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!