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The history of Iran in the late twentieth century is a chronicle of religious fervor and violent change -- from the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah in favor of a rigid fundamentalist government to the bloody eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But what happened to the hostage-takers, the suicidal holy warriors, the martyrs, and the mullahs responsible for th The history of Iran in the late twentieth century is a chronicle of religious fervor and violent change -- from the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah in favor of a rigid fundamentalist government to the bloody eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But what happened to the hostage-takers, the suicidal holy warriors, the martyrs, and the mullahs responsible for the now moribund revolution? Is modern Iran a society at peace with itself and the world, or truly a dangerous spoke in the "Axis of Evil"? Christopher de Bellaigue, a Western journalist married to an Iranian woman and a longtime resident of a prosperous suburb of Tehran, offers a stunning insider's view of a culture hitherto hidden from American eyes, and reveals the true hearts and minds of an extraordinary people.


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The history of Iran in the late twentieth century is a chronicle of religious fervor and violent change -- from the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah in favor of a rigid fundamentalist government to the bloody eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But what happened to the hostage-takers, the suicidal holy warriors, the martyrs, and the mullahs responsible for th The history of Iran in the late twentieth century is a chronicle of religious fervor and violent change -- from the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah in favor of a rigid fundamentalist government to the bloody eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But what happened to the hostage-takers, the suicidal holy warriors, the martyrs, and the mullahs responsible for the now moribund revolution? Is modern Iran a society at peace with itself and the world, or truly a dangerous spoke in the "Axis of Evil"? Christopher de Bellaigue, a Western journalist married to an Iranian woman and a longtime resident of a prosperous suburb of Tehran, offers a stunning insider's view of a culture hitherto hidden from American eyes, and reveals the true hearts and minds of an extraordinary people.

30 review for In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    My friend Mark suggested this book for our group back in 2006. Mark had travelled through the country during the days of the Shah, smoking hash and driving a VW Bus on his way to Afghanistan. He related how in certain hamlets, firewood was a dollar a night and the hash was free. It was around 2006 that the rumbles about preemptive strikes agsinst Iran first rumbled from Seymour Hersh and others. The book is masterful in detailing the contradictions of a progessive theocracy, the schizoid tension My friend Mark suggested this book for our group back in 2006. Mark had travelled through the country during the days of the Shah, smoking hash and driving a VW Bus on his way to Afghanistan. He related how in certain hamlets, firewood was a dollar a night and the hash was free. It was around 2006 that the rumbles about preemptive strikes agsinst Iran first rumbled from Seymour Hersh and others. The book is masterful in detailing the contradictions of a progessive theocracy, the schizoid tensions of the educated classes and the waves of reforms and retractions between the mullahs and the minsiters. This is a fascinating glimpse.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    This book, set in the Islamic Republic of Iran, should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the complexities of current events there. Leaping backward and forward in history, the author, de Bellaigue, examines 25 years of revolution, as overshadowed by centuries of political and religious conflict. The fall of the Shah, Khomeini's rise to power, and the shifting alliances after his death resolve into a new kind of monarchy that, in the opinion of de Bellaigue and those he intervie This book, set in the Islamic Republic of Iran, should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the complexities of current events there. Leaping backward and forward in history, the author, de Bellaigue, examines 25 years of revolution, as overshadowed by centuries of political and religious conflict. The fall of the Shah, Khomeini's rise to power, and the shifting alliances after his death resolve into a new kind of monarchy that, in the opinion of de Bellaigue and those he interviews, has betrayed the Revolution. Meanwhile, his images of Tehran - the city and its people - form a dramatic mosaic as richly varied as Dickens' London. The book's title is a reference to the Iran-Iraq War, when tens of thousands of young, poorly-trained, under-equipped Iranian men gave up their lives in mostly ill-conceived and unrealistic military ventures. In the account of this decade-long bloodletting, de Bellaigue makes clear that the carnage was the result of both blind religious devotion and the utter failure of leadership. Years later, while survivors suffer respiratory failure from Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, the memory of that time and the magnitude of sacrifice sadly and ironically fade. The only significant achievement of the Revolution and war with Western-backed Iraq has been a hard-won independence from foreign powers. De Bellaigue, an English journalist, casts himself as a stranger in a strange land and rarely regards anyone (there are a few remarkable exceptions) with anything but a skeptical eye. He hopes for an Iran that is true to the democratic ideals that inspired the Revolution, and he makes no secret of his contempt for Western governments that have undermined Iran's sovereignty. But the truth is elusive in this place where reality routinely takes a back seat to appearances. Whether talking to veterans of the War, the daughter of murdered dissidents, the parents of a young "martyr," or an African-American Muslim living in Iran, he illuminates his subject compellingly. I highly recommend this absorbing and well-written book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Iran, both as the ancient and modern country, fascinates me. It may be partly because of all the demonising I read from the Western press. But mostly it is because of my interest in the affairs of the Middle East - geo-politics, foreign policy and the seemingly endless wars. The author of this book, Christopher de Bellaigue, is a British journalist who is married to an Iranian woman. He claims that he is a stranger to this strange land. Sometimes, he even sounds skeptical. But this is the very r Iran, both as the ancient and modern country, fascinates me. It may be partly because of all the demonising I read from the Western press. But mostly it is because of my interest in the affairs of the Middle East - geo-politics, foreign policy and the seemingly endless wars. The author of this book, Christopher de Bellaigue, is a British journalist who is married to an Iranian woman. He claims that he is a stranger to this strange land. Sometimes, he even sounds skeptical. But this is the very reason I absorb this book like sponge to water. I believe de Ballaigue does not have an ax to grind when he wrote the book, neither siding the Islamic Republic nor echoing the mantra of the West. He takes readers through the Islamic Revolution and tge subsequent disenchantment of the population toward it, the decade-long war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq that caused unnecessary loss of lives and Khomeini's rise to power, his death and the consequences of his failure to curb the power of the conservatives. As described in the book cover, his work is a rich insight into the minds and hearts of an extraordinary people. The Iranians he interviewed varied - from the veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, journalist's family member, a controversial actor and some prominent people from the revolution. Many might find his writing style tedious. He has the tendency of jumping from one subject to the next. The chpaters of the book are few but each has very long pages. I feel tired getting through them. But what he reveals in every chapter are all worth it. I understand the schism between the Shia and Sunni Islam a little better. The author's bemusement about Iranian culture and traditions is another interesting aspect - from their obsession of lifting heavy things, offering food to strangers but expecting them not to accept and mourning a man who dies many centuries ago. I recommend this book for those who are interested in the modern Iran and politics of the Middles East.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    This is a great book on Iran if you have been keeping pace with what has been happening there, politically since the Islamic revolution, otherwise certain sections might became a bit of a drag. The author has the singular advantage of being a British man married to an Iranian lady and living in Tehran, giving him pretty unprecedented coverage of the insides of a very proud but wounded country. Proud because of their culture and wounded because despite their tall claims they were routinely overlo This is a great book on Iran if you have been keeping pace with what has been happening there, politically since the Islamic revolution, otherwise certain sections might became a bit of a drag. The author has the singular advantage of being a British man married to an Iranian lady and living in Tehran, giving him pretty unprecedented coverage of the insides of a very proud but wounded country. Proud because of their culture and wounded because despite their tall claims they were routinely overlooked when the new world powers were busy collecting prize lands for themselves, places like India, Sri Lanka, Africa etc. I was a bit disappointed in that the author chose to present an Iran by interviewing people of substance and not choosing to present the life's and impacts of the ordinary people. Because of this route, every time he presented a new character, a quick historical context had to be established which proved pretty tedious to me as I had little background of the ground politics of Iran.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is not an introductory book about modern Iran. Christopher de Bellaigue—British journalist, longtime resident of Tehran, husband to an Iranian woman—plunges into his narrative without much context or signposts. Although he focuses on interviews with veterans of the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, sometimes he discusses traffic conditions, goings-on in politics, parts of novels, and his travels within Iran. Its organizing logic is non-linear, opaque, an In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is not an introductory book about modern Iran. Christopher de Bellaigue—British journalist, longtime resident of Tehran, husband to an Iranian woman—plunges into his narrative without much context or signposts. Although he focuses on interviews with veterans of the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, sometimes he discusses traffic conditions, goings-on in politics, parts of novels, and his travels within Iran. Its organizing logic is non-linear, opaque, and sometimes seemingly non-existent. There are very few in-text references despite the 2-page bibliography. However, I found parts of this book enjoyable and shed more light on the mindset in Iran immediately post-Revolution and during the War when I was deeply concentrating on reading.

  6. 5 out of 5

    J

    There are a good deal of things I enjoyed about this book. However, there are a few instances that have left me feeling like the author could have gone a little further with the story and then places where I get lost reading a bunch of words that almost make no sense. I'm hoping the better parts of the book win out. I'm not planning to give up, but if the lesser qualities prevail I'm not so apt to recommend this to others. There are a good deal of things I enjoyed about this book. However, there are a few instances that have left me feeling like the author could have gone a little further with the story and then places where I get lost reading a bunch of words that almost make no sense. I'm hoping the better parts of the book win out. I'm not planning to give up, but if the lesser qualities prevail I'm not so apt to recommend this to others.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Christopher de Bellaigue is a British journalist who lives in Tehran (or did at the time he wrote In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, in the early 2000s) with his Iranian wife and son. He is then, well-positioned to think and write about Iranian culture and society for a western audience, but with an insider's nuance. What de Bellaigue does best is modern Iran: the traffic; the nuances of buying a car, and why new rarely trumps used; the contradictions. If he had written an entire book on the Iran Christopher de Bellaigue is a British journalist who lives in Tehran (or did at the time he wrote In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, in the early 2000s) with his Iranian wife and son. He is then, well-positioned to think and write about Iranian culture and society for a western audience, but with an insider's nuance. What de Bellaigue does best is modern Iran: the traffic; the nuances of buying a car, and why new rarely trumps used; the contradictions. If he had written an entire book on the Iran of today (or 2002, say), the entire work would have been a joy. He writes, as one would expect of an author whose byline has appeared in such stalwarts of the Western press as The Economist and the New Yorker, beautifully, using short, snappy prose to bring emphasis, irony, or humor as needed. That said, a reader can only remember/differentiate so many mullahs, so many generals, so many wounded veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. To say I was bogged down in the politics is an understatement, and quickly I learned to skim passages on the competing ideologies that led to or stemmed from the Revolution. While Iran's relationship with the world today is largely defined by its standoff with the U.S. (and on which side of that standoff others nations choose to align themselves), de Bellaigue deftly raises the issue of the collective West's long history of meddling in the Middle East (see: Hero), writing, "Two centuries of semi-colonization sometimes seem worse than unambiguous colonization; at least the unambiguously colonized got railways and sewers and unambiguous independence." The Iran-Iraq war looming as it does over so much and so many in Iran and the larger Middle East, de Bellaigue also plucks at the threads of U.S. involvement, not least the Iran-Contra affair. That U.S. arms - to both sides - increased the firepower and made the bloodletting that much greater is clear, only reinforcing one of the central tenet's from Notes on a Foreign Country: U.S. decisions directly impact the lives of those in other countries on a regular basis, in a way that is difficult for Americans to appreciate. (Although the global experienced with Covid-19 may offer a taste.) The most telling exchange occurred toward the end of the book, as de Bellaigue is discussing the present and future of Iran with one of the few Iranians he considers a friend, Mr. Zarif. In thinking about the state of the country, Zarif draws a corollary with the state of the Iranian-made Paykan, the butt of more than one joke throughout the book (and country, it seems). Zarif says, "When I get into my Paykan and it lurches and coughs, I think to myself that the men who made it aren't well enough trained or paid, and that they have bad equipment and are badly managed and didn't sleep well last night. ... On the few occasions that I've been in a Mercedes and been astonished by its mechanical perfection, don't you think I've asked myself if the men who built this car are better off?" Food for thought.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    Lots of information (names, dates, places, happenings) woven throughout the book but no comprehensible direction or theme, just a kind of personal narrative (there's no parenthetical documentation, no footnotes) from the mind of a Westerner who lives in Iran with his Iranian wife. The author's knowledgeable, and it's clear that he has a grasp on the history of Iran's political movements, but I felt lost in sorting out the names of significant characters from the Revolution. It's all done in a so Lots of information (names, dates, places, happenings) woven throughout the book but no comprehensible direction or theme, just a kind of personal narrative (there's no parenthetical documentation, no footnotes) from the mind of a Westerner who lives in Iran with his Iranian wife. The author's knowledgeable, and it's clear that he has a grasp on the history of Iran's political movements, but I felt lost in sorting out the names of significant characters from the Revolution. It's all done in a sort of conversational way but the problem comes up when he goes into chronological events, testimonies, and politics--if it's intended that I, the reader, come away from this book with some kernel of knowledge to hold in my hand, I confess that I'm empty-handed. Nothing is really fleshed out but rather implied. During points in the book I felt like I was to already understand certain implications (because I am well in-the-know about the Middle East, the wars, the hostilities and major political happenings). He'd mention a thing, a grave thing, then quickly move on, jumping ahead to some other point. To be fair, it's a nice book, and the author does well to write descriptively and illustratively in areas. And I did feel at times as if I were gaining a glimpse into a little-known world (with their ceremonies for lamentation, etc.) through the effect of his writing. It's just that those events wherein people were murdered or imprisoned did not make clear sense to me because those events weren't really laid out & explained by the author in a thorough way. In order for me to really get something out of the book I would need to Google & encyclopedia the names and dates because de Bellaigue doesn't take much time to break it all down historically. But then again, I don't think he intended to make it a history book. It's more like a journalistic read. I just wish I could have learned something tangible. Instead I got a mishmash of corruption and resistance and futility. I wouldn't recommend this book for the purposes of academia. The subject matter is historical and real but the handling of it is done in a manner that is more casual than scholastic. To learn about Iran I would seek other literature. Also, I think that, though his perspective is uniquely valued (a British scholar interested in India, Iran, the Persian language; a writer) it is limited, in that he is an outsider, neither Iranian nor Muslim. There's no discussion on God in this book. But the actions, those hostilities and tensions are ALL ABOUT GOD. What made them fanatical, and zealous? Iran was, and is, dealing with the modernizing effect on a religion/faith/society...yet the larger questions, such as the purpose of God, the nature & consequence of revelation, and the manner of worship, seem too hefty to explore.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hamish

    In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is one of the outstanding books about the contemporary Middle East, written with depth, panache and feeling by a writer at the top of his game. De Bellaigue served as The Economist correspondent in Tehran during the noughties, a time when Iran's initial reformist era sparkled and faded. The book charts the intricacies of politics in the Islamic Republic, and the complex broader social, economic and cultural changes which Iran has undergone since 1979. The title r In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is one of the outstanding books about the contemporary Middle East, written with depth, panache and feeling by a writer at the top of his game. De Bellaigue served as The Economist correspondent in Tehran during the noughties, a time when Iran's initial reformist era sparkled and faded. The book charts the intricacies of politics in the Islamic Republic, and the complex broader social, economic and cultural changes which Iran has undergone since 1979. The title refers to martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), a time when Iran underwent the convulsions of revolution from within and attack from without. The war was a catastrophe for Iran, leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of soldiers (known as martyrs in the lexicon of the Islamic Republic). De Bellaigue's book captures the zeal of the early years of the war when millions were motivated by Khomeini's entreaties to defend Islam, the revolution and the Iranian nation from attack. But could that zeal be sustained when the war ended, Khomeini died, and Iran returned to the banalties of peacetime reconstruction? A sense of disillusionment and despair among the veterans who sacrificed so much permeates much of the latter part of the book, which De Bellaigue juxtaposes with the gradual erosion of religious and social mores in Iranian society that the revolutionary generation had expended so much blood to sustain. The book is also a personal journey of a young Englishman who went to Iran and fell in love with a Persian woman (in the space of a week, says De Bellaigue), which says something about the author's pluck given the popular antipathy towards Perfidious Albion in Iranian culture - and the perception that all English journalists must of course be spies. De Bellaigue's prose is one of the treasures of the book. Insightful, nuanced, but never pretentious, he brings a perceptive and honest eye to the complexities of Eastern societies (as his subsequent books on Turkey and the Islamic Enlightenment show). And of all Eastern societies, Iran is surely one of the most complex and opaque. There have been many travelogues about Iran, but De Bellaigue's approach as a multi-layered 'memoir' offers a revealing look at one of the world's least understood civilisations. Recommended for any student of the Middle East, and essential reading for anyone even remotely considering going to Iran.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs' started well but soon went downhill. I liked the early chapters about the author's actual real life experience of living in Iran - tales of things seen and heard in the back of a taxi for example - but soon found he relied far too much on just 'telling history' without much in the way of personalisation. The book describes itself as a 'memoir' and I expect that to mean it's the memories and experience of the writer and this is not such a book. I've been in Ira 'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs' started well but soon went downhill. I liked the early chapters about the author's actual real life experience of living in Iran - tales of things seen and heard in the back of a taxi for example - but soon found he relied far too much on just 'telling history' without much in the way of personalisation. The book describes itself as a 'memoir' and I expect that to mean it's the memories and experience of the writer and this is not such a book. I've been in Iran a couple of times, visited many of the places discussed in the book, but this one just didn't work for me. I had a wry smile at the man who calls him Mr Duplex, and at the author telling a taxi driver he's French (because the locals aren't keen on the Brits) but that wasn't enough to keep me reading. The author is married to an Iranian woman but doesn't tell us anything like enough about how he adapted to life in this very unusual city. Disappointed.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Modern history of Iran through vignettes De Bellaigue gives us insight into the ancient and modern history of Iran through interviews with survivors of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War and glimpses of the culture and places of Iran. The book contains an overwhelming amount of names, making it hard to follow at times, but it gives a good sense of the people, religion, joys and sorrows, and rich history of Iran. Through it all, the author imparts his love for the people of Iran, as he tries to Modern history of Iran through vignettes De Bellaigue gives us insight into the ancient and modern history of Iran through interviews with survivors of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War and glimpses of the culture and places of Iran. The book contains an overwhelming amount of names, making it hard to follow at times, but it gives a good sense of the people, religion, joys and sorrows, and rich history of Iran. Through it all, the author imparts his love for the people of Iran, as he tries to make sense of the psyche and recent history of the people.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marni

    Definitely not a spellbinder, but I stuck with it because I know so little about Iran. The author is a journalist who lives in Iran. He told the stories of people that he met and some he knew well in Iran and in their stories he tells some of the history of a very old country.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    The book is a memoir on Iran up to around 2004. It was difficult at times due to the names of persons and places not being familiar.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John E.

    Not worth the time This is an insider’s account of life and events in Iran- sometimes interesting, mostly tedious. “Five more words required.” Really?

  15. 5 out of 5

    veda

    Too much to get through. I really wanted a more straight forward. read . Ok , my comprehension was not up to for this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Ann

    This book is a good lens with which to view the recent history or Iran. I confess to knowing very little about the history of this country and I got a lot of information from this book. The author provides a very personal view of some of the people who lived through the Revolution and how they are living today. I especially enjoyed learning about the Houses of Strength and their histories. There is so much I don't know about this corner of the world. I can certainly understand this quote, "At fi This book is a good lens with which to view the recent history or Iran. I confess to knowing very little about the history of this country and I got a lot of information from this book. The author provides a very personal view of some of the people who lived through the Revolution and how they are living today. I especially enjoyed learning about the Houses of Strength and their histories. There is so much I don't know about this corner of the world. I can certainly understand this quote, "At fifty-two, it bothers me.’ He shook his head. ‘You know, the analogy with the Crusades isn’t such a foolish one. The guys who were doing the fighting then were guys who hadn’t had any contact with Muslims. It’s the same now. The Americans are fighting something that they don’t understand."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I have had a fascination for Iran---I am not sure why. This is an outstanding memoir/history of life in Iran and an investigation into the culture of the Iranian people, from the viewpoint of an outsider with intimate understanding of the people. The author provides a wonderful glimpse into both daily life and customs, as well as insights into events that helped shape the people and country. A Brit, he married an Iranian woman and stayed. The totalitarian oppression experienced under the mullahs I have had a fascination for Iran---I am not sure why. This is an outstanding memoir/history of life in Iran and an investigation into the culture of the Iranian people, from the viewpoint of an outsider with intimate understanding of the people. The author provides a wonderful glimpse into both daily life and customs, as well as insights into events that helped shape the people and country. A Brit, he married an Iranian woman and stayed. The totalitarian oppression experienced under the mullahs seems not too different from that during the days of the Shah and his Savak. I loved his explanation of the choreographed system of social expectations and manners, as well as the feeling of never knowing where one stands with the Iranians. I always wondered the same thing myself, having worked with nearly a dozen Iranians (mostly men, though I did date one Irainian women for a short, very short, period---only time I ever had to have a chaperone). In one case I literally put my job on the line defending one Iranian coworker from a racist comment from an influential patron, and yet I was never really trusted by him. The one I helped the most and knew the best, I thought, turned around and stole thousands of dollars (I was even questioned by FBI agents) before he returned home. I was amazed that none of the men seemed to agree on any point, especially politics and religion. They ran the gamut from rabid pro-Khomeni to fully Westernized secularist. Yet they always seemed open and eager to participate in local events and introduce me to Iranian ways (food as well as culture). They had wondeful senses of humor, and even the most religious of the group could have wicked and perceptive humor. I always believed that Iranians are fascinated by America (while hating our government), that large majorities really would prefer normalization of relations, and that many really just want to enjoy life without clerical oversight. I think the most fascinating chapters revolved around reformers and the brutal, secret oppression (and murders) they suffered. It is amazing how brave many of them can be. I enjoyed his discussion about the crappy cars (those built by Iranians). Some of the best stuff was about the fighting between Iran and Iraq, and the effect it had on many of the participants. I love the hypocrisy of so many Iranians as well, who find ways around restrictions. There are plenty of villans to despise as well.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Babak Fakhamzadeh

    There's not many contemporary books on Iran. So when I saw this book advertised on Amazon, when I was looking for some read-ups before my planned trip to Iran in January, I jumped at the opportunity of getting this one at a discount. Because of the discount, I didn't expect too much but I was happily proved wrong. This is easily the best book I have read on contemporary Iran. De Bellaigue, English but married to an Iranian, tries to understand the soul of the revolution and what it has turned in There's not many contemporary books on Iran. So when I saw this book advertised on Amazon, when I was looking for some read-ups before my planned trip to Iran in January, I jumped at the opportunity of getting this one at a discount. Because of the discount, I didn't expect too much but I was happily proved wrong. This is easily the best book I have read on contemporary Iran. De Bellaigue, English but married to an Iranian, tries to understand the soul of the revolution and what it has turned into. He succeeds very well, showing the deterioration and corruption of the original obsession and it fascinates and worries him. This is one of the books i had planned to read before going to Iran myself, when fate decided otherwise. The book would have prepared me for one thing and did tell me something else quite interesting. De Bellaigue details Rafsanjani's past , basically explaining why he lost the recent election to Ahmedinejad (the book was written before the elections were on). Also, he describes meeting the American actor who played a role in the movie "Kandehar" by the Iranian director Mokhmalbaf. I didn't like the movie, its very one- dimensional and has a rather staccato plot, but Hassan Tantai is a very interesting character in the movie. In fact, he's probably the reason why the film stays in your head long after. The man was an assassin on American soil, who more or less fled, in the 1980s, from America to Iran and now has had an interesting but also very challenging life as a black American turned Muslim, living in Iran.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tiemu

    Not just an author's narrative of several of the failures of the 1978 revolution in 21st century Iran, but also a 'Culture Shock' travelogue by a Westerner who calls Iran home. Like many Iranians themselves, he has a love-hate relationship with this home. This is more of an expat's observation of life in Iran through a general prism of the failed reality of the hysterical optimism of the revolution. Many reviewers found the book's style irritating to follow, as the narrative seemingly arbitrarily Not just an author's narrative of several of the failures of the 1978 revolution in 21st century Iran, but also a 'Culture Shock' travelogue by a Westerner who calls Iran home. Like many Iranians themselves, he has a love-hate relationship with this home. This is more of an expat's observation of life in Iran through a general prism of the failed reality of the hysterical optimism of the revolution. Many reviewers found the book's style irritating to follow, as the narrative seemingly arbitrarily jumps from one interviewee to another, to history to politics to the author's personal life then back to the interviewee back to some original topic. This is just the author's style and is not any serious problem if the book is enjoyed for what it is. There are enough serious, political, structured books on Iran as it is. Sometimes it's even skillfully humorous, such as one chapter where De Bellaigue writes of his bemusement at the Iranians' obsession for lifting heavy things for the sake of lifting heavy things. Then later, long after you've forgotten that topic, he writes of the Shah's welcome at Tehran's airport by being seated in his car and having it lifted across the tarmac on the shoulders of muscular 'thick neck' supporters ('again, more lifting', the author says). Priceless.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This book is authored by a Westerner living inside Iran giving you an in depth view of the Iranian people. The author is married to an Iranian and lives in the north of Tehran. The book gives you an insiders view of 20th century Iran from just before the 1979 revolution into the 2000's. Interviews with many Iranians that participated in the Iran-Iraq war give you many insights into the culture and the Shiite brand of Islam. A lot of energy goes into mourning a man that died 1200 years ago. Irani This book is authored by a Westerner living inside Iran giving you an in depth view of the Iranian people. The author is married to an Iranian and lives in the north of Tehran. The book gives you an insiders view of 20th century Iran from just before the 1979 revolution into the 2000's. Interviews with many Iranians that participated in the Iran-Iraq war give you many insights into the culture and the Shiite brand of Islam. A lot of energy goes into mourning a man that died 1200 years ago. Iranian soldiers' willing participation in the Revolution by fervently participating in the Iran-Iraq war and their disillusionment with the Iranian Republic in recent years are explored with interviews of soldiers and Iranian journalist's family members. Some of the veterans are survivors of Iraqi gas attacks. Persian houses of strength and their role in Iranian politics parallel the pre-1970s Unions in the US. This is a good book about the ethos of the Islamic Republic. If you are looking for a history of Iran in the late 20th century the non-linear flow of the events discussed in the book may not be what you are looking for. Check out Twilight War or Persian Puzzle for that. That said, I do recommend this book to people interested in Iran.

  21. 5 out of 5

    GeekChick

    This book is a political history of Iran. It was pretty interesting, especially the parts about the Ayatollah Khomeni's rise to power (which is one of my earliest political memories). The book is very interesting and generally easy enough to read, but I must say it is not a page-turner, not one that I couldn't put down. But it wasn't difficult or dry either. Not as poetic as Reza Aslan, and certainly a tad verbose at times. If you are interested in the subject matter, it is a good read. I must c This book is a political history of Iran. It was pretty interesting, especially the parts about the Ayatollah Khomeni's rise to power (which is one of my earliest political memories). The book is very interesting and generally easy enough to read, but I must say it is not a page-turner, not one that I couldn't put down. But it wasn't difficult or dry either. Not as poetic as Reza Aslan, and certainly a tad verbose at times. If you are interested in the subject matter, it is a good read. I must confess, I did not finish the book. About halfway through, I bought "No God but God" and HAD to read that one right away. When I finished, I felt I needed a break from reading about Islam. I do hope/plan to finish this one day, though.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This book jumped around too much... from one subject to another, from person to person. The author never articulates what he's trying to convey in the book — I had to read the NYT book review (which praised the book) to figure out how all the stories the writer is telling were connected. Some parts of the book read better than others. At its worst, the author's descriptions are ineloquent and confusing. His description, for instance, of the type of sport that goes on in Iranian houses of strengt This book jumped around too much... from one subject to another, from person to person. The author never articulates what he's trying to convey in the book — I had to read the NYT book review (which praised the book) to figure out how all the stories the writer is telling were connected. Some parts of the book read better than others. At its worst, the author's descriptions are ineloquent and confusing. His description, for instance, of the type of sport that goes on in Iranian houses of strength is so muddled that I still can't picture in my head what exactly it is that people do in these houses of strength. I though the book's best parts were those that dealt with the author's personal experiences and thoughts on living as a foreigner in post-Revolutionary Iran. These parts are honest, exposing the biases of society and also the author's own.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Homer H Blass

    An interesting and insightful anecdotal history of contemporary Iran from the background to the 79 revolution; the American hostage crisis; the Iran-Iraq war; and the current struggle between Ideologues and pragmatists. The author is an Englishman with a degree from Cambridge in Iranian studies and married to a Persian and living in Iran since the early 90's. He tells the history of those years by describing the experiences of a group of Iranians he knows and discusses the issues and controversi An interesting and insightful anecdotal history of contemporary Iran from the background to the 79 revolution; the American hostage crisis; the Iran-Iraq war; and the current struggle between Ideologues and pragmatists. The author is an Englishman with a degree from Cambridge in Iranian studies and married to a Persian and living in Iran since the early 90's. He tells the history of those years by describing the experiences of a group of Iranians he knows and discusses the issues and controversies with them.One is reminded of Rebecca West's classic on inter-war Yugoslavia; WHITE LAMB GREY FALCON

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Elliott

    This memoir reads like a compilation of thorough newspaper articles or short stories, I never quite knew where the book was going next. It contains snapshots of Iranian life, histories of people involved in the Revolution and people who oppose its growing hypocrisy, and the reflections of a foreigner trying to understand and be understood. I found it very enjoyable to read, an absorbing glimpse into the lives of people who are motivated in ways foreign to my experience and a testament to the dif This memoir reads like a compilation of thorough newspaper articles or short stories, I never quite knew where the book was going next. It contains snapshots of Iranian life, histories of people involved in the Revolution and people who oppose its growing hypocrisy, and the reflections of a foreigner trying to understand and be understood. I found it very enjoyable to read, an absorbing glimpse into the lives of people who are motivated in ways foreign to my experience and a testament to the difficulty of turning a revolution into a stable government worthy of its citizenry.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    This book is both a recent history of Iran and a collection of stories about the experiences of specific people that live there. It also is part travelogue. The author is a British guy who married an Iranian woman and moved there. I had a lot of trouble digesting the history because it was so complicated, but the other parts of the book added to my impressions of what this place is about and elucidated some of its interesting contradictions.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Valentina

    Tracking back former revolutionaries to discover their present lives, hopes and disillusionment, De Bellaigue offers an enlightening portrait of the Islamic Republic and its endless contradictions. Once again, a book that forces the reader to acknowledge how little is known about today's Iran outside of that country's border. Only flaw: sometimes the transition from one paragraph and section to the next is not very clear nor smooth... Tracking back former revolutionaries to discover their present lives, hopes and disillusionment, De Bellaigue offers an enlightening portrait of the Islamic Republic and its endless contradictions. Once again, a book that forces the reader to acknowledge how little is known about today's Iran outside of that country's border. Only flaw: sometimes the transition from one paragraph and section to the next is not very clear nor smooth...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eric Randolph

    There are a few of these memoirs from journalists who lived in Tehran during the relatively open period of the early 2000s, combining a spot of reportage with flashbacks that tick off the usual list of key moments in Iranian history, but this one has particularly lively writing and insights, even if it doesn't delve too deep. There are a few of these memoirs from journalists who lived in Tehran during the relatively open period of the early 2000s, combining a spot of reportage with flashbacks that tick off the usual list of key moments in Iranian history, but this one has particularly lively writing and insights, even if it doesn't delve too deep.

  28. 4 out of 5

    lisa

    I think this book will be timely forever and if someone can get ahold of Christopher's New Yorker op ed "Under the Olive Trees" piece, (possibly 12/06?), it will be well worth whatever effort you endure finding it. I think this book will be timely forever and if someone can get ahold of Christopher's New Yorker op ed "Under the Olive Trees" piece, (possibly 12/06?), it will be well worth whatever effort you endure finding it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    solmaz sattarzadeh

    at first i was really suspicious about his interpretation about iranian culture and politics but gradually found the book mostly reliable and well-written.he touched me so much about writing unspoken truth in Iran.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David Chastain

    A Memoir of life in Iran - Mr. de Ballaigue has lived in Iran for over 20 and shares his experiences within the vailed country we know as part of the "axis of evil" -- Capturing life within the confines of Iranian culture from someone other than CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, BBC is refreshing. A Memoir of life in Iran - Mr. de Ballaigue has lived in Iran for over 20 and shares his experiences within the vailed country we know as part of the "axis of evil" -- Capturing life within the confines of Iranian culture from someone other than CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, BBC is refreshing.

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