17 December 2010

Lipstick Jihad, by Azadeh Moaveni

I got this book from a free box*, purely because it looked kind of interesting. I was a little skeptical, expecting a book tailor-made for a Western audience eager to hear about the "realities" of Iran, ie, how much better the US is. What a pleasant surprise this book was. The author is an Iranian-American woman who is raised in California, then moves to Iran. She writes about her bi-cultural upbringing with surprising subtlety and insight, acknowledging, for instance, how skewed her image of Iran has been, and how she continues to feel a sense of insecurity about her Iranian-ness. She's surprisingly open to self-criticism, and willing to admit somewhat unflattering things about herself. And she's a good writer, whose prose is enjoyable, if slightly self-indulgent/melodramatic at times.

Overall, there's this weird double bind to reading books like this one - on the one hand, I think people should know about different parts of the world and what life is like there. I especially think Americans should know about life in places they're at war with. And I think they should be confronted with why people don't like them (there's a really impressive moment where Moaveni talks about being shocked by her friends in Iran who were indifferent to 9/11. It's a bit diplomatic on her part, because it allows her to be outraged - not to say that she wasn't - while also presenting their rather seething critique, namely, that Americans have led to the death of thousands in the Middle East and not cared, so why should people in the Middle East care when lots of Americans die?). So anyways, yes, on the one hand, this book is a refreshingly bracing perspective on life in other places, with a bi-cultural narrator who can sort of present both sides of the equation, and I think that's great. On the other hand though, I am slightly uncomfortable with the presentation of the "exotic" Middle East as feel-good reading for a western audience. There's really nothing to be done about this dilemma, and I should add that Moaveni is, in a way, a book you can feel good about precisely because she IS on both sides of the coin, and is very self-aware of what that implies. And she seems careful to avoid the exoticizing tendency or the overly simplistic emotional draws (the kind that make Reading Lolita in Tehran feel so... gross). Overall - a very interesting book. Definitely worth reading.

*Ok, ok, ok. It wasn't a free box. It was a box collecting books for underprivileged children. I've been feeling so guilty about this that I feel compelled to announce my crime to all who will listen. If it helps at all, the only things I took were this and Bernard Williams' Shame and Necessity, and I attempted to compensate for it by giving the children a big bag of books in return. One of them was an A.A. Milne book I've owned since childhood - that was the real penance.


Anonymous said...


Welcome to my blog


culture_vulture said...

I generally delete comments whose contents are restricted to self-promotion, but given that the site being linked to in this case is a blog that has the full text of the author's book, which deals with the experiences of an American who has converted to Islam, I'll leave it be - it's thematically related, and may be of interest to readers of this review, I guess.