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The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran [Hardcover]

Hooman Majd
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

5 Nov 2013
With U.S.–Iran relations at a thirty-year low, Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd dared to take his young family on a year-long sojourn in Tehran. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay traces their domestic adventures and closely tracks the political drama of a terrible year for Iran's government.

It was an annus horribilis for Iran's Supreme Leader. The Green Movement had been crushed, but the regime was on edge, anxious lest democratic protests resurge. International sanctions were dragging down the economy while talk of war with the West grew. Hooman Majd was there for all of it. A new father at age fifty, he decided to take his blonde, blue-eyed Midwestern yoga instructor wife Karri and his adorable, only-eats-organic infant son Khash from their hip Brooklyn neighborhood to spend a year in the land of his birth. It was to be a year of discovery for Majd, too, who had only lived in Iran as a child.

The book opens ominously as Majd is stopped at the airport by intelligence officers who show him a four-inch thick security file about his books and journalism and warn him not to write about Iran during his stay. Majd brushes it off—but doesn't tell Karri—and the family soon settles in to the rituals of middle class life in Tehran: finding an apartment (which requires many thousands of dollars, all of which, bafflingly, is returned to you when you leave), a secure internet connection (one that persuades the local censors you are in New York) and a bootlegger (self-explanatory). Karri masters the head scarf, but not before being stopped for mal-veiling, twice. They endure fasting at Ramadan and keep up with Khash in a country weirdly obsessed with children.

All the while, Majd fields calls from security officers and he and Karri eye the headlines—the arrest of an American "spy," the British embassy riots, the Arab Spring—and wonder if they are pushing their luck. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay is a sparkling account of life under a quixotic authoritarian regime that offers rare and intimate insight into a country and its people, as well as a personal story of exile and a search for the meaning of home.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books (5 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385535325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385535328
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 440,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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[Praise for The Ayatollah Begs to Differ]: Captivating ... wise and witty ... essential reading (GQ)

Illuminating, critical and affectionate (Economist, Books of the Year)

Mr President, if you are serious about negotiating with Iran, you need ... the best book on contemporary Iranian culture and all of its complexities and contradictions. Don't go to Tehran without it (Washington Monthly, 'What Obama Should Read') --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two faced. 11 Dec 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Author goes back to his home country and seems to criticise all aspects of life there. Although a Muslim proceeds to take drugs and buy illegal alcohol. Not at all a snapshot of ordinary life in Tehran but an account of life of the privileged upper class.
Very disappointed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very personal look at life in Iran today 14 Dec 2013
By Phil in Magnolia - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hooman Majd's latest book is a very personal recounting of the year he recently spent living in Tehran. It was his first time to live in Iran since his own infancy - Majd grew up living outside of Iran, primarily in the US and UK, and so he was living in Iran for the first time as an adult, bringing his American wife and infant son along with him.

Iran today is perhaps the most strategically important country in the world where the U.S. does not maintain a diplomatic presence. We need to understand one another better than we presently do. Although the U.S. is not officially represented in Iran, the UK did maintain an embassy until 2011 - and in fact it was on Nov 29, 2011, during Majd's stay in Tehran, when the British Embassy was stormed and subsequently shut down. The UK immediately expelled Iran's embassy staff from London, and only recently have the two countries began to talk together about reopening their respective embassies.

This book attracted me because I want to understand Iran better, at a personal level. Reading Majd's words, I have the impression that he is a very good and decent person. His pride of Iran and of his Iranian heritage is evident throughout. He is very honest in sharing his personal thoughts throughout his stay in Tehran, his anxieties as he lived in Iran and helped his wife and son to adapt to the country.

Their adjustment to life Tehran takes time. The pollution of Tehran is severe (Economist magazine in 2011 said that Tehran is one of the most unlivable cities in the world), and his descriptions of the prevalence of small scooters darting through congested traffic, and the adaptations needed to live with a small child in Tehran (they learn that toting a car seat while taking their son with them in taxis is unworkable), are interesting. Modern Iran is a security state, but on the surface life is ordinary and unremarkable. And despite the pollution, Majd remarks several times to how clean the city is maintained.

The life of `real' Iranians is interesting to observe, although to be fair Majd's experiences are almost entirely with upper-class and affluent members of society, often describing parties held at luxurious homes, behind high walls built for security, and with alcohol openly served. This educated and successful class of modern Iranian citizens, with their satellite television, cell phones, Facebook and twitter accounts, is not so much different from ourselves and others in western Europe and elsewhere throughout the world these days. It makes one wonder - why do people continue to tolerate the rules applied to their society, when so many clearly not only disagree with them, but also openly disregard them?

And to that point, he observes that Iran has not shared the "Arab Spring" that has caused such upheaval and change elsewhere in the Middle East. He expresses profound disappointment that the '79 Islamic Revolution in Iran did not lead to a democratic era but instead resulted in the Islamic regime that Iran now endures; and perhaps the experience and disappointment in the outcome of the '79 revolution helps explain why Iran's citizens do not rise up today in another revolution. Majd does provide some good insights into this, and there are also a few places in the book where he shares stories that open the door slightly into the dark side of how the current regime behaves - Chapter 8, for example, recounts the experience of an acquaintance of Majd who had been imprisoned in the infamous Evin cells in Tehran where political prisoners are held. In fact, it was at this point in the book, almost halfway through, that I began to feel that Majd was finally providing something of substance regarding life in Iran today, since the book had so far been almost entirely his personal thoughts while getting settled in Tehran with his family and adjusting to life there.

There are other interesting cultural insights. The concept of the "sulk" for example - how Iranian individuals may resort to using the sulk in order to express their disappointments or frustrations, even including the highest political leaders. The 2011 sulk of President Ahmadinejad - Majd refers to it as the "Big Sulk" in chapter 4 of the book - took place during Majd's year living in Tehran. And Ahmadinejad had plenty of precedent, going all the way back to pre-Shah days when President Mohammad Mosaddegh was known to behave similarly.

There were a few disappointments in the book too, when Majd has chosen to skim over details of life in Tehran that would be fascinating to read about. For example - he mentions going to an opium party, and obviously participated himself, but beyond mentioning it he goes no further. Here is one instance where he experienced something that few of us in the west would ever have the opportunity to even observe, and yet he gives no insight into it. Better that he left it out completely, than tease us with the brief mention without going any further.

This is not a book for someone who desires a hard analysis of the Iranian regime or political structure today (for that perhaps one of his earlier works would be better suited - either The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran or The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge). It is a personal recollection, and in personalizing the story, Majd again and again discusses his own anxieties regarding the risks he was taking in deciding to live in Iran with his wife and infant son. In the end, he had no serious problems whatsoever while living there, and so perhaps that was the point - emphasizing his fears while making it clear that none were realized.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent summary of living in modern Persia 27 Nov 2013
By Tazman - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had several tours as a GI under foreign military sales cases in Iran in the 70s. I learned Farsi and, as I was travelling all over Iran, I became very fond of Persians. Dealing with officials was often a complicated, near intelligence test, as reflected by the author. My family was with me on my first tour living high up in Tehran while I was frequently gone 3 to 5 days per week. Mr. Majd's experiences could have been easily predicted. I believe his book should be read by anyone who expects to officially deal with Iranians. Mr. Majd's book made me wish I were able to take my now well-grown family back to Iran to visit such wonderful places as Persepolis, Isfahan, Quom and Tabiz.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stirring account of modern Iran 15 Nov 2013
By Sara Masouleh - Published on
Another beautifully written look into Iranian society. Majd's writing style is effective, and speaking as another Iranian- American, I can say he undoubtedly "gets" the country and its citizens. I highly recommend all of his books for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the Persian psyche and culture.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The final book of a trilogy 14 Dec 2013
By Book Maven - Published on
"TAMAM SHOD" -- it's finished -- reads at the the end of the book, on page 250. I didn't want it to finish ... I wanted it to last another 250 pages! Yes, it was such a great book to read.

This book is different from Majd's previous books: The Ayatollah begs to differ and The Ayatollah's democracy. This one chronicles Majd's yearning to find his roots, to reconnect to his childhood, during his year long stay with his American family in Tehran. Majd seeks synergy between his mosaic, multifaceted, multicultural identity. Is Majd Iranian? is Majd American? can one be both at the same time, he wonders out loud.

Majd's pervading sense of irony, his deep understanding of the Iranian culture, his affection for his people, are all evident in his direct yet tantalizing prose.

The French are right; part of you dies after each goodbyes. The last chapter is a sad farewell; I can't help but wonder if Majd really thought this was perhaps the last lengthy visit. TAMAM SHOD. Indeed.

I'm grateful to Hooman Majd to have let us in on his journey of soul searching and identity.

Highly recommended.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living in Iran 11 Dec 2013
By Anita H. Wies - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I spent nine years in Iran and found many of the same things that Hooman Majd did. The book is well written and covers the social and day to day political life of the country. His insight into a near-foreigner living in Iran, which is much different than seeing it from the outside, is worth the read. It sent me to his earlier book "The Ayatollah begs to differ".
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