It was, in short, the sort of book that dictatorships never welcome and that one writes on the eve of permanent departure, a final, cathartic clanging of the door on the way out. But being young and foolish, I had every intention of going back. I so desperately wanted Iran to be a place where you could speak truth to power that I decided to test reality. How wonderful it would be, I reasoned, if I could return unscathed.
Iran is not such a dictatorship, after all. With enough time, I had simply stopped seeing them, their beards blending into the yellowing walls. It seemed entirely normal for a capital city in the twenty-first century to be covered with oversize images of turbaned clerics. For the briefest second, before I handed my passport over to the yawning female clerk in black chador, the nonchalance my therapist would call denial faltered, and I felt a flash of dread.
Perhaps I would be interrogated. Or maybe they would just confiscate my passport, a form of soft hostage taking.
I began to feel nervous about what might happen to me, and about how foolish I would seem for having invited it. In the future, please check and ask the passport official to use a fresh ink pad, if necessary. From there, it took scant minutes to collect my suitcase and sail through customs. This in itself signaled how much Iran had changed since the late s. In previous years, the process of extricating oneself from Mehrabad airport had been a trauma in itself.
When I visited Iran for the first time as an adult in , customs officials roughly pried apart layers of my luggage.
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They triumphantly held up a dry academic book of Middle Eastern history and told me it could not enter the country without being vetted by official censors. They levied an outrageous sum of duty on a phone I had brought as a gift for my aunt, and left me to hastily repack the contents of my suitcase, struggling to keep bras and other such intimate belongings out of sight. By the time I reached the point where I would be inspected for proper Islamic dress—a headscarf that suitably covered my hair, long sleeves, and a coat that reached my knees—I was a sweaty, enraged mess eager to reboard the first plane to the civilized world.
But this time, I found Iran treated its returning citizens with less arbitrary abuse than ever before. Mehrabad bustled with crowds of excited relatives greeting their kin, the acrid smell of sweat mingling with the perfume of giant bouquets. In the past six years, Iranians living abroad had begun returning in significant numbers for the first time since the revolution.
The homecomings overwhelmed the modest capacity of Mehrabad, built in the late s, and on nights like this, everyone ended up pressed up against everyone else, an intimate, jostling throng in which men and women embraced and veils slipped off entirely.
Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
I reminded myself to e-mail my father later and describe to him how comfortably I had made it through the airport. Like many Iranian residents of the United States, my parents traveled to Iran infrequently and had little sense of how much had changed in the past six years. They came to the United States in the late s to attend university, back when the Iranian government was closely allied with Washington and believed it needed a generation of western-trained professionals to modernize the nation.
They returned to Tehran with their American degrees, got married, and went about applying their expertise until the mids, when they followed my grandmother to California, intending to keep her company for a few short years while she received cardiac treatment at Stanford. The revolution of dashed any hopes of return to Iran, and my family ended up, along with the great influx of Iranians who fled on the eve of the uprising, as immigrants to America.
I encountered the real Iran only as a young adult, when I visited in during a Fulbright year in Cairo. During that brief trip, I discovered the fascinating debates over Islam and democracy that were under way in Iran, and concluded the country had more to offer than just pistachios and Islamic militancy.
I packed up and moved there in , to report for Time, convinced that Iran was somehow a part of my destiny. I had imagined I could teach journalism, helping young Iranian reporters write clean, coherent news stories instead of the wordy, obscure, overlong prose that filled newspapers, which still often functioned as mouthpieces for political factions.
As I pursued such idealistic dreams, I recounted all my experiences to my parents, encouraging them to visit Iran and find out for themselves how dramatically the country had changed. The Shah had built the monument to commemorate the twenty-five-hundredth anniversary of the Persian empire; like everything else in Tehran it had been renamed after the revolution—fortunately though, not after a martyr.
Review: Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni
These late-night taxi rides from the airport were particularly special to me, a wordless journey during which the city felt as intimate as my own skin. I had spent most of my adult years in Tehran—it was my home from to , and the place I spent most of my time in the years that followed—and, though I had never anticipated it New York, Cairo, other cities had always seemed more likely , Tehran had become the backdrop of my life.
No matter its shabby murals of ayatollahs, no matter that it was run by inhospitable ideologues who preferred to keep women at home—the city, I believed, had eluded their grasp. Such lax construction was taking over the city, its aesthetic chaos and structural weakness suggesting Tehran was stumbling toward an ill-understood, inferior future. With an eye for detail and a feel for her subject matter, Moaveni has brought to life a country that is at once immensely important to the West and deeply misunderstood.
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Honest, perceptive, and nuanced, this tale of love and anguish in the Islamic Republic is brimming with poignant political insights. This book will enchant and educate. Fearlessly, Moaveni pushed the limits of her Iranian government minder and refused to be intimidated. Her stories revealed the internal turmoil felt by many Iranians decades after the revolution. Honeymoon in Tehran is a powerful and compelling read that gives a face to the voices of discourse in Iran, voices that still long for a lawful society.
The catalyst for her pessimism seems to be the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Which brings us back to Mr. X reassures her.
Go back to America, and tell them we are democrats. You are yourself proof. He lifts a ban on women as spectators in soccer stadiums even as the authorities order a year-old mother of four to be stoned for adultery. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser.
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