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In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran [Hardcover]

Christopher de Bellaigue
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Aug 2004

A superb, authoritatively written insider’s account of one of the most mysterious but significant and powerful nations in the world: Iran.

Few historians and journalists writing in English have been able to meaninfully examine post-revolutionary Iranian life. Years after his death, the shadow of Ayatollah Khomeini still looms over Shi'ite Islam and Iranian politics, the state of the nation fought over by conservatives and radicals. They are contending for the soul of a revolutionary Islamic government that terrified the Western establishment and took them to leadership of the Islamic world.

But times have changed. Khomeini's death and the deficiencies of his successor, the intolerance and corruption that has made the regime increasingly authoritarian and cynical, frustration at Iran's economic isolation and the revolution's failure to deliver the just realm it promised has transformed the spirit of the country.

In this superbly crafted and deeply thoughtful book Christopher de Bellaigue, who is married to an Iranian and has lived there for many years, gives us the voices and memories of this 'worn-out generation': be they traders or soldiers, film-makers or clerics, writers or taxi-drivers, gangsters or reformists. These are voices that are never heard, but whose lives and concerns are forging the future of one of the most secretive, misunderstood countries in the world. The result is a subtle yet intense revelation of the hearts and minds of the Iranian people.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (16 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007113935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007113934
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 783,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A mixture of history, reportage and analysis, his book helps to understand "enigma inside a puzzle" that is Iran today...fascianting" -- Financial Times

'A portrait of an enigmatic nation of wistful revolutionaries' -- The Economist, 26 November 2004

'[De Bellaigue's]Iran is far more truthful: vibrant, polluted, colourful, deceitful, shockingly diverse and completely in the present' -- The Guardian, 11 December 2004

'brilliant...his Iran is...truthful: vibrant, polluted, colourful, deceitful, shockingly diverse and completely in the present' -- The Guardian

'extremely timely...Tehran resident de Bellaigue gives an illuminating portrait of post-revolution Iranians.' -- Sunday Times, 5 December 2004

'riveting...I was intrigued and impressed...de Bellaigue has done his research well and reports meticulously' -- Literary Review, August 2004

'thoughtful and quietly assured...an excellent guide to Iran's troubled recent history' -- Evening Standard

About the Author

Christopher de Bellaigue was born in 1971. He studied at Cambridge and writes for Granta and the New York Review of Books. He is married and lives in Iran.

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Why, I wondered long ago, don't the Iranians smile? Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A colourful writing that impartially reflects the in-depth knowledge of its author about Iran and its people. A concise though up to the point monograph of Iran and its complex societal, religous and cultural texture which Christopher de Bellaigue has brilliantly presented. A masterpiece and great contribution to the subject field which definitely tells much more than its cover and title about Iran.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking but somewhat scattered 23 Oct 2007
The book opens and closes with descriptions of scenes from an Iranian festival celebrating the martyrdom of the Imam Hossein, hero of Iran's Shia Islam. Sandwiched in between are snippets of the country's history, snatches of the personal experiences of the author's life as a Westerner in Iran and descriptions of the lives of ordinary Iranians and their experiences of the Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and life in post-revolution Iran. The theme of martyrdom seeps through all of these encounters and experiences, and we are presented with an assortment of attitudes to the sometimes senseless, sometime noble aspects of martyrdom in Iranian history. The book has moments of thought-provoking brilliance as the author presents us with some of the dilemmas and paradoxes faced by ordinary Iranians. It also has moments where things become disjointed and it is easy to lose the thread. In the end, the idea of martyrdom is not enough to hold together a loosely structured narrative that jumps back and forth in history and alternates historical explanations with the anecdotal stories of a large number of diverse characters.

De Bellaigue never claims to have no personal opinions on the issues he is writing about and in fact he presents his own biases plainly on occasion. This does not prevent him from offering up alternative points of view, however, and these are the moments that become thought-provoking. It is a struggle to give this book a star rating. At some points it deserves 5 and at others 2. The author's masterful command of language rates a 5 throughout. All in all though, I would say it is a worthwhile read.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing... but fails to deliver. 6 Feb 2005
'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs' is more or less enjoyable to read, but not quite as advertised. It is definitely a personal account which adds much flavor to the book but tends to be choppy and seems to lack any real purpose.
While it does focus to some degree on the difficulties that the revolution now faces in Iran, it fails to tie these accounts together in any meaningful fashion. If this was the first book one was to read about Iran, it may prove difficult as it is taken for granted that one has a fair amount of background knowledge regarding Iran.
If you are one who reads about Iran often, this book would also be worth reading. If you want your first picture of Iran- choose something different such as 'Persian Mirrors' by Elaine Sciolino.
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