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Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran    by Azadeh Moaveni order for
Honeymoon in Tehran
by Azadeh Moaveni
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The title of Azadeh Moaveni's Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran might mislead some readers, leading them to expect a travel story in the style of Marlena de Blasi's A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance. While Moaveni's Iranian romance and wedding is a part of her account, it is by no means the focus as she looks at Iran - and all aspects of her life there, from the political to the everyday - always with a reporter's assessing eye.

The author - who also wrote Lipstick Jihad, and co-authored with Shirin Ebadi (winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize) the latter's memoir, Iran Awakening - is a daughter of Iranian exiles who was raised in northern California and became a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine. In 2005, she traveled to Tehran from her base in Beirut to cover the Iranian presidential election and was blindsided by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rise to power.

Lurking in the shadows of this memoir - and an omnipresent threat to the author's ability to do her job, and to her personal safety in Iran - is her 'official government minder, Mr. X', a rather sinister figure employed by the Ministry of Intelligence, who 'behaved like a controlling husband' and insisted on their meeting in secluded (hence threatening her security) places.

Moaveni takes readers through the life of a busy journalist, attempting to track the evolution of a totalitarian regime from 'the height of the revolution's repression, in the 1980s' to the modern era, with a 'grassroot women's movement of considerable vigor' and young people looking for comfort, stability and 'a decent economic life.' Her story becomes more personal after she meets Arash and they decide to make a life in Tehran together.

We see Azadeh and Arash shopping for wine grapes (purchased from Iranians of Armenian Christian origin who are allowed to produce and consume wine) and trekking in the mountains. We read of dangerous air pollution levels in Tehran, government censorship of Internet sites - and of the author's going through religio-bureaucratic hoops, as well as traditional Persian 'daunting rituals' to organize an Iranian wedding, while hiding an early (and illegal under the mullahs' rule) pregnancy.

Having traveled through Iran in 1978 (before the mullahs took over) - and enjoyed books like Alison Wearing's Honeymoon in Purdah, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran and Marcello Di Cintio's Poets & Pahlevans, I was fascinated to read about how that country has changed in recent years - and about what it means to raise a child there - but saddened that it has not moved in a more liberal direction. I was also intrigued to read the author's comments about misguided Western appeasement of Muslim communities 'living entirely at odds with the society around them', after she moved to the UK.

Talking about one potential story she proposed to a New York editor, Moaveni tells us her challenge was 'to beguile those who might not ordinarily care into understanding the nuances of a distant, vaguely suspect nation.' She has met that challenge and more in her highly recommended Honeymoon in Tehran.

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