A daring exposé of what really goes on under the noses of the morality police in this God-fearing city of 12 million.
Many of these portraits of mostly contemporary Tehranis struggling against their country’s obsession with vice, public morality and political correctness are composite sketches. As such, British-Iranian journalist Navai protects the real identities of her subjects, who are as engaging as characters of fiction and reveal, frankly, the charade that living under Sharia law has become since Iran’s Islamic Revolution. “Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie,” writes the author in the opening. “Morals don’t come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival.” A brainwashed young member of the Western-backed terrorist group Mojahedin-e-Khalq (“Warriors of the People”) returned to the city of his youth after 20 years in America in order to assassinate Tehran’s former police chief; his plan resulted in devastating failure. A serious schoolgirl was encouraged by her parents to marry her charming older cousin, even though everyone knew he was a lazy philanderer. A young political activist was stalked by the judge who convicted his parents to hang in 1988; 15 years later, the judge desperately sought forgiveness and helped warn the activist that the Ministry of Intelligence was watching him. A prostitute turned to the more lucrative business of making porn movies, which were so popular in the Islamic state that she was duly exposed, imprisoned and hanged. Alcohol-running gangsters, martyrs, women arrested in belly-dancing class at the health club, a 13-year-old sold by her parents to a man in his 60s: These make up a deeply class-riven society in which sex is a rebellion and traditional values are circumvented at all costs.
Navai offers sharply rendered portraits of the bleak situation but does not provide much reason why she, and others she portrays, would ever want to return to Tehran.