Thursday, September 16, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Lipstick Jihad

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni 2005
PublicAffairs Books

IQ "The urge to translate, this preoccupation with language I had dragged around with me, had been a resistance to the sense of foreignness I felt everywhere-a distraction from the restlessness that followed me into each hemisphere. If I could only have conquered words, purged from my Farsi any trace of accent, imported the imagery of Persian verse into English prose, I had thought, then the feeling of displacement would go away. [....' I didn't want to accept that displacement was an inescapable reality of a life between two worlds." Azadeh pg. 243

Azadeh Moaveni is a journalist who has worked for Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times. She was born in Palo Alto, California, where there was a thriving community of Iranians. They didn't view themselves as immigrants, more like "victims of the diaspora", they would one day return to Iran, when the government eased up on its oppression. Azadeh felt caught between two worlds, her American upbringing often clashed with her family's more traditional Iranian beliefs. She didn't always notice or care about the culture clash, but while in college, it became glaringly obvious that there were some serious differences between Iran and America. after graduation, Azadeh moved to Tehran to work as a journalist. While in Iran she learns about the 'rebellious' youth who throw parties, go skiing and try and fight the Islamic regime in any way that she can. She becomes a part of this world, the world of the Iranian youth who are fighting to bring modernity to Iran.

This book is an absolute treat to read. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm one of those Americans that the author rallies against. She talks about how people would ask her questions (upon her return from Iran) like "were you allowed outside?", etc. I would never ask that question, but I would probably wonder at how much freedom (and fun) a person could have living in Iran. Truth be told, I've never really thought about it. But in my Comparative Politics class we studied Iran's history and I wanted to get a better picture of what modern-day Iran was like in order to be prepared for class. Lipstick Jihad was on our summer reading list so I decided to read it (on my own) while we studied Iran in school. It blew my mind. I have nothing to compare it to but I think the author does such a great job of reflecting Iran's struggle to become modern (the Islamic Regime wants to keep Iran firmly Islamic and traditional, many of the young people want to see Iran embrace modern times). Azadeh has lots of family in Iran and through them (along with her job) she meets many new people. Through these people, she begins attending parties. At the parties, people are drinking, doing drugs, having public displays of affection and essentially doing everything that they are forbidden by law to do. Granted many of the parties she attends are held by the middle and upper classes, but even the working class participate in acts of rebellion, in their own way. There are loud celebrations held in the streets during religious festivals, days the religious leaders have declared sacred but the crowds are too large for the police to force them to settle down.

It's difficult to review a memoir because I've found that I often want to comment more on the content, than the writing. I do want to share two things that I learned that I probably never would have discovered if it weren't for this book. The author is looking for a gym to work out in and she discovers one for the rich. Men and women are allowed to work out there but there are "ladies' hours" and "gentleman's' hours." The women could only work out from nine in the morning till two o'clock. Obviously the women were not expected to have jobs (the author calls it the "mistress gym" because many of the women were mistresses of the religious clerics). Furthermore, none of the other women were there to work out. They mostly gossiped while walking leisurely on treadmills. Eventually the author finds a gym that will suit her, one in which toe women actually sweat as well as chat. There were also classes held at instructor's homes, including yoga and aerobics. I have to admit, I was surprised that gyms were even allowed. On a different note, I was struck by the idea of temporary marriage. Apparently in order to fulfill their most intimate needs, people would enter a temporary marriage, called sigheh. Only men can initiate them however and they "can be as short as fifteen minutes, and the vows can be exchanged in fifteen seconds." (pg. 73). It was started by clerics who wanted a theological excuse to sleep with as many women as possible, but after the revolution of 1979, everyone started getting a sigheh. It was especially useful for dating couples who were not allowed to hold hands or even appear together on the street, if they participated in any of such activities, they could be arrested. The men would be thrown in jail and/or beaten and the women would most likely be raped.

Lipstick Jihad is an eye opening read that should be required reading for anyone who wants to visit/work/live in Iran. The author covers many topics ranging from fashion, dating, entertainment, politics, and the arts. Interspersed throughout the book is information about Iran's rich history and eagh chapter starts off with an Iranian poem. The author seems to write candidly about her family, her mother is committed to social justice, although she is not liberal on issues relating to dating or any other freedom of young people. Her father wants nothing to do with Iran after the Islamic regime comes into power. Both parents present two different opinions on Iran and it's very interesting to read about. The author is genuine and her writing is fused with humor (I rellay liked the titles of her chapters, one of them was called I'm Too Sexy For My Veil. Which is both sad and funny), but she's clearly not telling this story simply to entertain. She wants to educate all of us Westerners who remain blissfully ignorant of Muslim/Iranian/Middle Eastern culture. Clearly we can no longer afford to be so ignorant, and I adored this book so I would recommend it to everyone. It never grew too tedious and I never suffered from information overload. The writing is concise, the story unique and her ultimate conclusions about life in Iran and America are both enlightening and obvious.

Disclosure: From the wondrous library :)

Throwback Thursday is hosted by Take Me Away Reading


  1. I read this, Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis, and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, all in the same year, and it was interesting getting the perspective of a memoir from women who had three different experiences in Iran. (Reading Lolita was the hardest to read of the three for me; a lot of it is about reading classics of western literature, and I wanted to know more about Iran. But at the same time, Nafisi's perspective is of an older woman and a professor who has contact with an interesting cross-section of society, so it was a valuable perspective to read.)

  2. I love reading books about Iran. It's such a fascinating country because the regime is so oppressive, but the country has this irrepressible history of literature and poetry and philosophy and scholarship. Fascinating! And this book sounds excellent.

  3. I bet you would enjoy Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It was excellent.

    Also this blew your mind? I am SO adding this to my wishlist. It sounds awesome. Also, very informative, but in an interesting way. I love reading about the Middle East and Islam, because there are so many misconceptions that it's nice to have them cleared up, so I'm not running around spouting ignorance.


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