A WRITER’S WIT
Words are one thing, deeds are quite another.
Born October 22, 1870
MY BOOK WORLD
I often inform readers where I first learned of a particular book because it helps set the stage for my profile. I witnessed the author Ramita Navai, a vivacious British-Iranian foreign affairs journalist, as she spoke about her book on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (Comedy Central). For all his biting satire about the political world, Stewart’s guest segment is often serious. It often opens a tiny window for Americans, who, like me, tend to be a bit removed from the world at large. I was so impressed with Ms. Navai’s ability to speak lovingly and yet truthfully about her home country that I bought the book!
Navai’s thesis is that the political atmosphere in Iran, particularly in the capital city, Tehran, is so repressive that its citizens are forced to lie about their lives. She says in her very first sentence:
“Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival. This need to dissimulate is surprisingly egalitarian—there are no class boundaries and there is no religious discrimination when it comes to the world of deceit. Some of the most pious, righteous Tehranis are the most gifted and cunning in the art of deception” (xi). Whoo.
In essence, people are not allowed to be fully human. It is a fact we’ve always “known” or sensed about Iran, but Navai’s book brings alive this idea through the eight people she profiles. But she also has a deep love for Tehran, having spent at least a part of her childhood there. In the prologue she speaks lovingly of Vali Asr Street, the “one long, wide road lined on either side by thousands of tall sycamore trees” (1) that runs throughout the entire center of the city. In fact, she says, there are over 18,000 sycamore trees that the former monarch, Reza Shah, planted in 1921. The effect, after ninety years is breathtaking, like a European city. The trees may be emblematic of a tortured place that desires to be like the rest of the world, and indeed is in many ways, but is still blighted by its past as well as its present. Eventually trees die. What will Tehran’s image be then?
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