BOOK REVIEW: Journey of Iranian-American to her homeland

28th Nov 2014

Lipstick Jihad, By Azadeh Moaveni. PublicAffairs. 2006. 260 pp. PB

In her debut book, Azadeh Moaveni eloquently recounts her estranged relationship with her motherland Iran. Her parents fled to America three years prior to the ground-breaking Islamic Revolution in 1979 and from that point Moaveni has felt torn. As an Iranian teenager growing up in California, Moaveni always felt an essential component of herself was missing. At home she spoke Farsi with her grandparents, whereas at school she discussed Hollywood and boys fluently.

While growing up Moaveni began to realise her identity – ‘Iranian-American,’ had become an oxymoron. Yet, she was not ready to let go of her romanticised view of Iran – not until she had made the journey to the motherland herself. Thus, in 2000 she moved to Tehran as a journalist for Time magazine. Her journey to discover her true identity had finally began.

However, moving to Iran as an American came with a whole set of unexpected challenges; leaving Moaveni more confused and torn than ever before. Her romanticised views of the Iran her mother described to her shattered. She was thrust into an alien society, one which she could not understand nor relate to. The headscarf was forced upon her, a bizarre set of values and two Government agents assigned to monitor her writing. Her greatest challenge in Tehran was the hijab – each time she adorned it she felt her identity disappeared.

The memoir goes much further than Moaveni’s identity; the book itself lifts the veil of mystery surrounding Iran’s youth and women. The reader accompanies Moaveni to the basements of Tehran – where women adorn scandalous outfits, where alcohol is served and both genders mingle without the watchful eye of the police. She reveals the intricate and complex plans Tehran’s youth construct in order to outsmart the religious police.

However, it is important to note that Moaveni’s dramatic experiences and thoughts only describe Tehran not the entire country. In addition, the Tehran she vividly describes is a westernised-wealthy part, therefore her book cannot speak for the whole area. She views the Islamic Government with an extremely critical eye – her take on the revolution only represents a portion of Iranian society. It is important to remember throughout that she is a wealthy Iranian-American therefore her opinion is an unusual one. However, this adds an extra dimension to her memoir and allows the reader to view Iran with a new set of eyes.

As the book progresses so does Moaveni’s attitude to Iran, she gradually becomes more tolerant of the Government and understanding of the Iranian people. Unfortunately, she did not get the happy ending she desired, after feeling unsafe due to Government’s criticism of her work she fled back to New York.

This is not only a tale of a woman trying to discover the essence of her roots, but it is a tale that documents the evolution of an entire nation. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the social, moral and political life of modern Iranians. The memoir is a journey of hypocrisy and disdain, however it is also filled with hope and friendship – home is truly where the heart is.

Aliya Padhani


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