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on 6 February 2017
This is a book about life in Islamic Republic of Iran. The book opens with a description of Vali Asr Street, the long street built nearly 100 years ago, lined with 18,000 sycamore trees which are now slowly dying from drought. It links the poorest southern districts of Tehran which is the heartland of the core support for the regime to the affluent, rich, formerly Westernised, northern suburbs.

Having set the context with a map of the city and the introduction to Vali Asr Street, the author then tells us in 8 chapters of the lives of eight Tehranis living along the length of this street, from the poorest to the most wealthy. Of necessity the true identity of each of the characters in the book is disguised to prevent their recognition and some are composite characters. The "Sources" chapter at the end of the book explains in detail the information source for each of the characters.

These people are all very different, but the factor which links them all, is that they stand out in some way from what passes as the norm in Tehran. They all display a shocking independence from and passive or active resistance to the regime. I am not sure what shocked me most as I read this book. The lives the people live, the nature of their rebellion, the role of the basiji (youth paramilitaries) or the strange decisions of what is or is not haram (forbidden) by the regime.

A truly surprising and shocking book and impossible to put down. I found the story of Amir in Chapter 3 the most painful and touching in a book packed with things to cause you to weep.
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on 10 August 2014
This is a remarkable piece of writing. Each personal story is as gripping as a work of pure fiction, yet all are as close to fact as RN can safely make them. There is a wealth of detail about everyday life in Tehran, as well as helpful explanatory reminders of the recent historical context, woven into the narratives.
Some might be irritated by the liberal use of Farsi words (always accompanied by their meaning in English), but since they are italicised you can simply ignore them if you wish; for me they were a plus, as were the pages at the end on 'Sources', which added yet another layer of authenticity.
I am hugely impressed by RN's skill in not only unearthing these stories but presenting them in such a readable and informative way. It is a real page-turner, but at the same time I feel I learnt so much about Tehran on so many levels (I have not been to Iran myself). I would recommend it highly, while warning any sensitive potential readers about the frank descriptions of sexuality as well as the reality of corruption, intimidation and repression.
RN's tone is not judgmental; she lets the facts speak for themselves. In the face of such overwhelming evidence, one can draw one's own conclusions - not least that when moral strictures are imposed from above, they are likely, just as they were in Prohibition-era America, to be counter-productive.
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on 28 April 2016
Thoroughly enjoyed this book We had it as our village book club book, otherwise I would never have come across it. Presents Iran and Tehran in a way not seen in the media- lots of real live people and complicated livers. Stick with it to the last chapter as it makes the others clearer.
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on 25 June 2015
A great read! It's completely different from anything else out there about Iran. Navai's writing style has a way of making you feel like you walk on the streets of Tehran; you get to know the city and its people, and you feel their every day struggles like you know them personally. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Iran, the people's every day lives, and Iran's politics from a different perspective. Hands down one of the best books I have read.
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on 7 August 2017
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on 25 June 2017
I was not impressed. A book written to shock readers into believing the worst of a city and some of its inhabitants.
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on 13 September 2017
This book is so well written.. its captivating, interesting, informative, heart breaking, hilarious, heart warming..
I didn't have any expectations but am so glad I team this book
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on 11 August 2017
Nice book with a lot to learn from.
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The author is a British-Iranian journalist who worked for The Times in Tehran from 2003 to 2006. While she was there, she was told the stories of the eight Teheranis which make up this book. She tells us in the introduction that she has changed names, some details, time frames and locations, but that the events recounted did actually happen. Although she says that "the defining trait of Tehranis is their kindness" and that Tehran is "the city I love", little of that appears in this book which focusses unremittingly on its seamiest side. Corruption or decadence or deceit or hypocrisy or fear or violence mark all these stories. The mullahs may crack down on alcohol, on unmarried sex, on immodest female clothes and on gambling; but all these flourish more or less underground. The city of Tehran is itself a character in the book, the nature of its different quarters well described; in general the picture is one of squalor, pollution, and, in certain districts, vulgar opulence. (In the Kindle edition, the map of Tehran is too small and too awkward to read.)

The eight chapters are about

1. Dariush. He is member of an Islamic opposition group in exile - the MEK - sent to Teheran in 2001 to assassinate an ex-police chief.

2. Somayeh. She is the pious seventeen-year-old daughter of a religious family who support the rule of the mullahs, are devoted to the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, but some members of their circle are not necessarily supporters of President Ahmedinajad, and are not afraid to criticize him, or later his successor Rouhani. Her father is respected in the neighbourhood for the number of times he has been away on a hajj (pilgrimage). Somayeh will be married (not an arranged marriage), and we learnt a lot about that comes about in a family like hers. And then we find out how lies have permeated so much in Somayeh's family.

3. Amir. His parents were left-wing dissidents who held meetings in their home. In 1988, when he was six years old, they were arrested and condemned to death during a wave of political executions. When he is an adult, he is approached by the judge who had sentenced his parents to death. By that time Amir, too, is a dissident, and is in some danger as the 2013 elections approach, though in the end the election of Rouhani as President offers some hope that there can be some change without the upheavals of an Arab Spring elsewhere in the Islamic world.

4. Bijan. He is one of the gangsters who flourish in one area of Tehran - everything happens there, from drug selling to arms running to gang murders. The police chief is in the pay of Bijan, and he gives Bijan warning of impending raids.

5. Leyla. Poverty drives Leyla to prostitution (which the mullahs cannot stop and in some cases facilitate by issuing a "sigheh", a temporary marriage document). The police can't stop it either and often let the girls off in exchange for sex, though the feared basijis, the religious morality police, were a more serious danger, and the punishment was flogging. Leyla graduates from street-work to having private clients (including a judge and an important cleric), and then, through one of her clients, to become a porn star, and her DVDs, in which her face was never seen, make her a lot of money. Perhaps she can leave Iran for a steadier life elsewhere?

6. Morteza. Morteza's elder brothers had been killed in the Iran-Iraq war and were regarded as heroes and martyrs. Morteza was a weakly child, but, in an effort to live up to the reputation of his brothers, he had as a boy joined the Basij, and we are given a description of the origin and nature of these warriors for Allah. Being a Basiji gives him standing in his school and in his community. He absorbs their teaching on moral decay, and is troubled by his own homosexual feelings. Later, when he is part of a Basij morality patrol whose other members hint that he is gay, he shows himself exceptionally keen to attack a young man whose hair is too long. But he can resist his urges no longer, and realizes he can no longer remain in the Basij. What does the future hold for him?

7. Asghar. Before the Revolution, Asghar had been the respected chief of a Robin-Hood type gang of jahels. He married a girl who had been driven into prostitution, but who, on marriage, became very devout. It seems that the Revolution was more successful in crushing the jahels than it was in dealing other gangs such as those to whom Bijan in chapter fur belonged. Asghar and his wife had to move to the poorest and most squalid quarter of Tehran. He set up a gambling den; his pious wife would gate-crash it and remonstrate with him in front of his customers. How would he react?

8. Farideh. She is the only one of the eight characters who lives in the prosperous north of the city. She is the widow of a wealthy man, most of whose property has been confiscated by the Revolution; but she is still reasonably well off. The things she is interested in - belly dancing at a health club, life classes in an art studio - are closed down by the Basijis. She feels alienated from the glitzy people in her circle (very well described). Her son is part of the gilded youth of the area, among whom, apparently, homosexuality and lesbianism, high risk both, are widespread.

It is all very well written; but after this book, I do not suppose the author will be allowed back to work as a journalist in Iran.
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on 13 June 2014
Not finished it yet but it is a little hard going what with trying to get your tongue round all the foreign names and places. It gives one an idea why so much of the world is screwed up and in turmoil as everyone seems to have conflicting ideas of how to run the world. The book helps to explain this through the eyes of a person familiar to the region rather than being fed pure propaganda and politics.
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