An exceptional, emotionally blooded memoir of a young man's life in modern Iran--viewed from the perspective of his self-chosen exile. Milani (Social Sciences/Notre Dame College, Calif.), born to a well-off family in Tehran in 1948, was sent to the US at age 15 to be educated. He returned to a teaching job in 1975 only to be imprisoned under the shah's regime two years later. Milani departed for good in 1986, having suffered a broken marriage and physical symptoms of stress and depression that had everything to do with the country's climate of political ugliness. Any book chronicling those experiences would be interesting; that this one turns out to be a breathtaking example of the quiet, selfless gorgeousness of the memoirist's art is the reader's sheer good fortune. Milani offers classically ordered writing about character, place, and time. Contemporary Tehran is described as ""an overcrowded, densely polluted, dangerously stratified, economically hyped, architecturally schizoid, dust-ridden modern metropolis."" The author's youth was ""contaminated with religion."" Best are the descriptions of childhood--the psychologically complex parents behind the beards and veils; blackly comic musings about shortages of Ramadan pastries; circumcision at age 15 (""It's nothing,"" his friends tell him. ""They just cut off half your dool""). But the entire memoir is infused with the perversity, nightmarishness, and occasional strange sweetness of growing up amid religious rule and ritual. The book has a few flaws. Long excurses on Iranian politics veer off into abstractness, and the author seems unable to outgrow a certain coyness when writing about women (for whom, it must be said, he has an admirable regard). But this is a tale on whose every word readers will hang. Is exile--with its nuances of time, space, grief, loss, and the human comedy--the most reliable progenitor of literary beauty? This book would support that theory.