Saturday, March 28, 2009

Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years Of Love And Danger In Iran

I keep reading to catch a glimpse of romance, or honeymoon! Oh, cruel Azadeh! Not even a line? But I keep reading. Then, I give up. Forget about the title, lets get to the subtitle “Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran.” Lets look for love first, modern love, it is nice, I'm sure it is somewhere in the Islamic republic. Islamic love?

No there is no trace of love there either, though there is an encounter with a young man, Arash, in Laleh Seddigh's stable. The author is there to “spend some time with” (not to interview!) the “race-car- driver.” Her friend, Nasrine, had invited Arash to meet the author. Well, one might think reading a tabloid about Paris Hilton or Britney Spears; but, no, it is about an experienced journalist from Time and a “race-car- driver” over a guy name Arash. The journalist, Azadeh is not even a columnist!
In her first step to this love story we find Laleh, an airheaded, superficial, spoiled rich, selfish, delinquent, self-centered, and ignorant woman who “thinks Nepal is a mountain”, in her way. But our journalist who is, as opposed to the “race-car-driver”, intelligent, deep, sincere, and not at all self-absorbed, manages to win him over. When Laleh appears on the scene in her “silver BMW with her pouty, collagen-enhanced lips and a nose job, better than the most, wearing a velvety hunting manteau,” it is easy to guess who is the winner in this rivalry.

Later on, based on the information from Wikipedia, I found that Laleh Seddigh, at the age of 28, is the 2006 champion of 1600 GT car racing, she has been awarded an International drivers license to qualify her to race on any circuit in the world. She is qualified for competing in 1800 GT for the coming year, and has a reputation for selecting very sophisticated and complex strategies. At the time of the interview, she was a Ph. D. student and is now a teacher at the Tehran Technical College.) I wonder why our young journalist insists on portraying her so differently? Professionalism aside, she makes the error of trivializing her opponent. What is such a big deal about winning a competition against an air-head?

Going back to the love that is promised in the title, it seems she has sent us on a wild goose chase. If there was any love affair in her real life, there is no trace of it in the book, no, no love, no honeymoon, and no romance. But Tehran is there and Iran too. And danger? Ah, no danger either. But there is something, lets call it fake danger, induced fear, and artificial suspense. Well, at least she does something in this book beyond making a collection of her articles written for Time from 2005 to 2007. Yes, really the book is a collection of previously-written and published articles. I do not intend to get involved in copyright issues, however the reader needs to know that this is not a romance book, and not a memoir per se. And those who review the book should take the trouble at least to check what they read.

In the Author's Note she writes, “I benefited tremendously from knowing in advance that these two years of my life would be transformed into story. I have reconstructed most of the dialogue and events from notes, some more detailed than others. To fill the lacunae in my journal, I have relied on the help and memory of those who shared the experiences with me.” Nowhere in the book is there any reference to the articles written by the author in Time, nor is there any mentioned of this in the bibliography.

Am I the first to notice how scattered this memoir is? Am I the only one to notice that almost all the articles, written for, and published by Time are glued together by some half gossip, and chit chat stories just to created a fake, pale imitation, and Iranian version of Murphy Brown?

Our young journalist employs whatever she can to create excitement, though she fails to arouse genuine curiosity or interest. The pregnancy out of wedlock, living together, and hassles over officiating her marriage, all seem artificial, and all equally without rhyme or reason, purpose or justification. If she wanted to get married, why didn't she do so six months earlier? Or if she wanted to get pregnant, why didn't she do so six months later? Do we know why she should get pregnant in such rush before getting married? Were there any obstacles? Did she not know how to prevent it? Did she not know that she is living in the Islamic Republic? Could she not read the Islamic penal code first to learn that stoning is not applicable in her situation? Or did she just want to do something exciting? More likely the latter, though the whole scheme does not even impress her minder, Mr. X.

The character Mr. X, if real, does not help either. It might excite a few teenagers in California who might think Iran is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar, but those who know Iran a little beyond the articles Azadeh sends to Time or writes in her book, know that there are plenty of Mr Xs in the Islamic Republic. Our dear journalist would not have been that much excited if she would have been in contact with any of the women activists to tell her it is merely routine to receive those intimidating calls and summonses from one of those minders summoning them to one of those spooky places at odd times like ten at night every so often. They would have advised her that she should simply ask for a rescheduling or tell them she should not go by herself.

There are a few other scattered stories, like two chapters on how to find an obstetrician, in the country which has the most sophisticated women-related medicals facilities in the Middle East; another chapter on how to find a pediatrician qualified to vaccinate her son; and another chapter devoted to vaccination, and the advantages of German vaccines over the Iranian ones, and how she brought vaccine from Germany to Iran so her son won't be affected with fever after vaccination. One chapter concerns the inadequacy of the hospitals with talkative nurses and wailing women in labor pain. And of course the repetitive subject of finding contradictions and paradoxes in Iran, which really becomes deadly boring.

Nagging is also extended to other hassles she has to go through. There is her mother's pressure to invite all her friends and family for the wedding reception, to which she responds by first eating ice cream for three consecutive nights at three a.m. and finally ends up with visiting a councelor. Finding someone to make a dress for her without referring to her five months' big belly is a hard chore, to which she finds a good convenient solution by flying to Europe to get one. Choosing the caterer takes another chapter. School programs - private as well as public-are a disaster and takes another chapter. Youth are not spared either. They are not rebellious enough. They are only “concerned with freedom in their immediate ten-foot radius.” However, women are spared; not even a single word about them except in connection to plastic surgery and their vanity in preferring C-Section to normal delivery. And journalists? None of the thousands of people in that field are even mentioned.

But this book is not even about any of these either. This book is about Azadeh Moaveni's view of life, her taste, her liking, her disliking, and her standards only in a short part of Azadeh Moaveni's chronicles. It seems that for every two years of her life she is determined to write a book.

I personally do not have anything against those who think too much of themselves and take their whims and likes and dislikes so seriously, particularly if they are women. Honestly if it were not for them, their obsessions and their self involvement, Edith Wharthon, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Flaubert, and many others would not created those fascinating masterpieces. But I'm not reading a novel and she is not a character in fiction. She is like a rowdy child who is spinning around herself, splashing everything, and getting out of control. And I'm like a mother who does not know what else to do and, knowing that eventually she would fall, prays for a safe landing.

She is at the airport, I'm holding my breath, what if something happens, what if she finds out that she is barred from leaving the country. I pray to God for Mr. X not to appear all of a sudden with the Revolutionary Guard to arrest her. I really wish her a good luck in leaving the country and take her dear son to a civilized country, somewhere that she can walk into a drugstore and buy any brand of dipper, shampoo, lotion and baby formula for him, otherwise in two years there will be another book tilted “Kids and Toiletry in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

It seems God heard my prayer and answered it. She left the country without any surprises. Her book has been published by a no-nonsense publisher, Random House, she was interviewed on NPR for a full forty-five minutes. She talks here and there in her book reading, and she lectures on various aspects of her observations; however, I have no idea why she has to be so clueless and tone-deaf.


Gemini8814 said...


My name is Samantha and I’m studying the Iranian Blogosphere for my college senior thesis. Would someone, anyone, mind spending a few minutes to take my survey? I would really appreciate it. Thank you for your wonderful blog, I have learned a lot.

Samantha Nicoll

kimsmittens said...

what are you talking about??? she gets married to Arash in this book... she even got pregnant in this book. wow.... did you really read it??

Mina said...

Yes dear, I have read the book, indeed, very carefully. One does not review a book without reading it.
But what about you? Did you read my review or just the first paragraph? I have a whole paragraph on her marriage and pregnancy. Though, we have decided long ago, universally, that marriage and pregnancy are not identical with love, and do not necessarily constitute a love story,

Anonymous said...

Dear Mina, your review was truely amazing! I really enjoyed this review way more than reading the book itself! Unfortunately there are some people out there who just moved in to the country where they have been told it's their "Motherland" and dare to write any nonsense about this wonderland which sadly is not anything like what they are use to! She, with a strong sense of jealousy has humiliated Laleh as an airheaded, superficial, spoiled rich, selfish, delinquent, self-centered, and ignorant woman who “thinks Nepal is a mountain”, But I wonder if she would really knows anything about Iran?!

Alireza said...

I really like your review and very much would like to add many critics to the book. The book gets on and on to be boring when it gets too much into explaining Iran and some other issues. I know a reader of non-Iranian background should know those info but if you read the book, you know what I am saying. Something was also strange that Arash was no software engineer, because she never mention that, he had returned to Iran to start an open-source software company. His idea is stolen by a high-rank government person. But then there is line in the end of the book when they wish to leave Iran for UK. Arash wants to do PhD in London and has already contacted London universities to study in Iran e bastan. Since his Bachelor is theology, he has just to learn old Iran languages and etc. So, this guy was theologists, want to start a open-source software and then was running his father company, Mahmoud khan?! interesting, though.