Kamin Mohammadi was nine years old when her family fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution. Bewildered by the seismic changes in her homeland, she turned her back on the past and spent her teenage years trying to fit in with British attitudes to family, food and freedom. She was twenty-seven before she returned to Iran, drawn inexorably back by memories of her grandmother's house in Abadan, with its traditional inner courtyard, its noisy gatherings and its very wallssteeped in history.The Cypress Tree is Kamin's account of her journey home, to rediscover her Iranian self and to discover for the first time the story of her family: a sprawling clan that sprang from humble roots to bloom during the affluent, Biba-clad 1960s, only to be shaken by the horrors of the Iran-Iraq War and the heartbreak of exile, and toughened by the struggle for democracy that continues today.This moving and passionate memoir is a love letter both to Kamin's extraordinary family and toIran itself, an ancient country which has survived so much modern tumult but where joy and resilience will always triumph over despair.
Since I would never visit most of the world, nor meet the people, my method of addressing the dream is to read books about the places. It is for this reason that I bought The Cypress Tree. It is a memoir. Yes. Very important. It is not a suspense thriller.
Memoirs, as we know, do not sweep us up into wonderland, speeding us into high octane, high speed actions or screaming adventures, totally disconnected from reality. Instead, memoirs is more often reality with the spotlight switch on, in such a way, that nothing can hide in the shadows and get away with it. Real people, with real names, real addresses. That is reality. Memoirs is almost always an effort to restore dignity and honour.
The Cypress Tree is the life story of Kamin Mohammadi, an Iranian young woman, who lived in exile in England for most of her young life and went back to her country many years later, after the sudden evacuation, thirty years earlier, of her family took them to a place of refuge without allowing her to say a proper goodbye. It left her without closure for most of her life. She shares her memories of adapting to a new country as a little girl, her decision to become British,her embarrassment for her country of origin, the relationship with her parents who tried to keep her connected to her roots, which she vehemently rejected, only to be captured by Iran on her first visit as an adult. She never visited the country in the interim.
She shares the soul of Iran in its most grandiose as well as lowest moments in an honest and direct way. And being from Iran, she introduces so many aspects of the customs, history and culture that is not so well known by the majority of westerners.
The first surprise for me, was to read about the rivers and forests, the wildflowers, the abundance of everything. I hopped over to Google and got blown away by a country I never imagined looking like that. Or rather, I saw a part of the story that my ignorance prevented me from knowing. I could have googled it a long time ago, right?
The book is written for a western audience and it is done very well. But the violence against the country's own people by its leaders is also spotlighted. The prose is exceptional for a memoir. It is above all a complete package of Iran, it's people, history, and cultures. No stone was left unturned. It is also written with grace and dignity, no confrontational tone of any kind, which makes it an easy, informative experience. And of course, as usual, I brought the text to life by romping around in images from the internet. Beauty, contrast and mystery galore: it's all there. Iran is much more than a moon landscapes of sand. Although I am dishing up many adjectives in my review, the text is an economical presentation of words by an experienced internationally known journalist as author. After all, I am neither a journalist nor a professional reviewer. The only boundaries in my reviews are the ones I set myself.
Of course, like the country, it is not only a tale of moonshine and roses. There is a harsh aridness everywhere, sometimes even in the text. But after finishing reading it, the reader walks away with a totally different idea about a country, we mostly got to know through high-voltage media hype, distorting history enough to scar us for the rest of our lives, if we do not make time to read books such as The Cyprus Tree. There are multiple, unexpected surprises, such as the Hollywood buzz, the European fashionistas on a colorful romp, the men's infatuation with Clark Gable, and the Fred Astaire dance-crazes. John Travolta's white wedding suit in Saturday Night Fever became a must-have for men as a wedding outfit.
She relates the different influences embedded into the everyday lives of the different rulers, including Mongolia, Rome, Britain and America. A history of a family is presented in a picturesque way. Some of it we know, but most of it is a discovery. It is so rich, diverse, and often in harsh contrast to what we thought we knew. The inhabitants themselves were exposed and forced to adopt foreign cultures in short periods of time that bulldozed them from one pole to the opposite with blood painting the streets red. A once colorful nation were violently manhandled to become a monochrome society full of fear and revolt. However, women's lives have changed and optimism is present in their social as well as their advanced academic conduct.They are prospering despite everything happening to their country. There is a slow, quiet, consistent evolution taking place.
Presented as a memoir, it gets a 5 star rating. It contains all the elements expected in this genre: Real family experiences, political evolution, cultural reflections, and the human interest elements with emotions behind it. It is also a short, but intense, glimpse into the role of oil. Come to think of it, has anybody ever tried to write a human impact book about this commodity apart from novels or memoirs like this? What kept me reading to the end was the consistent beautiful prose this memoir is presented with. A true gem!
She had difficulty in choosing between her beloved Iran and her adopted motherland Britain. At one point she thought it was safe to return and considered it seriously. She felt at home there. But in the end chose not to go, it was too dangerous. But she made a discovery about her bond to her mother, living permanently in London, which brought her peace and acceptance of her choice.
This tasteful, passionate, love letter to Iran keeps the reader grounded in reality but with a poetic twist the more her devotion to her country is shared. It's not a cheap thrill. It is a real life story presented to a world with honor and dignity. And one that should be read.
I actually paused this book after a few chapters and came back to it a few months later and I wish I read it sooner. Kamin transports you to a world that is exotic and beautiful and rich with culture. She takes you on her journey that is filled with heartache and longing and every page I turned made me yearn for my own motherland.
I will preface this post by saying I did check all the screws on my chair before starting.
I thought this book was a novel. It's not. It was a bit of a disappointment. Not the book as a whole. Just when you settle down to read a story and you know, you have a doona and a glass of wine and you've suspended your disbelief and are ready to be transported. Then 10 pages in you just go "Well, fuck." I don't dislike memoirs. I just prepare for them differently to novels. And as I have read a few lately I was ready for story land. While it wasn't the books fault, I felt like I had been slightly tricked into attending a function, and was then stuck up the front where it was just too awkward to leave.
Besides starting the book with the feeling that someone's great aunt has noticed my uncomfortableness and then daring me to leave with their crazy, judging, old lady eyes, it was not too bad. It was the story of the last hundred years or so of Iran through the stories of this woman and her family. She is an exile from Iran after the Islamic Revolution to the UK, and then tells the story of her family as she sort of rediscovers it, as she shunned it as a teenager in London in the 80s.
It provided a good insight into the history of Iran. She's a journo and so it makes it an accessible read. It explains how Iran has ended up how it is. While she is not a sympathiser with the Islamic Revolution at all, she does explain sympathetically how the country ended up how it is, and points out the benefits and dichotomies of the laws and the actions of the country and especially it's people.
What astounded me was that once again the meddling West (those meddling kids) once again played god with a country that they had no claim over, but then the country decided to stand up to the two big powers in the world and say "Nope, our stuff. Give us a fair price you bastards!". And so they, the West, overthrew a government through CIA and MI6 funding. And what did that do? It gave a little known religious leader in a small town a taste of power and money and a little bit of fame. He also then got exiled himself from Iran by the reinstated Shah, growing his infamy and followers over time. This guy? Oh you know, only Ayatollah Khomeini. The guy who lead the Islamic Revolution and made the most liberal Middle Eastern country the most concerning one. Good work (morons).
The issue of women's rights was really interesting too though. Women had the same rights for divorce in Iran as the men before the Revolution. They could work, study and dress in "wonderful" 70s fashion, miniskirts and all. While it is true now they can still study and work, this was banned for a while, then reinstated and now has resulted in this bullshit . They also had the legal marrying age for women at 18. Then they all revolted and such, had to rebuild their country from scratch and engaged in a war with their neighbours (Iraq). So first thing they changed? First? Women's rights and reduced the marrying age for women to 9. I do not comprehend. I cannot fathom a world that women are so feared, so needed to be controlled. I mean, ours is still pretty bad, but what kind of man gets into power and has war, famine, no public services, and no government to deal with and goes, "You know what's wrong with this country? I can't marry a 12 year old girl." Seriously?
All of that aside, I could have strangled the author more than once when she was all blah blah this happened blah blah and then the revolution happened but my auntie such and such cooked this wonderful thing with rose petals and let me tell you about that. Really? I'm sure you family is fantastic, but you know. Revolution. Kinda trumps dinner. And she was really disjointed at the beginning. I just wanted her to stick with one family or one person instead of jumping around. And maybe it was because I had problems with the names and keeping everyone straight. But I just felt she was like a 3 year old full of red cordial until half way through.
All being said and done, 3.5. I learnt a fair bit, but also felt like I was dealing with a kid with ADD again for the first 100pp. She does calm down, and you get a better understanding of what is happening. But a lot of people wouldn't stick with her.
Had so many expectations from the book but it was a disappointment from all fronts. Reminiscent of a privileged big Indian family shuffling between Delhi and London and boasting about their so called "good and respectable family", reeking of privilege and capital. Lack of insight, informative to the point that a simple reading of Wikipedia would have told me more about Iran than this book centered around Iran did. I honestly learnt more about Iran from reading an ICJ case about the Anglo-Iranian oil company than reading this balderdash.
This is a really interesting and complex memoir-meets-history with a beautiful sense of place and lovely turns of phrase. Bear with this book: just when you think Mohammadi's glasses are a bit too rose-tinted, she brings things back to reality.
It's not perfect, but it's a far more nuanced take on Iran than this American's ever had, and I wish it were more widely available stateside.
A wonderful positive memoir of the authors family, from 2 generations back. Details her own flight from Iran along with her parents right after the revolution in 1979, ending up in the UK, where the author decided to reject her iranian identiy for years, while accustoming to her new british life. The author then goes on to go back to Iran in the late 90's, and again regains the iranian identity and falls in love with Iran and its people.
Its a very affirming memoir, showing all the bright sides of Iran and its people, and how to cope with a repressive government trying to remove all hints of fun and color in life by force, and how the citizens does everything they can get away with to reject the governments rulings.
It depicts the wonderful side of iranians, that i can only recognize all too well from my own travel to the country. A very enduring and strong people, not allowing themselves to be repressed.
An interesting perspective on the Iranian revolution, the events leading up to it and the effect it had on people's lives. However, I struggled with the first half of the book as there were too many relatives and moving around from city to city and I had to keep flipping back to the front which had a map of Iran and a sort of family tree. If it weren't for that I would have lost interest.
I did enjoy the second half of the book when the author returns to Iran after many years of exile. Her perspective on the modern Iran I thought was very interesting and I gained a lot of insight.
All in all I gained knowledge about the people of Iran, its culture and its history.
Enjoyed this insight into one sprawling Iranian family's experiences of twentieth century Iran. If anything it could have been more in depth- a lot of issues were skated over in a paragraph when I really wanted to know more. There were numerous contradictions- but I guess that was her point- and at times I got infuriated with her assumption that her family's interactions were a uniquely Iranian phenomenon (coming from a sprawling British family I saw a lot that was familiar). But a good read, and the physical book is a beautiful addition to my shelves.
A successful Irani family seeks refuge in England at the start of the 1979 Revolution. The perspective is of the daughter of the family who leaves her motherland at age 9, intergrates with the Brits then reconnects with her extended family in her adulthood.
The story is a combination of autobiography and history. Each place visited is given an historical summary before launching into the various family members living there - and there are many.
Several important human issues are explored - religion, women’s right’s, modernity in a conservative land and the randomness of persecution in the aftermath of a changing government. What was allowed and considered appropriate is suddenly reversed. I learned alot about Iran from reading this book.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes learning about other cultures, women’s rights and experiences of those living in conservative places.
An interesting perspective on the Iranian revolution and what happened to both those who left (and lived in exile in the west) and those who stayed. The author has a very nostalgic view of the Shah's Iran, she admits the flaws, but her family was unusually wealthy and successful - so she has a memory of carefree, wonderful days that probably are far from the day to day toil of the average pre-revolutionary Iranian. By going back she is able to challenge her nostalgic memories and understand today's Iran and Iranians, but it's always flavored by her tight-knit family and love of Persian culture. A good addition to books by the Iranian diaspora.
A really interesting insight of an adult's reflection on being a refugee, aged nine, from Iran during the 1979 revolution. The author moves backwards and forwards in time. Adequately written, and very moving, but not lyrical writing.
This was such an interesting book. As someone who has been to Iran before, and has been captivated by the charm of the country and its citizens, I found that this book provides a very nuanced picture of Iranian society. If all you know about Iran is based on what you read on the papers, then this book would be a positive surprise.
See, that was my frame of mind when I first visited Iran back in September 2016. Of course I had this idea that there's more to Iran than what one typically reads in the papers, but I still hadn't had a grip of how different reality might be on the ground. It produced a buzz, this weird sense of excitement, when I was on that trip. I remember pinching myself wondering how it can be real, that I was cruising in a bus watching a Farsi-Portuguese comedy and laughing with it, three hours after landing in Imam Khomeini International Airport, driving through the desert. I remember being floored by the honesty of people, like that taxi driver who went out of his way to give me back the correct change, when I didn't have a small bill and so I overpaid, when come to think of it I only overpaid a very small amount if you convert it to Euros. There's definitely more to this land than meets the eye, and this book gives a very good account of it.
This book is essentially Kamin Mohammadi's biography. It's her account of her family's experiences before and after the Islamic Revolution. Of course, not everything is pretty, I won't deny that, but what is impressed on me here is the general character of the Iranian folk: it's resilience and malleability, facing whatever challenges get thrown its way with dignity. Just like a cypress tree, it can bend and still sustain itself.
Another reason why I like this book is because of the author's multi-cultural background. Like the author, I also cannot identify fully within one culture. I moved a lot as a child, and so I cannot see myself being contained within one culture, as limited by one's passport. It's more accurate for me to describe myself as a little bit of this and a little bit of that, taking bits and pieces of the various cultures that I have inhabited throughout the years.
In any case, Iran is definitely a country I strongly consider visiting again. There's plenty of regions I haven't explored yet, and yes, the people is its main attraction. This book provides a very precise backdrop to the Iranian psyche: if you know an Iranian personally, then reading this book would perhaps give you more context.
I find it interesting that there are plenty of people in the West who would easily jump to conclusions: those who immediately would think that Iran is the enemy, that Iran is the Axis of Evil, that Iran oppresses women because of mandatory hejab, et cetera. But there's no context. Take the hejab issue for example. There was a time when women in Iran were forbidden from covering their hair, because the Shah wanted his country to modernise. While I also disagree with the mandatory hejab rule, I also keep in mind that this is more or less a reaction to an earlier prohibition against covering, which made women barricade themselves within their houses because they didn't want to walk the streets without a head covering.
Iranians carry plenty of emotional baggage, and this book explains to some extent why. If you want to understand a little bit more about this very fascinating society, then perhaps this book is for you. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
Vorrei iniziare a dire la mia con una premessa: quando ho acquistato, e poi iniziato a leggere, questo libro credevo fosse un romanzo. Solo dopo mi sono accorta che si tratta di un romanzo storico e autobiografico. Kamin Mohammadi ci racconta la storia dell'Iran attraverso le generazioni della sua famiglia, dai suoi bisnonni a lei. Se lo avessi saputo prima, anziché iniziare così all'improvviso avrei fatto qualche piccola ricerca sull'Iran e la sua storia e capire meglio. Nonostante la mia ignoranza in materia l'autrice è stata in grado di farmi capire molto bene la storia dell'Iran grazie alla sua scrittura gradevole, delicata ma che arriva dritta al punto senza giri di parole. Kamin Mohammadi ci porta in Iran, un Iran a noi sconosciuto; fino ad ora lei pensa che l'Iran da lei conosciuto è sepolto da qualche parte nell'Iran che conosciamo noi oggigiorno. Mi è dispiaciuto che abbiano cambiato il titolo originale (The Cypress Tree, L'albero di cipresso) poiché era molto più adeguato alla storia, direi azzeccatissimo. Kamin Mohammadi inizia a raccontarci la storia della sua famiglia e dell'Iran dagli inizi del '900, ci parla dello scià e della dinastia Pahlavi; durante questa dinastia l'Iran stava "meglio", sono state apportate delle modifiche nel Paese come ad esempio l'istruzione e il diritto di voto per le donne. Peccato però che questo paese, ricco di petrolio, sia sempre stato sottomesse da altri grandi potenze - come l'America e la Gran Bretagna; un paese sottomesso anche dal punto di vista religioso e di pensiero. Quando però l'ayatollah Khomeini, fuori Iran, si fa strada nel cuore del popolo scoppia una rivolta. Khomeini si fa amare dal popolo grazie alle belle parole e alle sue promesse di un Iran migliore, promettendo al popolo un pozzo di petrolio per ogni giardino, promettendo di non prendere il comando, il potere in Iran. Ma quando lo scià verrà cacciato e Khomeini rientrerà in Iran, prendere il potere sarà la prima cosa che farà. Sottometterà il popolo dell'Iran ancora di più; scoppierà una guerra contro l'Iraq che porterà avanti senza motivo anche quando un motivo quasi non c'è più. Nel frattempo la famiglia Mohammadi si trasferirà a Londra poiché Bagher, il padre, verrà denunciato come una persona che è contro la rivoluzione. Mentre la guerra in Iran continua e il popolo iraniano continua a piegarsi senza spezzarsi (come il cipresso, albero loro originario!), Kamin e Armin Mohammadi si ritroveranno in un paese loro sconosciuto, con lingua, cultura e tradizioni loro sconosciute. Ma si abitueranno e la loro adolescenza non verrà sconvolta dalla guerra; dovranno però patire l'isolamento, dovranno crearsi una maschera nuova ma piena di paura. Un libro davvero bello, ci mostra l'Iran come mai l'abbiamo visto. Ricco di paesaggi bellissimi ormai pieni di rovine, ricco di cibi gustosi e tradizioni divertenti.
I think this book advocates for how complicated 'culture' is, but why it is so enriching to learn as much about these complications as possible, and why personal anecdotes are such a crucial part of this world. I've read this cover to cover but I feel like I should keep it as a reference copy as there are a lot of nuances that might take a little while or another (few) read(s) to give the engagement they deserve. But the style is so impressive, a story of a big family, with big hearts in a complicated society with a tricky and ongoing history. And I certainly feel it's a good piece to keep in mind by way of refugee/diaspora experiences too. All that is to say, I suppose, it feeds well into the identity piece from the personal angle (i.e. the most important one).
Particular touches I liked: -snippets of how much Iranians like to have fun (e.g. wearing colourful clothes, how they make fashion for hebab, how they flirt at religious festivals, how Kamin queued for every nightclub, how the family spend entire nights gossiping and laughing -testimonies of being a refugee in Britain "To this day, ev n when welding my British passport, a knot of apprehension tightens around my belly as I approach immigration. I have still not completely shaken the refugee who is convinced her safety and security is in the hands of the stamp-brandishing officers" -all descriptions of food
As questions to the translator, here I'd be asking the author about questions about the words that she chose to leave in Farsi. I really enjoyed the explanations she gave for some, especially e.g. ghahr ("It's closest meaning is 'sulking' but that implies altogether too petty and childish a thing, whereas ghahr is a formalised ritual that is so much a part of the honour-bound and proud Iranian system of interaction that it carries a kind of epic quality") and then I see many others are cultural, political, timely and more even I suspect just because they felt right.
I liked this book. Mohammadi introduces many aspects of the customs, history and culture of Iran that are not that well known by most westerners. She also talks about the rich and diverse history of her family. Her family was unusually wealthy and successful - so she had a memory of carefree, wonderful days that probably were far from the everyday toil of the average Iranian. Then the revolution happened. She talks about how people suffered, and how they were forced to adopt foreign cultures within a short period of time. She tells how the nation was violently manhandled and became a society full of fear and revolt … Then in her next breath, she’s back talking about her auntie cooking this wonderful thing with rose petals and goes on and on about how wonderful her family was. It felt disjointed. I struggled with the first half of the book as there were too many relatives and too many moves from city to city. I kept flipping back to the front of the book to the map of Iran, which helped. The general character of the Iranian people impressed me with their resilience and flexibility with whatever challenges got thrown their way. I did enjoy the second half of the book better when Mohammadi describes the country after returning to Iran after many years of exile. I thought her perspective on modern Iran was interesting. But for me, this book was more like a biography than a story about Iran.
La storia dell'Iran pre e post rivoluzione, attraverso le vicende personali dell'autrice. Ma sinceramente non ci sono emozioni, manca qualsiasi interesse nel leggere questo libro perché tutto questo è già stato scritto e riscritto. Speravo magari in qualche colpo di scena, qualche episodio significativo, qualsiasi cosa che facesse decollare il racconto, invece è pieno zeppo di personaggi (tre generazioni della sua famiglia) e tutto ciò non fa che confondere: si fa fatica a capire persino chi è chi. Mi aspettavo di più. Ultima nota: mi chiedo sempre perché la traduzione italiana debba stravolgere il titolo originale.
Beautiful, informative, and emotional, The Cypress Tree has helped me see and better understand a culture both foreign to me and misrepresented (like so many non-Christian, non-white cultures) in my childhood history texts. Misrepresentations now deeply entrenched in American culture. Kamin Mohammadi tells her family’s stories with humor and tenderness. She writes powerfully of her hopes for the future of her beloved homeland and the wise and thoughtful women it contains. I’m so glad to have this book on my shelves.
Journalist Kamin left Iran with her mother, sister and father in 1979. She was just ten years of age and struggled to leave behind her huge close-knit family in Iran for the life of an immigrant family in Britain. It was twenty years later before Kamin returns to Iran and the journey was her opportunity to learn about her family’s history and the effect of the Iran-Iraq war on those they left behind.
A fascinating insight on a topic much discussed but very rarely understood from a human perspective. Recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the Middle East.
A great introduction to Iranian history and culture, told through the lifestories of the author's family members and ancestors. The book takes you through 20th century Iran, from the oil boom to the shah's glory years and later downfall, up until the 2000s - in a very personal, lively and colourful description of the country and its people.
Libro che parte benino, poi piano piano va a scemare. La storia del paese Iran devo dire che è trattata molto bene. Però c’è poco filo narrativo che alla lunga stanca il lettore facendone abbandonare prematuramente la lettura.