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A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran

by Roya Hakakian

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-4611-4
Publisher: Crown

Poet and former 60 Minutes producer Hakakian debuts with a effulgent memoir of her girlhood in the shadow of the Iranian revolution.

Combining a moving recollection of lost innocence with vivid political reportage, the author describes the universal joy expressed when the Shah fled and the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile. But the new regime soon became as authoritarian as its predecessor. Within a year polygamy was no longer restricted, the marriage age for girls was lowered to nine, sports were segregated, and Iran was declared an Islamic republic. The Hakakians, members of the second-largest community of Jews in the Middle East after Israel, had seen their oldest son flee to America in 1975 because he opposed the Shah. They initially welcomed the new government. Adolescent Roya and her Jewish classmates talked, wrote, and dreamed of saving the world. But their dreams soon soured. Roya, like all other women, had to cover herself in public; she and her fellow students were frisked at the school gate each morning by “Members of the Islamic Society,” an arm of the new secret police installed in the schools; and when Roya earned the best grade for an essay, the teacher tore up her work because its topic, the destructive nature of war, would have caused trouble for the young author. Hakakian vividly evokes the rhythms of family meals and celebrations in a land she considered her home, which made it all the more painful when Jews began to be singled out as non-Muslims in the 1980s, and Jewish doctors and nurses were rejected as “unclean.” Hakakian left Iran with her mother in 1984, and her father joined them in the US the next year. Before they left, her father burned all their books and Roya’s writings, deeming them unsafe to keep.

A somber reminder from an accomplished writer of the unexpected consequences and costs of revolutions.