An exotic, absorbing, rather odd life saga played out against the volatile politics of Iran. ""Dispossessed of her Persian heritage,"" Farmalan (b. 1921) fondly recalls her harem childhood as the 15th of 36 children, the third-born to her 16-year-old mother, who was the third of her father's eight wives. Here, the author idealizes her father for his ability to recollect his children's names on Friday inspections and for teaching them to be ""obedient"" and grateful, to value education and service, and ""never to accept a bribe."" Discouraged--as a woman she had ""no value""--from pursuing her own education, Farmaian nonetheless went to America in 1943, where she acquired a master's in social work, an Indian husband who abandoned her, and a daughter who, to her great consternation, was an American citizen. Returning to Iran in 1954, she began, with the Shah's approval, her school of social work, all the while condemning the US government for supporting the Shah, whose corruption she especially denounces here with her own particular form of snobbery: the Shah, she says, made people rich ""whose fathers no one had ever heard of."" But Farmalan objects equally to the Khomeini revolution, its excesses and injustices: her recounting of her arrest, her defiant response to her interrogators, and her escape is the best reading in the book. Throughout, many of Farmalan's attitudes no doubt will offend the ""American friends"" for whom, along with her grandchildren, she says she is writing, in order to warn them against ""well-meaning efforts to remake the world in their image."" Rejecting Western democracy, the constitutional monarchy of the Shah, and the religious state of the Ayatollah, the author seems to prefer the landed aristocracy of her father. A seemingly naive but fascinating psychological document, then, with occasional lyric moments: ""My country is a kingdom of fire, a carpet of sand and stone.