Kim's Reviews > Saved by Beauty: Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran

Saved by Beauty by Roger Housden
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Aug 14, 11

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bookshelves: travel
Read from August 12 to 15, 2011

Roger Housden and I have something in common: a fascination with Iran which pre-dated going to that country. My own interest in Iran was of relatively recent date when I first travelled there in 2000. It had been awakened through my work only a few years before, whereas Housden - in his sixties when he went to Iran in 2008 - had been interested in the country since his youth. Housden and I also differed in the source of our fascination with the country: he came to his interest through an appreciation of the great Persian poets, I arrived there because of an interest in Iran's modern political history.

So it was with great anticipation that I started reading this book. I have now visited Iran twice - the second time in 2004 - and Housden went to some of the same places I visited on my own trips. His description of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd accorded with my memories of those cities. Because of the vividness of my memories and Housden's skill as a writer, it felt as if he was walking in my footsteps. Housden stayed in hotels I had stayed in, he drank tea in teahouses I had visited, he described locations in bazaars I had wandered in. However, as Housden described these places, I saw them again with fresh eyes. This is because he experienced them with an entirely different sensibility: he saw them through the eyes of a poet.

I enjoyed re-experiencing Iran through different eyes which saw things which I know so differently. I have read many books on Iran. However, most of them deal with the perspective with which I am most familiar - that is, the politics and the history of the country. Experiencing Iran - a country in which poetry is the major literary form - through the eyes of a poet was both refreshing and interesting. In addition, Housden writes well. His prose is clear and easy to read, but vivid and full of captivating imagery. Parts of his own history are woven into the narrative in an unforced manner and assist the reader to better understand the author's reaction to what he experiences Iran.

Housden does have his weaknesses as a chronicler of Iran. For example, his experience of the consequences of entering Iran with the intention of writing a book - with funding from an external source and which involved meeting a variety of prominent people who would be considered suspect by the reigning political elite - demonstrates his naivete about the political realities of the country. After all, this was Iran in 2008 - prior to the devastating effects of the most recent presidential election, but after the defeat of the reformist agenda in the election which saw Ahmadinejad become president.

I have some other quibbles with the book. There are, for example, problems in the way in which some Persian words are transliterated. However, these are minor problems which did not effect my overall appreciation of the work.

I would recommend this book to those wanting to learn something of Iran who have an appreciation for the poetic imagination. However, there are many better books to read for those who are interested in more detailed information about Iran's history and politics.
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45.0% "How strange it is to read this book. So far the writer has been to the cities in Iran that I have been to, stayed in a hotel I have stayed in, had tea in the same teahouses, seen the same sights. It's almost like he followed in my footsteps, four years after I was last there."
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Nice job, Kim.

It sounds like you had some wonderful experiences in this country. It's great you could re-experience those memories thru "different eyes".

message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Thanks Hannah. It is probably the most interesting place I've ever been. I would really like to go back some time, but the way things are there now I don't think it will be any time soon!

message 3: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Kim wrote: "I would really like to go back some time, but the way things are there now I don't think it will be any time soon!"

Yes. And that's a shame.
Maybe one day you can.

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