I love literary fiction and humor. Lately I've been reading books set in Iran and other countries outside of the U.S. I taught English and World Literature at a community college for many years. My doctorate is in Comparative Literature.
I bought “A Hundred Veils”, a novel by Rea Keech, because it was about Iran, or Persia, where I lived for two years of my youth at about the same time as the author. I found that the book was true, authentic.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the interactions with Iranians were the same as those that I had experienced. The main character, an American Peace Corps volunteer named Marco, arrived in Iran with the wide-eyed curiosity as I did when I was twenty-two years old.
Marco meets Mastineh, and through a web of misunderstanding and missed cues they fall in love. This is the part of the novel that explains their love affair and that part of Iran that Americans don’t tend to get. You have to be humble when you place yourself in a country different from your own. Marco was fortunate, even gifted, in that he had that humility.
Although I did not fall in love while in Iran, it would have been easy to do so. Iranians are a beautiful people who inhabit a beautiful land. I can see where Marco fell for Mastineh. It helps when you fall in love with a girl from another country to fall in love with her country, too.
“A Hundred Veils” is replete with references to Persian poetry, and Rea Keech provides us with a guide as a reference for the reader to explore more of the poems he mentions. He refers us to Hafez, Sa'di, Attar, and Rumi.
Persia is so rich in culture with a continual history that reaches back thousands of years, causing us to be unable to comprehend it all at one time. “A Hundred Veils” parts that veil of incomprehensibility while still leaving a path of mystery for the reader to explore on his own.
I would recommend that anyone who works with Iranians or other Middle Easterners or Muslims in general to read Keech’s novel. Also, anyone marrying into an ancient culture finding its way to modernity also should read this book. I would compare it to “Shogun” by James Clavell. “A Hundred Veils" might be considered also as a possible movie as well.
As an Iranian, I was attracted to this book by the beautiful picture of our Mount Damavand on the cover and by the title, a phrase from a famous poem of Rumi. This is a novel about a young American living in Iran when the anti-Shah forces were just beginning to gather strength. I now live in the States but lived in Tehran at the time when the story is set, and I find the picture of the people and culture very accurate. This is a moving story of an inter-cultural love affair, but it is also very funny. The novel gives a lot of insight into one aspect of Iranians that isn’t often recognized in America, their sense of humor. “I like the way Iranians can laugh at themselves,” Marco, the American, tells the girl he has fallen in love with. I picked this book up to see how an American would integrate Persian poetry into a story of political intrigue and cultural differences (and that is done very well), but I found myself captivated by the forbidden love affair between Marco and Mastaneh as well as the contrasting love between Marco’s friend Farhad and Fatimeh, also apparently doomed from the start. I believe any Americans who read this story will come away with a better understanding of what Iran and its people are like.
A Hundred Veils by Rea Keech was a delightful listen; I am grateful to the author for providing this title via the LibraryThing giveaway and thought the narration was great. An author who can read their own work well is always a treat and never a given.
This is the story of a young American professor who goes to Iran to teach English in the 1960s and ends up at the University of Tehran. He immerses himself into the culture and eventually falls in love with his Iranian roommate's cousin (whose love story deservedly gets just as much airtime, if not more). Not fully knowing what to expect, and because the synopsis references the Shah's reign and the leadup to his overthrowing, I was waiting for the book to turn sharply into the bounds of political turmoil at the halfway point. However, this did not happen (no spoilers), and instead the book continued its light, romantic, comedic, mildly dramatic tone right until the end.
Highlights for me included: lovely yet straightforward prose strongly rooted in place; descriptions of a world new to me; a moving romance; a brisk pace made up of engaging chapters; and a beautiful bookending of themes.
I have a little theory that when people write memoirs, they often give things about themselves away. I think that the same might be true of roman a clef/bildungsroman books, as well–or actually, perhaps the opposite: that if a character is representative of oneself, it might be easier to under-develop them, because you don't necessarily do the due diligence of figuring out and overanalyzing every aspect of them, because you already have a pretty good idea. If my theory holds any weight (I have to read more to discern it), that might be the case for a brief reflection at the very end on the part of our protagonist that feels out of step with the character's stated motivations up until that point.
This book is the most polished self-published book I've ever read, and can stand its own against conventional titles. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a little bit of romance, history, and culture.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a young english professor Marcos travels and experiences in the 1960's in Iran. Pretty much the first thing he does when he arrives is to promptly fall in love with his friend Farhads beautiful and charming cousin, Mastaneh. Iran is a different world for Marco, men can do anything, women cannot. He tries to point out this discrepancy to Farhad, but Farhad has been raised to think of any woman who is 'friends' with a man is a whore and not worth knowing. Marco and Mastaneh keep their relationship secret. During this tumultuous time in history there is a lot of political unrest. The Shah is barely holding on to power, religious zealots, communists and others abound. The times were changing in Iran and many Iranians especially the poorer farmers and peasants did not like it. The Shah had tried to modernize his country, however he left behind these poorer folks and there was much resentment. There is a sweet soft humor to this story that I really enjoyed. Marco is adopted by his Iranian friends and grows to love not only Mastaneh, but the country itself. Highly recommended. ****.5 Stars
Rea Keech has written a novel that informs, inspires and delights. A Hundred Veils is a love story that takes place in 1968 Iran. The protagonist is Marco, a young American teaching English at the University of Tehran for the International Teachers Association. As Keech served with the Peace Corps in Iran at the same time, his novel necessarily draws much of its verisimilitude from his experiences there.
Of all the books Peace Corps Worldwide’s editor offered me to review, I immediately chose this book. My family and I have just left the United Arab Emirates after 7 years of contented living, and I am eager to read anything about the Middle East. I miss the Emiratis’ generosity, their keen sense of humor and Bedouin sensibility, even the pageant of religious history still played out every day. However, like many Americans, I knew of Iran only through popular U.S. media and a smattering of geography lessons. I learned quite a bit from the novel.
In A Hundred Veils Keech describes what living in Tehran was like in the late 1960s, when public opinion regarding religion, gender issues, education and government was pulled in many directions. When I asked him about the political environment at the time, he put it this way: “There was a lot of resentment of the Shah for the reasons you mention [the Pahlavis had too much money, and the regime was kowtowing to the West], but all the resistance was underground, not very obvious or organized. There were still nationalists who resented the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mossadeq and put the Shah in power. There were also lots of people who supported the Shah.” He added that it would have been difficult then to imagine that the Shah would be deposed in 1979. One of the most charming aspects of A Hundred Veils is Keech’s inclusion of Persian poetry. He cites lines from classical poets Hafez, Rumi, and Attar at the start of each chapter, and other lines are spoken in loving murmurs and notes throughout the story. Keech says the main female character “hearkens back to the Sufi idea that the relationship between lover and beloved on earth reflects the love of god, and that this kind of relationship is on a higher, holier level than literal adherence to any religious precepts.” This notion supports her when the love she feels for Marco conflicts with her culture’s expectations.
Here is one beautiful passage: Oh Lord, whose house is this That lights a candle in my heart? Ask who this charmer is who set my soul on fire.
And another: Lovers, oh lovers, the time to migrate from the world has come. The drum of heaven is sounding the departure in your soul.
Keech has written several other books, as yet unpublished, and his experience shows. The plot of A Hundred Veils moves along evenly, and he rapidly changes from scene to scene (more than 70) with the various interpersonal dramas he has set up. There is no waste in the novel. His characters are rounded, and all inform the plot and sub-themes. In fact, I had become so involved with the characters that I asked Keech if he could tell me what happens after the story’s last page. Sadly, he’s not telling.
above average romance story of a young male American teacher in Iran just prior to Iranian overthrow of Shah who falls in love with the cousin of his Iranian roommate. Explains a lot about the difference in perception of culture and society between Western and Iranian.
I enjoyed the concept of this novel and appreciated the attention to details that we were given into the lives of the characters, especially given the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, which I only knew vaguely from past memoirs and a chapter or two in history books. While I was certainly sucked into the world that Keech lays out, there were moments that felt a little too overwrought for my usual fare. Some parts, such as the dangers of being American in Iran during this conflict felt overshadowed by the melodrama of this relatively love-sick fool on his mission abroad. I really wanted to love this more, but the prose never truly captured my attention and the dialogue provided stilted ruminations on life, love and traditions, which I wish had provided insights into the minds of these turbulent times, but seemed to play out the plight of any person at any time trying to live out some forbidden love story, that probably could have taken place anywhere.
After reading the author's biography where he mentioned having recently been reading books set in Iran and that he taught English and World Literature, this book made so much more sense to me. It accounts for how literary-minded it wanted to be. Between the lover's secret book seller's hideaway and parents who wanted Mastineh and her sisters to be well-read, it casually tosses around verses of poetry by Rumi, Attar and Hafez, which felt fitting.
I have to say, the piece of the puzzle that brought this rating down for me was actually the narration by Keech unfortunately. There are some who can provide nuanced voices to build a world and there are some who can rip you out of a scene just as easily and I found Keech to be of the latter group. He has my timid vote for his characters who were men, but anytime that he tried to provide a woman's voice, it came across much like a geriatric octogenarian, not some young teenage ingenue on the cusp of her first romance, or a sister who is barely older or younger than our heroine. And while Farhad was there for many a comic moment, his "voice" felt a little too reminiscent of Yogi Bear and I kept expecting him to say "Hey boo boo, let's go get us a pic-a-nic basket" like a morning cartoon, or the caricature of an actual person. (You gave it a go, now find a pro.)
Thanks to Real Nice Books, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Audiobooks for the ARC audiobook via NetGalley.
Thank you to NetGalley for access to this audiobook
The Islamic revolution in Iran did not arise out of thin air. For years, the country had seethed with repressed resentment of the Shah's heavy-handed, authoritarian policies. Illegal societies operated underground, some tracing back to the beginning of the Shah's reign. Nationalists, socialists, Marxists, and Islamic leftists and reformers--all with somewhat different agendas--juggled for influence and support. The universities, mosques, and tea houses were filled with discussions that ranged from the theoretical to the seditious. This novel presents a heart-warming picture of the Iranian people who befriend, guide, love, and laugh at Marco, a young American teaching at the University of Tehran when forces opposing the Shah were gathering strength. Marco naively assumes at first that U.S. help is wanted and appreciated by the Iranians, but soon he comes to see himself--in the eyes of some--as an instrument of the West's arrogant assertion of control. And then he falls in love.
The story for this was interesting and was a nice glance into a period of history not often covered in books. The narrator at times was a bit grating at times and left the story disjointed at times, I think a physical book would be the rest format to read this in
A very enjoyable novel set in Iran during a period of unrest in the 1960’s. Marco an English professor arrives in Iran to teach English at the university. His roommate Farhad introduces him to his family and Marco is besotted by Farhad’s cousin Mastaneh. In Iran during this time, woman are not able to interact freely with men and if they do their reputations are tarnished. Mastaneh is also attracted to Marco and they continue to meet in secretly and fall in love. The novel is also intertwined with two other love stories.Farhad is having a relationship with a married woman whose husband is divorcing her. He loves her but believes that his friends and family will think badly of him if he marries her. Marco tells him, if he loves her he should marry her. Another teacher that Marco is friends with invites Marco to visit him and announces that he is going to marry a girl he has chosen by just looking at her. Marco assists him with translating to the girls parents. A very sad ending. A wonderful novel of Iran, its people and culture during the 1960’s. Romance, culture and even humor. I listened to the audiobook and very much enjoyed the narrator. Many thanks to the Library Thing for an opportunity to read.
A story about Marco who went to Iran to teach English. It was a very difficult time when the Shah was in power, many demonstrations and protests, shouting "Death to America". Religious and political turmoil, language barriers (Although he knew Farsi, he still faced difficulties), cultural differences. Through all of this, he fell in love with an Iranian lady. They faced many difficulties throughout the book. During a powerful earthquake, a twist of fate came for the two of them. Rea Keech does it again! He gets me to read books outside of my typical genre. Rea's own experiences while living and teaching in Iran lends so much character and credibility to the book. Rea Keech never disappoints!
I picked this book up as part of my effort to read more diverse books. It centers on a young American English teacher who falls in love with an Iranian girl at the University of Tehran in the 70s. It wasn’t until I’d finished reading it, and finally read the About the Author, that I discovered the author is actually local to me. And I mean VERY local. As in my county library system had an event starring him THREE DAYS PRIOR to my reading the book! So I’m a little annoyed that I missed that, as I’d love to know just how much of the storyline was based on his experience in Iran. (He did actually spend some time in Iran with the Peace Corps, and the book is based off that.)
The book is also the winner of the 2017 Maryland Writers’ Association Novel Contest for their Literary/Mainstream category. (And now that I know that’s a thing, I might have to read the winners of the other five categories!)
On to the actual review! So the book is set at the very beginning of the Iranian Revolution – Marco is an American English teacher who’s come to Iran for a year. While there, he falls in love with his roommate’s cousin. The book is really their love story, while surrounded by political and religious unrest.
The writing is excellent. I’m sure I would get more out of the book if I could read Farsi, as each chapter is begun by a few lines of poetry in Farsi, written in both Arabic script and English letters. But the pacing is perfect, the descriptions apt – I really enjoyed this book except for one thing.
He sleeps with the girl he loves, without having made a decision as to if they’ll actually be together. He’s not sure he wants to stay in Iran. She doesn’t want to leave. And he sleeps with her anyway. My immediate thought was “You might love her, but you don’t care about her very much.” At the time, it seems like it was more of a dishonor, rather than an outright death sentence for the girl, but it still would basically condemn her to a life of prostitution at best, if he declined to marry her.
Perhaps I’m more aware of how dire those consequences are than most people who might read the book – though the shame she could face is mentioned in the book. My husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, and spent years learning about their culture. He’d come home and talk about things he’d learned, so I absorbed a lot of it as well. So the fact that the main character slept with her with no plan for their future kind of pissed me off. It wouldn’t be HIM that faced consequences for it, after all.
And yes, it was the 70s, before a lot of the religious extremism took hold – there was, in fact, a lot of enforced secularism. Women at the University were banned from wearing chadors in class, and shared classes with men. It’s actually really disturbing, seeing how secular a lot of the Middle East was in the 70s, and then to see how far they regressed socially in the following decades.
Besides the thoughtlessness of Marco in this matter, I really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of the things my husband told me about Afghanistan. I’d really like to get a chance to ask the author some questions, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for any other events he might do.
I absolutely misjudged this novel, but I'm glad that I did - that made the touching moments that much better. The straightforward, almost removed lens through which we look allows the writing and imagery to work for itself, without sensationalizing. I loved it.
I did not actually read this. I started, with good intentions, but found it too far from my own experiences in Iran to be credible. The lead character seemed superficial or not interesting or ... Too much time has passed for me to remember the elements of my distaste, actually.
Marco is teaching at the University of Tehran, he is learning about the culture, religion and the people in this foreign land. Farhad is his colleague and his best friend is there to teach him the Irainian customs, religion and ways of life. Soon Marco starts to fall in love with Farhad's sister Mastaneh. This becomes a challenge since it is basically unheard of for and Iranian woman to be with a foreigner.
Well written , moving at a steady pace, with well developed characters.I was able to feel the emotions of each person, and (really) get a feel of life in Iran. A heart-felt story of uforbidden love, friendship, and the trials of living in a a war torn country. I was dran in from the first page. I highly recommend A Hundred Veils .
The first chapter drew me into the story. The author’s depictions of Marco’s initial impressions from the time the plane landed in the Shiraz airport to finding himself on the balcony of the Pahlavi University dormitory captured my attention immediately. This young American teacher has incredible, believable cultural experiences complete with friendship, humor, sadness and ultimately love in a country that started out to be so foreign to him. It does not take long to see and feel the characters, as Rea Keech is a master at character descriptions along with dialogue. Throughout this book, I was mentally transported into the situations and conversations; feeling as an inside observer. A Hundred Veils is a real page-turner.
I enjoyed reading this first novel. I had many other heavier readings to do this week and kept expecting a negative to come in this story. I read this novel with no advance info about the author or the book. I think I expected a usual Nicolas Sparks ending. When the endings were not that way I felt lighter and happier yet wondering if it was a real Iranian ending.
Well worth reading. The story captured my interest and the details reminded me of what life was like back in the 70s in the Shah's Iran. The reality pictured here might be a surprise to the western reader.