Thompson (All the Shah’s Horses, 2016, etc.) chronicles her experience living in Iran in the 1970s under the rule of the last shah of Iran.
In 1972, the author moved to Iran with her husband, Don, an expatriate working for an Iranian aluminum company, while the nation was under the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She had expertise in horse-show jumping, and as a result, she was effectively compelled to take a job as a trainer for the nation’s Royal Horse Society—a position that she didn’t want but that she couldn’t comfortably turn down when officials presented her with a contract: “Sign it I did. Who could refuse?” The good news was that her new job placed her within Iran’s imperial court, giving her an extraordinarily unfiltered look at the inner workings of the royal family. The author forcefully writes of how the shah’s aggressive reforms were doomed to fail; they were irrationally idealistic, overpromising breakneck results that the nation could never achieve. Also, she notes that Pahlavi was arrogantly out of touch with his people and had no idea how widespread public discontent had become—at least in part because of the lavish lifestyle he enjoyed due to widespread political corruption. Thompson’s incisive analysis also includes an account of the sexual mores of Iran in the 1970s; she places particular emphasis on the role of women, who were liberated in some ways but still subjected to a persistently patriarchal culture. Thompson supplements her sociological observations—which are sweeping but impressively sensitive, in the grand tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America—with a synoptic history of Iran, right up to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious revolution in 1979. Overall, her memoir is candidly personal, but it manages to transcend autobiographical details, bringing Iran’s struggle to gain entry into the modern world into vivid relief. Her prose is straightforward and lucid throughout, and although she does provide a helpful bibliography for further reading, she avoids unwieldy academic language. Overall, this work will be a valuable resource for readers seeking a demystification of Iran.
An enjoyable and instructive peek into Iranian culture.