A travelogue in which Bird (The Jazz and Blues Lover’s Guide to the US, not reviewed) successfully unpeels the many layers behind the opaque veneer of Iran.
Having spent several years of her childhood in Iran, the author returned there for several months in 1998, eager to reconcile the dreamy, magical place of her memories with the harsh society she saw portrayed on the evening news. What she found was a place of ironies and contradictions, a place where public and private life drastically differed and where the rules were always changing. “They might say yes today, but not tomorrow . . . [and you’ll never know the reason why],” one Iranian tells Bird. What stands out most in her depiction are the warmth and hospitality she received from the people of Iran; likewise, most readers will be moved by her affection for them and struck by her surprisingly sympathetic view of the country’s political and social system. There is a Humpty-Dumpty effect to her dissection of Iranian society, however, and one is often left with a clear view of many of the pieces that make up Iran—but little sense of how they fit together. Bird’s acute sensitivity to her subjects makes her study stand apart (“Bahman looked tired and needed a day of rest much more than he needed a day in the country with me,” she writes of her host), for she personalizes her account while resisting overinterpretation. Her commitment to accurately conveying the events and impressions of her journey, though, eventually weighs on the pace of the book, however.
Written with precision, this sincere (though somewhat uneventful) account offers the reader a glimpse of an Iran rarely seen in the news.