Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, Hooman Majd

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran


Hooman Majd

Category: Nonfiction: Middle East; Living Abroad

Synopsis: Majd moves to Iran for one year with his wife and infant son.

Date finished: 2 June 2014

Rating: ****

I love reading books about Iran. It was once (and for centuries) a great country, but now its government has moved it back several centuries. And the people have been unable to change things. This is one of the better books I’ve read about the country, its people, and the contradictions of modern life under an Islamic regime.

Majd and his American wife and baby son spend a year in Tehran, a city full of people that value education, family, and cleanliness (though the city itself is one of the most polluted in the world), a city with three-quarters of its population is under 30, a city whose doctors are trained in the West, a city caught between ancient custom and modern thought. I enjoyed the real-life scenes throughout, especially when it came to establishing a home for the family. Majd’s wife Karri is a New Yorker who values yoga and organic food. The first time they take the baby in a taxi, she insists on installing his car seat. She soon learns this will not be practical in Iran.

Each chapter is about a different aspect of Iranian life. Majd covers everything from Iranian parties, sulking (the Iranian custom), traveling, bootlegging media and booze, and of course, the revolution. So while some parts of the book were more interesting than others, there was something to be learned throughout. 

While he and his family is not in immediate danger, Majd is being watched, of course. His past journalism was ill-received by the government. Many of his friends in Brooklyn and Iran think he’s taking unnecessary risks bringing his family to Iran.

While reading the book, I often felt that I couldn’t be sure I was getting a bias-free description of Iranian life. I could sometimes feel things being filtered through Majd’s lens being a man back in his homeland (though he hasn’t lived there since he was an infant). You can tell by what he includes (opium parties) and what he excludes (Muslim faith) where his interests lie. And being the grandson of the Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Assar, the relative of the former president Mohammad Khatami, and a son raised in Iranian diplomatic service abroad, you’re almost guaranteed a subjective account, though I’d hoped for a more journalistic one.

Regardless of bias, this was a very well-written account balancing well the personal with the political. While you don’t get a clear picture of both sides of the regime, I don’t think it was Majd’s intent.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Honeymoon in Purdah
Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran
The Good Daughter
Reading Lolita in Tehran

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