A Tehran-born American journalist invites readers to reexamine what they think they know about Iran and its people.
Kangarlou, an accomplished international correspondent who has spent years reporting from the Middle East for CNN, NBC, and other outlets, is cleareyed about the goal of her debut book: Recognizing that many Westerners see Iran as an oppressive theocracy, she seeks to rectify this simplistic take on her home country. Her approach—a series of vignettes of individual Iranians set against a broader historical background—is disarming and mostly effective. Kangarlou confronts stereotypes about Iranians and how those stereotypes are often complicated by people’s private lives—e.g., the gay son of a general in the Revolutionary Guard; a reformist Shia Muslim cleric known as the “Blogger Ayatollah”; Iran’s first female race-car driver, who, despite hardships, chooses to remain in her country (“my entire family, failures, successes, struggles, wins, are all here”); and a transgender woman with childhood dreams of becoming a cleric. The author’s portraits reveal a country that is more intricate and tolerant than many readers comprehend. For example, Kangarlou shows how the government permits many freedoms to religious minorities like Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Furthermore, “Iran is the only Muslim country in the region that grants legal rights to transgender people.” In other ways, the stories confirm certain impressions of Iranian society, such as sweeping limits on the press or the fact that Iran’s gay community has been forced to live largely in secret for decades. Because Kangarlou doesn’t dig as deep into the nation’s brutal side, the book isn’t a comprehensive picture of “the real Iran.” However, it’s a readable narrative that sounds strong notes of compassion about a nation that is often misunderstood.
Valuable human-interest stories that provide food for thought and hope for change regarding a troubled yet vibrant society.