Thursday, October 9, 2008

"The Ayatollah Begs to Differ"

Hooman Majd was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1957, and educated in the West. He has written about Iran for GQ, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and the New York Observer, and was executive vice president at Island Records and head of film and music at Palm Pictures. He is a contributing editor at Interview magazine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, and reported the following:
“….A middle-class family, religious but educated and wise to the ways of the world, if only through their television screen, they were far more concerned with the more mundane aspects of life, even though they stubbornly continued to live in a house that should have long ago given way to a modern apartment building, with perhaps a nice penthouse for them, the owners of the land underneath….”

So begins page 69 of my book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. If it reads like fiction, rather than a policy book or an analysis of modern Iranian politics, that was my intention. Iran continues to be a mysterious place in the eyes of most Westerners, and few people know exactly who these Iranians, who are supposed to our enemies, are. As an Iranian-American writer with a love for both countries and cultures, I’ve long wanted to give Westerners a glimpse into the lives of Iranians; show who they are, and show how they became who they are. Although my book includes portraits of leading political players and my experiences with them, it is not a political book, and my hope is that the reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions about a country and a people (and their motivations) that we seem to know so little about.

Page 69 is at the beginning of the chapter “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Qom,” an account of my visits to one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam, the Vatican of Shiism, if you will. But Qom is not just mullahs and mosques; ordinary people, albeit perhaps more religious than average, live there, and their lives involve the mundane, the dramatic, and, in the case of the family I describe on page 69, heavy drug use. Opium, that is, long the drug of choice in Iran.

The page might be considered representative of the book in that it combines personal experience and observation with historical perspective, in my attempt to explain Iran and its people to Westerners. Iran is a country often misunderstood; Iranians even more so, and hopefully readers will find that Iran is far a more nuanced country than it is normally portrayed to be.

Excerpt from page 69:

….A noise from the yard signaled the arrival of other guests; an older man and his toothless young companion carrying a heavily crumpled plastic bag pushed aside the sheet and entered the room. Grateful that I wasn’t to be the sole source of amusement, I stood up as introductions were made and as the young daughter quickly fled to the safety of other rooms where strange, meaning non-familial, men are not allowed. The men shuffled in, the younger one saying his hellos and nodding while the older man gestured, apologizing for the lack of vocal chords, I understood. Although they had been removed recently in an operation, our host told me, the man seemed quite nonchalant about it and even accepted a cigarette proffered by his companion. He sat down on the carpet, lit his cigarette, and began to prepare for what I knew was to be the afternoon activity and part of the reason for the lifestyle of the family: smoking shir’e….
Read an excerpt from The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, and learn more about the book and author at Hooman Majd's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue