An Iran Reading List

 

At Sugar Street Review, "A stimulating stroll through Middle Eastern culture," Tom Little blogged in March 2012 about the "Top Five Books on Modern Iran."
 
"With the world’s media in a state of perpetual hysteria about Ahmadinejad, atom bombs and ayatollahs, it can be hard to get a clear picture of the country behind the news.  
 
"Indeed, reading the papers today, you could be forgiven for forgetting the vibrant culture behind the headlines, so Sugar Street Review has come up with a short reading list designed to help you get to grips with modern Iran. 
 
"Although it goes without saying dozens more books should be on the list, we hope the following five will act as a useful primer to Iranian politics and current affairs."
 

Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day, by Michael Axworthy

The Persians: Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran, by Homa Katouzian

All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer

The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, by Roy Mottahedeh

The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, by Hooman Majd

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Indie Groundbreaking Book

Indie Groundbreaking Book: Walking Naked in Tehran

Refreshing memoir explores the Middle East with a new outlook

 

“I feel sticky from the heat and the dust, but what I feel most are the eyes upon me. As a young Western woman in a fairly conservative Muslim country, I’m used to being stared at. But this is different. The looks I’m getting are more than just curious – they are shocked, severe sharply critical, almost hostile. I can’t imagine what I’m wearing that could be so offensive until I look down and find, to my horror, that I’m stark naked.”
 

The above passage, which gives Ann Craig-Cinnamon’s new memoir its title — Walking Naked in Tehran — naturally takes place as part of a dream. But the feelings it portrays, of insecurity, naivety, and even ignorance of other cultures, are all definitive characteristics of the experience Craig-Cinnamon relates in these pages. Early in her intro, Craig-Cinnamon tells an anecdote of a comedian who wants to fly to the moon, if only because he would then always be the person with the best story in the room. And once readers crack open Walking Naked in Tehran, once they venture past an awkwardly suggestive cover may just take its title too literally, they will rapidly realize that Craig-Cinnamon has a wonderful and fascinating story to tell. 

Even the story’s set-up is jaw-dropping: only 19 years old in the mid-1970s, with little life experience and almost zero knowledge of the political landscape of the age, Craig-Cinnamon agreed to marry her boyfriend — after only four months of dating — and fly off to live with him in a foreign country. But this escape was no honeymoon. The destination wasn’t some exotic island locale, or even a sweepingly romantic Parisian vista. No, Craig-Cinnamon’s new home would be made in the sweltering heat of Tehran, Iran. And while she makes no attempts early on to hide her opinion of the two years she spent there (“I couldn’t wait to get home and put it behind me,” she writes in the intro), the story doesn’t end there. 

Though many readers will enter Walking Naked in Tehran with scenes from last year’s Argo playing through their minds, Craig-Cinnamon’s experiences find the city in a markedly more peaceful state. The Best Picture-winning drama — which details the city’s 1979 hostage crisis, as well as a heroic CIA mission to rescue half a dozen United States ambassadors — featured a Tehran mired in protests, riots, and extremist militant activity. But while Craig-Cinnamon’s experience in Iran wasn’t exactly welcoming, especially for a young American woman with minimal knowledge of other cultures — “no car, no washer or dryer, no dishwasher, no movie theaters...no cable TV (not even basic!)” she notes — the Tehran she knew was more like a fascinating and disorienting parallel universe than a hostile alien planet.

“Oh sure, it was frightening to me because it was a strange country and strange culture on the other side of the world and I was 19 and newly married,” Craig-Cinnamon wrote in a recent follow-up article entitled “The Tehran I Remember,” largely in response to Argo and the anti-American Tehran it displayed. “Throw in the fact that I suffer from OCD and what you get is someone who is basically scared of everything. But never was I afraid that a riot would break out and rarely did I think that my safety was in jeopardy.”

Walking Naked in Tehran is a fascinating, courageous, enlightening, harrowing, and often funny read. It’s a tale of overcoming adversity, of breaking down cultural boundaries and learning to live in a brand new world; it’s about meeting people from walks of life completely different from your own, but still coming to appreciate the fascinating new outlooks they can bring to your world. And it’s a reminder that, while we may not always recognized the most important moments in our lives while they our happening, while we may even hate them or wish for them to pass us by more quickly, our memories may tell a different tale later in life.

For Craig-Cinnamon, the two-year adventure in Tehran was a whirlwind, a seemingly endless lapse of time full of enormous challenges, but also one rife with valuable life experiences. Now a 30-year veteran of broadcast journalism with a fearless, trailblazing spirit, Craig-Cinnamon realizes that her time in Iran taught her who she was and who she wanted to be. She discovered how to step outside of her comfort zone, and the lessons she learned as a result, conveyed here with a beautifully relatable and conversational authorial voice, are not to be missed. Argo told a tremendous tale of an Iran caught in a state of chaos, and of the American heroes who swept their fellow countrymen up out of the fray; Walking Naked in Tehran is a memoir that captures the spirit of Iran in flourishing peace, and it’s a story that shows us what can happen when we immerse ourselves in foreign cultures. Both stories have value and compliment each other beautifully. So rent the movie, buy the book, and set aside an afternoon for a journey to Tehran. You won’t regret it.

 

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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In edition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at manningcr953@gmail.com.


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