Saturday, November 21, 2009

Journey From The Land Of No

Journalist Roya Hakakian's beautifully written memoir of growing up in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran.

"Journey from the land of No" makes a striking contrast to another journalist's Iranian memoir, Azadeh Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad," a contemporary portrait of Tehran from the viewpoint of a Californian-Iranian, looking for identity. While Moaveni battled her mother over Madonna's music, Hakakian rioted against a fanatical headmistress who found sin in a strand of female hair.

Hakakian describes a rather idyllic childhood in a quiet house in Tehran's "Alley of the Distinguished." She is the only daughter of a Jewish schoolmaster and scholar, beloved baby sister to three brothers. Her closest friend, Z, is a Muslim neighbor girl and her first inkling of the stirrings abroad were the political speeches Z's older sister and her devout Great-Uncle listened to in secret.

Though one by one her three older brothers are sent out of the country, Hakakian finds herself caught up in the heady togetherness of revolution. "Within weeks, Tehran seemed to have matured by years. Even drunkards stopped ranting about their personal misery. Neighbors did not fight. Cars honked constantly, but not in gridlock, only to announce the advance of the uprising, or the fall of another barracks."

She explores the child's perceptions: the jangly scariness of her parents' tense arguments and distressed uncertainty contrast unfavorably with the liberation let loose in the streets. But almost immediately anti-Semitic slogans appear on walls. The Hakakians sell their home and move into an apartment. Islamic dress is imposed and then the Jewish headmistress vanishes one day, and her Muslim replacement asks Hakakian why Jewish men customarily deflower their daughters.

Still, politics remains a youthful focal point and the young intellectuals exercise their idealism in dissent. Another moment of startling clarity comes when the group is caught with incriminating papers, and dismissed as irrelevant as soon as they are discovered to be Jewish.

As idealism fades and repression casts a dark gloom over daily life, Hakakian discovers that her old friend Z has grown grave and distant, Z's older sister, the fervent revolutionary, jailed and tortured, her mother's spirit broken.

Hakakian's story is a layered, nuanced remembrance of one girl's awakening to adulthood, a Jewish view of Iran's upheaval, and a chronicle of a country's nightmarish descent from liberation into a maelstrom of repression and fear.

submitted by Samantha

Pic "Living in the Land of No"