An intellectual family trip across Iran to find a long-lost friend.
During the 1960s, the author, his three brothers, and his parents lived peacefully in Teheran, where Dad worked for an oil company. Hassan Ghasemi was their beloved cook, guide, and guardian, but after the family returned to the US in 1969, contact with him dwindled and died. Did Hassan survive the Khomeini revolution and the Iraqi war? When moderate Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997, the Wards decided to find out. They flew back to Iran in April 1998, knowing only that Hassan had lived in a town called Tudeshk. Ward develops three plot lines during their 700-mile journey from Shiraz to Teheran. In the best sections here, he uses landmarks they encountered to digress into Persian and Iranian history. At Pasagardee, he finds the grave of Cyrus II, founder of the Persian Empire. In the sixth century b.c.<\h>, Ward informs us, Persian armies controlled the Middle East. Their language influenced Greek and Latin; a lost book of Persian fairy tales, translated into Arabic in a.d.<\h> 850, formed the basis for the Arabian Nights; the work of 14th-century poet Hafaz impressed Queen Victoria and Walt Whitman alike. In a.d.<\h> 637, Caliph Omar brought a new religion to the region. Islam's early history, especially the divide between the Sunni and Shia sects, influences Iran today. Oil was found at Masjid-e Suleiman in 1908, and Iranian hatred of the British who quickly exploited their asset was later transferred to the US. Ward’s other two narrative threads do not match the interest of this historical material. He portrays his happy family in one dimension: Dad and the brothers are indistinguishable from each other; Mom is an idealized, good-natured type. Encounters with Iranian citizens blandly make obvious points about life there today: Women have begun to exert power; the Shah's wealth has been redistributed; construction in Teheran has overrun the childhood home.
Flawed, but informative on Persian history and literature.