war-time aviation.

For the Early Review Program:

  • Sandman Slim: a Novel by Richard Kadrey ~ absolutely crazy good book.
  • Off the Tourist Trail: 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives ~ an amazing travel book! Really beautiful!
  • Finished reading Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni ~ part political, part personal, this was great.

For fun:

  • My First 100 Marathons: 2,620 Miles with an Obsessed Runner by Jeff Horowitz ~ funny and informative, too!
  • Running and Being by George Sheehan ~ funny and sarcastic and informative all at once!

Honeymoon in Tehran

I wish I knew what happened with this review. I knew I started writing it last winter…or at least I think I did! We were right in the middle of buying a house and suddenly the pages of purchase and sales agreements became more important than the pages of Honeymoon in Tehran. Nevertheless, here I am now…months and months later, long after publication writing the review. What’s what saying? Better late than never!

Moaveni, Azadeh. Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran. New York: Random House, 2009.

Three words pop out at me when thinking of ways to describe Honeymoon in Tehran: political, cultural and fashionable. I thoroughly enjoyed Moaveni’s blend of sly personal commentary mixed with sharp political reporting. She tells it like it is without sparing the reader her own controversial viewpoints – quite the daring feat considering the scrutiny and censorship her topics are subjected to. Sprinkled amid pages of Iranian politics are tidbits of Moaveni’s personal life (pilates, friends and underground music scenes – to name a few). In the beginning it is a carefully balanced portrayal of life in Iran for a young female journalist, but then Moaveni meets and falls in love with Arash. An unplanned pregnancy speeds up already considered wedding plans. Suddenly, Moaveni’s portrayal of life in Tehran involves more than just herself as she is faced with raising a son and nurturing a marriage. Her decision to move to England is not surprising.
Critics have called Honeymoon in Tehran a sequel to her first book Lipstick Jihad but readers shouldn’t feel it necessary to read Lipstick Jihad before Honeymoon in Tehran. Honeymoon in Tehran is a completely readable book on its own. Moaveni makes enough references to Lipstick Jihad to fill the reader in.


December Was…

img_0030December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
  • A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
  • A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
  • Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
  • ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
  • Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).

For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).

Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.

So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.

Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!