Photo: couple cafe date Iran

Honeymoon in Tehran chronicles the nuances of daily life in Iran.

Photograph by Ulla Kimmig, Laif/Redux

By Don George

February 2009

Book of the Month: 
Honeymoon in Tehran,
by Azadeh Moaveni

We don't usually associate reporting on Iran with news of wedding receptions, C-sections, and baby names. That these subjects are thoroughly covered in Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran illuminates much of the charm—and the revelatory power—of Azadeh Moaveni's new book. In this follow-up to Lipstick Jihad, the Palo Alto-born Iranian-American journalist returns to Tehran to report on Iran's 2005 presidential election. While covering the apathy and alienation of much of the Iranian electorate and the related rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Moaveni unexpectedly falls in love with an Iranian man—and a succession of riches and complications ensues.

As a Farsi- and Arabic-speaking reporter with a decade of experience writing about the Middle East, Moaveni brings deep journalistic roots to her subject—and as the daughter of Iranian parents who emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s, deep personal roots as well. The resulting combination of empathy and expertise gives her a distinctive entry into and perspective on Iranian culture. Moving easily from upper-class soirees to working-class markets, political rallies to marriage preparation classes, Moaveni's descriptions and analyses of Iranian politics, religion, and society adeptly evoke the complexities and contradictions of life in Tehran.

As the book progresses, Iran's nuclear standoff with the United States heats up, and initial popular enchantment with Ahmadinejad sours as one after another campaign promise goes unfulfilled. At the same time, Moaveni's personal life enacts its own twists and turns: She settles in Tehran with her boyfriend, becomes pregnant, plans her wedding, and has a son, whom they start to raise among the daunting nuances of contemporary Iran. As the political and the personal rollercoaster along, these life-passages deepen the poignancy and power of Moaveni's account.

This humanity is the book's most winning quality. Refreshingly different from reports we usually read about Iran, Moaveni uses the intimate details of her own experience to illustrate the comforts and frustrations of everyday existence: On the one hand, she relishes how multiple generations and extensions of family are lovingly woven into the daily flow of life; on the other, she is distressed and intimidated by the fact that a woman can be stopped and arrested on a street for wearing a headscarf that is too bright. By the end of this generous and courageous book, Moaveni and her husband are forced to make some wrenching decisions about where their future lies.

New Book Roundups:

Found in Translation

Several books originally written in other languages get released in English this month. China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation gathers interviews conducted by Beijing-born journalist Xinran with men and women across China who have lived through the rise of communism. The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga is a coming-of-age novel set in the Basque country during the Spanish Civil War. In the bilingual Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, editor Álvaro Uribe compiles short stories by 16 of Mexico's finest writers born after 1945.

Emerald Isle Ink

In Galway Bay, Mary Pat Kelly presents a fictional retelling of her own family's immigration story, from famine-stricken Ireland to Chicago. In Frank Delaney's latest historical novel, Shannon, an American veteran of the Great War comes to Ireland in search of his family roots but finds himself in the middle of another war—civil war following the 1921 Treaty with Britain.

Adventurers' Tales

In The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann sets out to discover what happened to British explorer Percy Fawcett during his 1925 quest for a hidden ancient city in the Amazon, a journey from which he never returned. Near Death in the Arctic, edited by Cecil Kuhne, collects the amazing true stories of 14 adventurers—from Norwegian Captain Roald Amundsen to Ernest Shackleton—in the frozen north. In Mad Dogs and an English woman,British author Polly Evans immerses herself in the world of dogsledding, including following the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest race between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon Territory.

Reading Matchmaker: If You Like...

...French Impressionist paintings, check out Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sara Houghteling. This debut novel centers around Max Berenzon's quest to recover masterpieces looted by the Nazis from his father's Paris art gallery during World War II. Real paintings by Manet, Matisse, Morisot, and Vuillard figure prominently as Berenzon navigates post-war Paris and the terrible legacy of the Holocaust to recover his family's art collection.

Short List: New & Noteworthy

Down at the Docks, Rory Nugent's portrait of America's largest fishing port, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and what has happened to it as the Internet Age has boomed.

Darwin Slept Here, Eric Simons's travelogue retracing Darwin's steps through South America, published in time to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.

The Republic of Vengeance, Paul Water's historical novel set in third-century B.C. Greece.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin's collection of linked fictional stories surrounding a well-off landowner in Lahore, Pakistan.

One Last Thing: On a Karmic Quest

The quest is a common theme in travel literature, but Chinese-Canadian journalist Jan Wong's new book, A Comrade Lost and Found, delivers that theme with a special karmic twist: Thirty-three years after she lived in Beijing as a visiting starry-eyed Maoist student, Wong returns to try to find the fellow student she naively betrayed to school authorities, who was subsequently expelled from the school. This compelling quest leads the Toronto based writer—with her husband and two children in tow—on a winding journey through the 21st-century iteration of her ancestral land, where favorite landmarks from her student days have been bulldozed for luxury condominiums and where a "culture of amnesia" seems to have erased all evidence of the Cultural Revolution. Wong's demanding, brave journey—recounted with keen observation and lively humor—offers idiosyncratic insights into China past and present.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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