Thursday Book Talk: “Honeymoon in Tehran,” by Azadeh Moaveni

This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) received through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program.

Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran
Azadeh Moaveni
Random House, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 140006645X / 9781400066452)
Memoir, 352 pages

First sentence: In the late spring of 2005, I returned to Iran to report on the country’s presidential election.

Book Description (summarized): In 2005, Azadeh Moaveni, longtime Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, returns to Iran to cover the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Living and working in Tehran, she finds a nation that openly yearns for freedom and contact with the West, but whose economic grievances and nationalist spirit find a temporary outlet in Ahmadinejad’s strident pronouncements. Mingling with underground musicians, race car drivers, young radicals, and scholars, she explores the cultural identity crisis and class frustration that pits Iran’s next generation against the Islamic system.

And then the unexpected happens: Azadeh falls in love with a young Iranian man and decides to get married and start a family in Tehran. Suddenly, she finds herself navigating an altogether different side of Iranian life. Preparing to be wed by a mullah, she sits in on a government marriage prep class where young couples are instructed to enjoy sex. She visits Tehran’s bridal bazaar and finds that the Iranian wedding has become an outrageously lavish–though often still gender-segregated–production. When she becomes pregnant, she must prepare to give birth in an Iranian hospital, at the same time observing her friends’ struggles with their young children, who must learn to say one thing at home and another at school.

Despite her busy schedule as a wife and mother, Azadeh continues to report for Time on Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and Iranians’ dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad’s heavy-handed rule. But as women are arrested on the street for “immodest dress” and the authorities unleash a campaign of intimidation against journalists, the country’s dark side reemerges.

Comments: Not long after I began reading Honeymoon in Tehran, I ran across a copy of Azadeh Moaveni’s earlier memoir, Lipstick Jihad, in a bookstore, and bought it with no hesitation – I already knew I was going to want more of her story.

Some of the memoirs by journalists that I’ve read have felt more like a reporter’s work than someone’s own story – there’s almost too much detachment. Honeymoon in Tehran does not suffer from that sense of distance. While I thought that Moaveni documented the political and social climate in post-September 11 Iran well, it felt – appropriately – like context for her own experience; she strikes an excellent balance between the personal and the political here.

Moaveni’s descriptions of an Iran that has become more socially conservative in recent years are informative, and especially enlightening when she sets them against a larger historical framework. While Westerners sometimes tend to lump the “Middle Eastern” countries together, Moaveni elaborates on the ways in which Iran, whose heritage is Persian rather than Arabic, is different from its neighbors. However, while she is in the position of being able to report on Iranian developments from the inside, her purpose in this writing is to show their effects on individual lives – particularly her own, as a ethnic Iranian raised in the United States and working for an American news magazine, returned to her family’s homeland by work and her own choice.

Back in Iran to report on the 2005 elections for Time Magazine, Moaveni is introduced to the man who will become her live-in boyfriend, father of her child, and husband – in that order. In a changing political and social landscape where religious values and secular habits frequently conflict, she has to learn to navigate the peculiarities of Persian weddings, prenatal care, and other details of daily life that differ significantly from her Western expectations.

I found Moaveni’s story engrossing and engaging. I learned a bit about Iranian life without feeling like I was being “educated,” and I was able to relate to much of her story, even though the details of our lives are very different.

Rating: 4/5

Other bloggers’ reviews:
The Printed Page
Devourer of Books

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail dot com, and I’ll edit this review to include it!

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  1. I don’t read too many memoirs, but when I do, I love when the author doesn’t hold back. I like to feel the personal connection to their story. I also enjoy learning about different cultures, so this one sounds particularly good to me. Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I’m reading Lipstick Jihad right now and enjoying it, so I am excited to learn she has another book. I’ve also been struck by how well Moaveni balances her experiences against the larger context; I’ve read a lot of memoirs set around the Iranian revolution and so far Lipstick Jihad has done the best job of explaining how the Revolution happened and what the politics in Iran was like afterwards.

  3. Anna – It’s just out in bookstores. I should have mentioned that in the review! Anyway, I thought it was fascinating, and hopefully you will too.

    Kim – I got a similar impression with Honeymoon in Tehran. I hope you get a chance to read it soon, and I’m looking forward to getting to Lipstick Jihad myself.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – Good choice :-). She writes from a “both worlds” perspective as a former expatriate who returns to her homeland, and I think that makes her story particularly interesting.

  4. I’ve picked up and put down Lipstick Jihad a few times at the bookstore. Next time, I think I won’t be putting it down.

    Great review…I love learning about other cultures and history through these types of books.

  5. Jill (Softdrink) – I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did, to be honest. Even though I have the order backwards, I’m looking forward to reading Lipstick Jihad.