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Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran Paperback – 28 Mar 2006
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"In this fine book, (Azadeh Moaveni)concludes that Iranian exiles are 'fated to be at home nowhere'". -- The Independent
About the Author
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Moaveni was actually born in Palo Alto, California to secular Islamic Iranian immigrants who did indeed leave Iran during the tumultuous days of the Iranian Revolution nearly thirty years ago. Her story is about returning to Tehran during the years leading up to 9/11 and working as a stringer and then as a reporter for Time Magazine and other publications. Hers is a very personal story, as all memoirs are, in which she attempts to capture the estrangement that one feels being, as the subtitle has it, "Iranian in America and American in Iran."
Thanks to Moaveni's obvious love of language and some very nice editing by Kate Darton at Public Affairs, she has written a most engaging and strikingly vivid account. To be honest I could not, as the reviewer's cliche has it, "put it down." I read it in one gulp absolutely delighted with Moaveni's vivid, candid and honest narrative. She is hip, sophisticated beyond her years, stylish, and very well informed. Her prose approaches poetry and because she is always concrete, it is never boring or estranged from the needs of the reader, as memoirs can sometimes be. We learn how it feels to be in love in a country where couples may not hold hands in public; how it feels to party in a land where parties are forbidden except as decreed by the state; how it feels to eat a pomegranate in the bathtub after being harassed by secret agents of the ayatollahs; how it feels to be beaten by street thugs (the ignorant Basiji, the brown shirts of the mullahs); how it feels to wear the veil and the chador and to hide one's hair and femininity and to be hit on by hypocritical clerics offering "temporary marriages"; how it feels to live with "the central dilemma of life under the Islamic regime, and its culture of lies--whether to observe the taboos and the restrictions, or resist them, by living as if they didn't exist." (p. 74)
Moaveni lets us in on the daily lives of her family and friends as they try to make sense of their place in the world. We taste the foods that they eat, the highly spiced lamb stews, the sour cherry jams, the lavash-wrapped dates, servings of "four-days-in-the-making" sweet halvah. We hear their voices and learn what they think of America, of the mullahs, of the secular society, of how one acts in public and in private. I was surprised at how Westernized Tehran really is despite the best efforts of the morality police, and yet how tenaciously Iranian are its people. They speak of the betrayal of the revolution by the ayatollahs, and the failure of the reformers. They turn out in droves to vote even though their votes have little real political power, only the power of protest. And I was especially impressed by Azadeh Moaveni's ability to navigate between the cultures without prejudice, giving each its due and each its detriment.
I was also impressed with the unhesitant candor of her expression. She writes lovingly of her maman and her estranged father, but quotes them even while they say things that surely they would not like to see in print. I also loved Moaveni's independence and courage. She is a woman who can speak her mind with the voice and insightfulness of a gifted novelist. Here is an example:
"As an American, I believed in unconditional love, not the contingent affection one had to earn as an Iranian woman. Iranian-style love, though extravagant, poetic, and intense, came with a prenuptial agreement. You had to promise to adhere to tradition, respect boundaries, pretend a great deal, and keep yourself decently coiffed at all times. You were not entitled to love, it seemed, simply by being who you were; but by fulfilling expectations." (p. 136)
She (somewhat playfully) asks the Iranian president's chief of staff, will she become Iran's first female ambassador. He replies, "No...If there are any female ambassadors at all, they will be Islamist, chadori women, certainly not you, a secular, partial Iranian." Cut to the quick, Moaveni observes, "I tried to detach myself from the moment by writing a headline in my head. Sympathetic Envoy of Vile Government Delivers Horrifying But Irrefutable Proof that Azadeh Is an American." He reads her face and then "held out a plate of green grapes, as though to distract a child gearing up to fling herself to the floor and wail." (pp. 120-121)
There is so much in this book that is alive and vital, that is evocative of our times and of a young woman's life at the razor's edge of the great clash of cultures, that it should be high on the reading list of anyone who wants to understand what is happening in the world today as globalization squeezes us all closer and closer together.
In a moment of despair, as Moaveni realizes that as a female journalist in Revolutionary Iran, her life leaves a lot to be desired, she thinks, but does not say, "...my private misery was highly specialized and therefore irrelevant." (p. 168)
This glorious memoir--and I mean "glorious" in the sense that Moaveni triumphs over both the small-minded "ayatollah dinosaurs" and mall-minded Americans with her strength, her articulation, and her honesty--proves otherwise.
Lipstick Jihad gives a particular insight into the youth of Iran. For a country with one of the youngest demographic spreads in the world, that is crucial for anyone who wnats to know where Iran may be going, and how it is likely to get there.
As Iran climbs higer up the foreign policy agenda, policy-makers, Iran-watchers and lay-people alike would all do well to read what Moaveni has to say.
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