Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope
by Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni
As a woman who has more than once wondered, what does it mean for women to be liberated and how can the spirit of woman influence our male dominated society, I am very strongly affected by Ms. Ebadiâ€™s story and her accomplishments. Ms. Ebadi has been through it all in Iran, and has come through with great compassion and insight, and a fierce spirit. She went to Law School and was made a Judge under the Shah, when she was quite young. She is the only woman to have held that post in Iran. After the revolution, she spent time in prison. But following her release, she chose to stay in Iran, and since then she has worked as a lawyer defending political prisoners, and as a tireless crusader for civil and human rights in Iran and around the world. Her story is special, and she is an inspiring speaker as well. Ms. Ebadi was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran
by Arzoo Osanloo
This is a fascinating study about the way that Women’s Rights are viewed and accessed by women in Iran. Â It puts the subject of women’s rights in the larger context of human rights. Â Both subjects are then examined from the standpoint of Iranian Domestic policy and Iranian engagement with international values and legal contexts. Â Â This is a fascinating study, and very relevant to better understanding the complexities of the Iranian State and it’s place in the world.
The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Conflict in the Middle East
by Ali M. Ansari
As I read the book, I felt a real kinship with the people of Iran. Like ourselves, they are a diverse population, and they have very uneven results as they struggle through their democratic initiatives to create a government that can manifest peace and prosperity for the country, and at the same time reflect their highest ideals.
Though their quest for Democracy has been repeatedly thwarted and obstructed, they continue to assert their will to have a democracy, and continue to develop the necessary political infrastructure as well. They struggle with the distinct ideologies of their culture, and the diverse ideologies of the 20th century to find their own path to freedom and integrity, This is not a clean and simple problem, and there is no easy, cheap solution. But they are working on it.
I really liked this book and found it very informative. It focuses on the interactions between Iran and the US in the 20th century, through the Iranian Revolution and up to the present. It describes the series of events, both as the Iranians see them, and from the American viewpoint. What emerges is a relationship that has a lot of positive potential, but is hindered by misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Modern Iran Since 1921: The Pahlavis and After
by Ali M. Ansari
This is an earlier book by Mr. Ansari, published in 2003, that explores the Iranian History of the same period with an emphasis on the internal history of Iran. there is a lot that I didnâ€™t know. For example, when I was growing up, the Shah of Iran was the darling of the press. He was presented in the Media as an (archetypal) king in a magical kingdom. It is interesting to find out that he is in fact, the son of an illiterate military man who became king through the actions of a coup, supported by America and Great Britain, which overthrew the hereditary monarch, and not the scion of the hereditary monarchy itself. I also didnâ€™t know that the Iranians have had a parliament through most of the 20th Century.
Though the religious factor in Iranian Government has itâ€™s place in Mr. Ansariâ€™s books, it isnâ€™t the focus of the story, which is really about Iran in relation to the colonial initiatives in the Middle East, first of the Europeans, and later of the Americans. One thing that impressed me is that the country of Iran appears to have maintained itâ€™s integrity as a sovereign nation, pretty much throughout. It was a nation before the Europeans came on the scene, and remains one to this day. This might be one of the reasons why Iran, though comparatively democratic and Westernized, is considered such a terrible threat by the US government.
No God but God
by Reza Aslan
This is a great introduction to the Islam. It describes Mohammed’s life and times, and the roots of Islam as well as talking about how Islam currently affects the culture in Iran. I found it very illuminating.
Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform
Translation and Compilation
by Ziba Mir-Hossein and Richard Tapper
The book begins with some documentation of Hassan Eshkevari’s life, then presents a few of his earlier essays. Finally it presents an overview of the Berlin Conference in 2000, and the papers presented by Eshkevari. I had no idea this event occurred. It is fascinating, not only they way the Europeans arranged the event, the conflicts between Iranians attempting to define a vision of a democracy that might emerge from their present government, and Iranian Dissidents living in the west, who came to protest, and the immediate and long term effects on the speakers of their participation in the event.
When I opened this book, I knew very little about the ideas being debated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution, about the form that the government should take, the distribution of power and what balance can be obtained between Democracy and Religion. I was stunned by the depth of the discussion and the complexity of the debate as seen through the lens of Eshkevari’s vision.
Iranian Intellectuals and The West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism
by Mehrzad Boroujerdi
I have only read the first couple of chapters of this book so far, but it looks to be very interesting. I don’t think we have scrutinized our government, intellectual establishment, and cultural biases in the US to this depth in my lifetime.
The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam will Shape the Future
by Vali Nasr
What strikes one about this book is that it reinterprets current events in the Middle East, and specifically in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon from the standpoint of the native culture. In this context, the American interventions is a side issue. It presents the American invasion of Iraq is a catalyst that precipitates a context in which the people of Iraq, and of the surrounding nations can play out the next act in an ancient drama. In this context, it gives a history of the Shia an Sunni Muslims from Mohammedâ€™s death up to the present.
This is a fascinating dramatization, and the subject is something we ought to know about if we wish to avoid complete ignorance of Arab and Muslim culture. However, the â€œnext chapterâ€ as described here seems to sync with â€œEnd Timesâ€ thinking. Before we came, Sunni and Shia were intermarrying in Iraq, and they are currently working toward a unity government in Lebanon. Perhaps the next chapter is really about accommodation and assimilation over an extended period of time as it has played out between Protestants and Catholics in the west.
Iâ€™m going to add a few words derived from what I have learned since reading this book about Iran, and about the author. Mr. Nasr, like many who fled Iran after the revolution in 1979 has a deep understanding of some aspects of Iranian culture, but does not share, nor I think, does he entirely understand, the investment of those who remained in Iran after the Revolution despite reservations about the new theocratic government. As such, his writings have an interesting combination intellectual accuracy, romanticization of certain aspects of Iranian culture (like the Shia, Sunni split), and a bitterness over the current situation that is posited on a lost opportunity of progress, and a sense that Iran has somehow fallen behind itâ€™s potential. Even reading the details of his own writing, I am not certain thatâ€™s true.
by Scott Ritter
Scott gives an interesting, and very detailed description of American and Israeli Intelligence gathering leading up to the current unbalanced perspective on Iran. He shows how the imprint of particular personality or mindset can skew the evaluation of even the best intelligence. After many years as an officer and intelligence expert in the Marines, Scott was selected to head of the American contingent of the UN Nuclear Inspection team in Iraq. Since then, he has become a unique voice in the anti-war movement.
Scott knows a great deal about the diplomatic and intelligence gathering initiatives taken on all sides over the last 20 years, and has a unique understanding of the nuclear inspection process and the players involved. This book uses a detailed description of international political wrangling around the Iranian nuclear issue since it came to light during the run up to the so called â€œWar on Terrorâ€. I highly recommend it to those who would understand how we got to where we are.
A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja
by Joost R. Hilterman
A very detailed and well researched discussion of the use of Chemical Weapons in the Iran/Iraq war during the 80s. Â Hilterman tells the story of shifting alliances between the Kurds and Iranians, of Iraq’s deepening reliance on Chemical Weapons to fight the war while the world looked on and America, in particular, provided cover for escalating atrocities in order to protect our political interests.
The Persian Puzzle
by Kenneth M. Pollack
Lays out the standard American interpretation of events in Iran and associated motivations.
The Soul of Iran
by Afshin Molavi
The story told by an Iranian expatriate who returns to his homeland and travels around on his personal quest. He tells the stories of those he encounters along the way, and of the places he visits. Gives an insight into the interests and concerns of contemporary Iranians.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
by Azar Nafisi
A very harsh look at life in Iran after the Islamic Revolution written by a woman who was teaching western literature in Tehran University. The book addresses feminist issues, and also the frustration of educate, westernized Iranians upon finding themselves governed by angry and often ignorant members of the working class. We have a lot of sympathy for the feminist perspective of the book supported by Ms. Nafisi’s devastating analysis of Nabokov’s novel, “Lolita”. The book, and the film of “Lolita” came out when I was a teenager and the story made me cringe. But until “Reading Lolita…” I didn’t entirely understand why.
Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran
by Fatemah Keshavarz
If you have read the original â€œReading Lolita in Tehranâ€ below, then you really should read this book. Otherwise, it is a nice introduction to what is lovely and happy about Iran and Persian Culture. It also goes into some detail describing the ways in which many books about Iran, including, perhaps especially, those written by expatriates who left around the time of the revolution in 1978 give a distorted picture of life in Iran because the people are angry with the changes there, though many people who live there have made peace with the current regime. She feels that these people have adopted western values, and now belittle the culture of their birthplace. It is an interesting and very personal discussion of what is commonly called ‘Orientalism’.
Fiction and Poetry
by Hafez and Daniel Ladinsky
Hafez is a venerated Sufi Poet of Iran. I have a couple of traditional translations I bought in Iran, which I enjoy, but the Ladinsky translation is unique. By using contemporary language and metaphors, Ladinsky preserved the delightful irony, and love of life for which Hafez’ poems are revered.
The Essential Rumi
Rumi translated by Coleman Barks
Rumi is renowned Iranian Sufi Poet. Coleman Barks is the preeminent translator of Rumi, and was given an honorary degree from the University of Tehran a few years ago. The poetry is delightful.
Tuba and the Meaning of Night
by Shahrnoush Parsipour
â€œTuba and the Meaning of Nightâ€ is a historical novel that follows the main character through a period beginning at the end of the Qajar Dynasty up through the period when the parliamentary democracy was formed. It is a fascinating novel about the challenges for women of life in Iran and the Traditional Culture and the cultural transitions that occurred through contact with the west. Parsipoor’s writing style has an interesting surreal character that allows events to unfold as they are reflected in the mystical world of the inner perception more than as events are observed in the external world.
Women Without Men
by Shahrnoush Parsipour
â€œWomen without Menâ€ is a contemporary novel about 3 displaced women who set out to find themselves. The women portrayed have a great inner strength and creativity that they bring to the task of throwing off the chains of being women in a man’s world. They inhabit a world, both real and surreal, bounded as much by their feelings as their experience. Parsipoors characters and themes are Feminist, not in a political sense, but in the sense that they focus on significance of the inner lives of women, the strengths of women.
Poetry by Forough Farokhzad
Passionate, Sensual, Spiritual, Forough Farokhzad is a renowned poet in Iran, and one of the best I have ever read. If you think women in Iran are cold and withdrawn behind their veils, Farokhzad will set you straight. Forough Farokhzad lived a more or less bohemian lifestyle in Paris and Iran, and died in a tragic car accident in 1967.
Strange Times, My Dear
Edited by Mahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi Hakkak
Contemporary Iranian short stories and poems, much, though not all, written by expatriate Iranians. Many of the authors are well known. I enjoyed the book very much, some works more than others. If you like anthologies of short stories and poetry, you will like these.
Farad Ud-Din Attar: The Conference of the Birds
Tanslated by Afkham Dabandi and Dick Davis
An ancient traditional poem by the Sufi poet Attar. An allegorical story of man’s path to God. After a challenging journey, some of the birds finally find God. But God is not at all what they expected.