By Karinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 7, 2005
Azadeh Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian In America and American In Iran" provides an interesting and insightful glimpse into the Iranian world that is normally kept - like its women - under a veil.
Moaveni's clear voice helps the reader navigate through Iran's confused and unstable political and social landscape. Since learning Iranian history isn't a priority for most Americans, Moaveni catches the reader up on recent events that have led Iran to its current chaotic state. Her skills as a journalist shine as she is careful and patient in her writing, explaining non-western concepts and translating important Farsi words. At the same time, her tone is modern and witty - she describes a boisterous young man as waltzing into Iran with an "Eminem-flavored American attitude."
The narrative follows Moaveni, the California-born daughter of Iranian immigrants, as she goes on a quest to experience her homeland and to find her identity as an Iranian-American. In 2000, amid student uprisings and revolts against the Islamic government, Moaveni moves to Tehran to work as a journalist for Time magazine.
Once "home," she quickly realizes her romanticized old-world images of Iran have little in common with the harsh reality of the present.
The name "Lipstick Jihad," while clever, is slightly misleading. This isn't a fluffy or superficial book.
Moaveni tackles serious issues, including not only women's rights, but also Iran's lack of basic human rights and freedoms. As a journalist she experiences more freedom than most young unmarried women in Tehran, but she still experiences the chill of interrogation rooms, the sting of bruises from the morality police's wooden bats on her neck and back, and the constant anxiety of never knowing if loose wisps of hair or sandal-exposed toes are going to attract the attention of vigilante law-enforcers. One particularly chilling scene finds Moaveni and her aunt realizing that the mysterious nighttime noises they'd been hearing were the sounds of government-sanctioned torture being carried out in a supposedly-vacant nearby home.
Because a straight day-by-day description of modern Iranian life might be too intense and depressing, Moaveni intersperses her account of Iran's social and political climate with memoir. These glimpses into her home life, both in the United States and in Iran, provide welcome reprieves and let the reader know the author - and her immigrant identity crisis - more intimately.
A cast of family and friends is introduced, and in addition to providing material for entertaining anecdotes, they allow the reader to see more clearly the effect that living in such an unstable and harsh environment has on one's spirit.
Shortly after President Bush's 2001 declaration that Iran was one-third of the "axis of evil," life for a female American journalist in Tehran became unbearably dangerous, and Moaveni returned to the United States.
Here, as she alternately returns to her California Iranian-exile community and carves out a niche for herself amongst other young Iranian-Americans in New York, Moaveni begins to piece together the different aspects of her life and begins to make peace with her unique identity and role.
While the overall pacing of the book is good, at times the narrative slows or becomes redundant. We experience some of the same events over and over (i.e., celebrations-turned-police riots), which - though it may be accurate in that it represents the mundane everydayness of the unpleasant events - loses its shock value for the reader. Moaveni's repetition of some of her introspective questions, along with the constant references to "the diaspora" and sour-cherry juice, weigh down the narrative's pace. Even with these minor gaffes, the book reads far better than the average history book or current events exposť, and avoids the saccharine sentimentality that often plagues memoirs.
"Lipstick Jihad" is an enlightening and entertaining look into an evolving world that most of us know dangerously little about. Moaveni proves to be a likeable and capable guide, as well as a clean, skilled writer.
Learn something. Read this book.