Jim's Reviews > In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs by Christopher De Bellaigue
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's review
Nov 03, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, middle-east
Read in August, 2008

I have had a fascination for Iran---I am not sure why. This is an outstanding memoir/history of life in Iran and an investigation into the culture of the Iranian people, from the viewpoint of an outsider with intimate understanding of the people. The author provides a wonderful glimpse into both daily life and customs, as well as insights into events that helped shape the people and country. A Brit, he married an Iranian woman and stayed. The totalitarian oppression experienced under the mullahs seems not too different from that during the days of the Shah and his Savak. I loved his explanation of the choreographed system of social expectations and manners, as well as the feeling of never knowing where one stands with the Iranians. I always wondered the same thing myself, having worked with nearly a dozen Iranians (mostly men, though I did date one Irainian women for a short, very short, period---only time I ever had to have a chaperone). In one case I literally put my job on the line defending one Iranian coworker from a racist comment from an influential patron, and yet I was never really trusted by him. The one I helped the most and knew the best, I thought, turned around and stole thousands of dollars (I was even questioned by FBI agents) before he returned home. I was amazed that none of the men seemed to agree on any point, especially politics and religion. They ran the gamut from rabid pro-Khomeni to fully Westernized secularist. Yet they always seemed open and eager to participate in local events and introduce me to Iranian ways (food as well as culture). They had wondeful senses of humor, and even the most religious of the group could have wicked and perceptive humor. I always believed that Iranians are fascinated by America (while hating our government), that large majorities really would prefer normalization of relations, and that many really just want to enjoy life without clerical oversight. I think the most fascinating chapters revolved around reformers and the brutal, secret oppression (and murders) they suffered. It is amazing how brave many of them can be. I enjoyed his discussion about the crappy cars (those built by Iranians). Some of the best stuff was about the fighting between Iran and Iraq, and the effect it had on many of the participants. I love the hypocrisy of so many Iranians as well, who find ways around restrictions. There are plenty of villans to despise as well.
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