Copeland (editor: A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit, 2006, etc.) explores the mystery surrounding his father’s controversial persecution in revolutionary-era Iran.
The author attempts to reclaim his family’s pre-revolutionary past and uncover the mysterious life and death of his father, American Max Copeland, who was married to (and eventually represented by) the first female lawyer of the Islamic Republic. “I would come to understand that I am the by-product of the two most ethnocentric cultures on the face of the earth,” Copeland writes. “Cultures tend to perceive the world through their own unique lenses, of course, but Iran and America are fairly exceptional in this regard.” In a narrative that alternates among the differing perspectives of his father, his mother, Shahin, and himself, Copeland paints a lucid portrait of chaotic late-1970s Tehran, the last days of the shah’s reign and the beginnings of a repressive Islamic state. During the early days of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Copeland’s father was caught illegally selling radar equipment for Westinghouse, which, like most other Western-run companies, was shutting down and liquidating their Iranian assets subsequent to the Islamic takeover in 1979. Max was accused of spying for the CIA and was tried in an Islamic court for trading with the enemy, among other things. Having no way to defend himself in the courtroom, Shahin was permitted to take up his case in court. Although Copeland doesn’t solve any big mysteries surrounding his father’s life and alleged connections to the CIA, he does concoct an engaging narrative, however fragmented, that highlights his family’s resilience in the face of challenging, unforeseen political circumstances. Along the way, the author’s personal immersion in his family’s history helps him come to terms with his Iranian heritage and allows him to build a much-needed figurative bridge between two very different but equally misunderstood cultures.
Both a gripping personal story and an insightful historical-cultural study.