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Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran [Format Kindle]

Roya Hakakian

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Chapter 1


It was an ordinary morning at the office. wrapped in a heavy sweater, sleeves pulled over fingers hiding from the arctic indoor summer temperatures, I had every reason to expect this to be a day like any other. CNN was on. A pile of several major dailies lay on one side of my desk, and on the other was a second stack of magazines I had brought back from the Delta Shuttle courtesy stand. The first order of business was to answer e-mails, which I usually managed to do while sipping a tall cup of latté. I glanced at the names in the in-box, keeping an eye out for any breaking news on the Associated Press wire service. The telephone rang.

"Roya speaking."

"Hi, Roya. This is David, David Unger, calling from the New York Times."

"Oh, hi! You are . . ."

"An editorial writer working on a piece on the recent student uprisings in Iran. You come highly recommended as a source. Is this a good time?"

No. It was not a good time. It was never a good time to talk about Iran. I rarely did. But this call, I knew, I had to take. Thousands of students had taken to the streets in the largest pro-reform demonstration since 1979. Now, in the demonstration's third day, the students were calling on the newly elected president, Mohammad Khatami, to join their movement against the "hard-line" elements in power, mainly the supreme leader, Seyed Ali Khamenei. Many had been arrested. A few had disappeared, among them Elahe, a dear friend. And sitting in my office, watching the news, seeing young men and women face the riot police, their shirts bloodied, their faces hidden under rags, thugs charging at them with batons, seeing them be clubbed and fall to the pavement, was all too familiar. All too frustrating. There was nothing I could do to help them or my missing friend, except to talk to an editorialist. In my guilty helplessness, I had placed all hope in the New York Times to save Elahe, the students, and Iran itself in a sharp cluster of five hundred words or less. So I said, "Yes. I have been expecting your call. But hold on for just a minute, please."

This was simply a call between a television journalist and her colleague in print. Still, I got up from my chair, peeked into the hallway, and quietly shut my door. This was a call about Iran; no call could be more personal. We began talking.

I had expected to hear from David. I had also expected the conversation to proceed as it often does with Americans. They come, I had decided, in two kinds: the misinformed, who think of Iran as a backward nation of Arabs, veiled and turbaned, living on the periphery of oases and fairly represented by a government of mullahs; and the misguided, who believed the shah's regime was a puppet government run by the CIA, and who think that Ayatollah Khomeini and his clerical cabal are an authentic, homegrown answer to unwarranted U.S. meddling.

The first group always amused me. In their company, I would blame every appalling trait in my character on my "Bedouin upbringing." Walking along Coney Island beach on a hot summer evening, I licked the drops of ice cream off my palms, and when I saw the shocked look on my date's face, I explained that my lack of etiquette was due to a childhood spent in a land where napkins and utensils were unheard of. His believing blue eyes welled with tears of empathy.

A college roommate once asked what my family used for transportation in Tehran. I told her we kept six camels of various sizes in our backyard. My father rode the papa camel, my mother the mama camel, my brothers the younger camels, and I the baby camel. While my roommate's common sense was still in the grip of political correctness, I went on to design a fantastically intricate grid of four-legged traffic regulations for bovines on even days and equines on odd.

But that second group-those misguided Americans-exasperated me. Bright individuals abandoned inquiry and resorted to obsolete formulas: America had done Iran wrong. Therefore the clerics cut ties with the United States. Therefore the clerics were leading the nation to sovereignty. These individuals had yet to realize that though Iran's rulers fervently opposed U.S. imperialism, they were neither just to nor loved by their own people. This second group had not accepted the notion that the enemy of their enemy was yet another enemy.

It took only one question for me to decide that David belonged to the second group. He asked, "Do the 'reformists,' backed by President Khatami, stand a chance against the 'hard-liners'?"

This bipolar division between reformists and hard-liners was as crude as my own division between misinformed and misguided Americans. Reducing a nation of seventy million, with three thousand years of history, to two simple camps infuriated me. The assumption that Iran was on the verge of an imminent transformation if only one faction managed to subdue the other had the ring of a sensational headline, and though as a reporter I understood its logic, as an Iranian I detested it. True watchers of Iran knew that Iran itself was the "beloved" its great poets had serenaded for centuries: capricious yet slow, inspiring hope in one breath and evoking despair in another.

However, David quickly added that the editorials did not always reflect his own personal views. In fact, they often did not. This was an important disclaimer. Several more nuanced questions followed. His voice was tender. If a deadline was looming, his voice did not reveal it. In its timbre, there was time and infinite patience, which encouraged me to tell him my worst fears. Every horrifying possibility flashed through my mind: Elahe assaulted, bleeding in a ditch or along one of the many canals of Tehran; or sitting before interrogators, blindfolded, forced to write a recantation letter. Talking to David, I dressed in words the horrors I was conjuring. I told him so. I also told him that I had no faith in the new president, or any other cleric, to deliver what the students were demanding. I saw that the protestors were in grave danger. In the most dignified way I knew, I begged him to write with utmost urgency.

The next day brought an editorial headlined fateful moment in iran; the next week, the quashing of the uprising; the third week, the news of Elahe and her release from custody; the next month, another e-mail from David-a new editorial deadline.

In the weeks that followed, David's notes continued to arrive. He wanted to know about the reformists' background and their former allegiance; the Iranian relationship with the Lebanese Hezbollah; the role of secular Iranians in the revolution of 1979 and in the subsequent fallout. With Elahe's release, I had little incentive to talk about Iran. Writing to David took real effort. I had to provide him with the "insider facts," information only natives are privy to, and add my own views, which were embittered by my history. Every time I wanted to substantiate an opinion, I drew upon a personal experience I had never talked about before, until at last I wrote, apologetically, that I could not continue. Despite my reputation, I confessed that I was not a good source after all. There were experts far better than I, whose names I suggested. When it came to Iran, I admitted, I was anything but objective. The past and the events of the years that followed the revolution had biased me forever.

Within moments after I e-mailed him the note I thought would be the end of all notes between us, a sharp beep announced the arrival of a new e-mail.

From: David@Nytimes.com To: RDH@cbsnews.com Subject: The years that followed the revolution.


Tell me about them.


When you have been a refugee, abandoned all your loves and belongings, your memories become your belongings. Images of the past, snippets of old conversations, furnish the world within your mind. When you have nothing left to guard, you guard your memories. You guard them with silence. You do not draw your treasures into the light, lest exposure soften their sharp-sad or gay-details (the best lesson I ever learned from visiting museums). Remembering becomes not simply a preoccupation but a full-time occupation. What you once witnessed is the story that brought journalists to your doorstep, but they left without the scoop. What you once witnessed is what scholars sought in the archives but did not find. What you once witnessed is what biographers intended to write. But how much can biographers do if the witnesses are silent?

When you belong to a breed on the verge of extinction, a Jewish woman from the Islamic Republic of Iran living in the United States, one small slip can turn you into a poster child for someone else's crusade. And you know of nothing more suspect than a crusade. Memory is the membrane in which the past is sealed and also the blueprint of what you once, when you were at your most clearheaded, envisioned as the future. You keep silent. To guard all that, true. But also because you cannot tell pain from anger. And since you do not wish to displace them onto an innocent listener, you do not allow yourself pain or anger. You walk on. You must walk on. In the new country, you must begin anew. To make yourself do so, you invent a metaphor. Not a beautiful metaphor, but a practical one to propel you. You imagine you are a secondhand car whose odometer has been reset to zero by exile, that craftiest of dealers. With all the old parts, you are recast as a brand-new human engine. Within you is all the clanking, hissing, and racket of past rides. But you muffle it all and press on.

David wanted me to speak. But he had no crusade. A historian, he was looking for what he knew was still too soon to have been written. He was a voice without a face. Somewhere on the top floor of another New York City high-rise he sat behind a desk. I had never seen him. All I knew of him was the words that kept arriving. Our friendship had been formed in written words, the only l...

Revue de presse

Winner of the 2004 Elle Readers’ Prize for Best Book of the Year in Nonfiction

“Hakakian’s intimate anthropology opens a window on one life during turbulent times in the Middle East. . . . This book does us the service of removing some of the region’s mythical stereotypes . . . and illuminating a real contemporary culture we would do well to know better.” —Seattle Times

“Hakakian, irrepressible, brave, and strong-willed, watches in dismay as the country she loves disappears, to be replaced by one that views what Roya most values—an insatiable intellect—with profound contempt. Like Anne Frank, she is a perceptive, idealistic, terribly sympathetic chronicler of the gathering repression.” —Baltimore Sun

“A spectacular debut memoir . . . Only a major writing talent like Hakakian can use the pointed words of the mature mind to give the perspective of the child. . . . She tackles ideologies of assimilation and oppression with poetic aplomb and precision. . . . Hakakian’s tale of passage into womanhood lacks nothing.” —Boston Globe

“[Hakakian is] a lyrical storyteller . . . Her moving narrative swings from funny to sad, capturing idyllic scenes of her parents, aunts, and uncles picnicking and interacting with Muslim friends.” —Washington Post

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 755 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 274 pages
  • Editeur : Crown; Édition : 1st (18 décembre 2007)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B000XUDHR0
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  • Composition améliorée: Activé
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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  44 commentaires
26 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A reporter's memoir of a revolutionary girlhood 5 avril 2005
Par Lynn Harnett - Publié sur Amazon.com
Journalist Roya Hakakian's beautifully written memoir of growing up in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran makes a striking contrast to another journalist's Iranian memoir, Azadeh Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad," a contemporary portrait of Tehran from the viewpoint of a Californian-Iranian, looking for identity. While Moaveni battled her mother over Madonna's music, Hakakian rioted against a fanatical headmistress who found sin in a strand of female hair.

Hakakian describes a rather idyllic childhood in a quiet house in Tehran's "Alley of the Distinguished." She is the only daughter of a Jewish schoolmaster and scholar, beloved baby sister to three brothers. Her closest friend, Z, is a Muslim neighbor girl and her first inkling of the stirrings abroad were the political speeches Z's older sister and her devout Great-Uncle listened to in secret.

Though one by one her three older brothers are sent out of the country, Hakakian finds herself caught up in the heady togetherness of revolution. "Within weeks, Tehran seemed to have matured by years. Even drunkards stopped ranting about their personal misery. Neighbors did not fight. Cars honked constantly, but not in gridlock, only to announce the advance of the uprising, or the fall of another barracks."

She explores the child's perceptions: the jangly scariness of her parents' tense arguments and distressed uncertainty contrast unfavorably with the liberation let loose in the streets. But almost immediately anti-Semitic slogans appear on walls. The Hakakians sell their home and move into an apartment. Islamic dress is imposed and then the Jewish headmistress vanishes one day, and her Muslim replacement asks Hakakian why Jewish men customarily deflower their daughters.

Still, politics remains a youthful focal point and the young intellectuals exercise their idealism in dissent. Another moment of startling clarity comes when the group is caught with incriminating papers, and dismissed as irrelevant as soon as they are discovered to be Jewish.

As idealism fades and repression casts a dark gloom over daily life, Hakakian discovers that her old friend Z has grown grave and distant, Z's older sister, the fervent revolutionary, jailed and tortured, her mother's spirit broken.

Hakakian's story is a layered, nuanced remembrance of one girl's awakening to adulthood, a Jewish view of Iran's upheaval, and a chronicle of a country's nightmarish descent from liberation into a maelstrom of repression and fear.

Portsmouth Herald, March 27, 2005
17 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Reading "1984" in Tehran . . . 19 août 2005
Par Ronald Scheer - Publié sur Amazon.com
The somber cover, the title, and the reference to prison abuses at the opening of this book are a little misleading. This memoir is not especially dark or grim, and the journey it recounts is an internal one, more from the land of "yes" than "no." It captures that particular youthful optimism that buoys up children and adolescents in the worst of times. And the Islamic revolution in Iran becomes the worst of times for the community of 100,000 Jews living in Tehran in the late 1970s, as the monarchy is toppled and the Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to assume power.

Hakakian's book is a vividly and wonderfully remembered account of her coming of age in these tumultuous years. The equally gifted younger sister of three precocious brothers, an admitted "class clown," she happily plays her own growing self-confidence and self-awareness against the reader's knowledge of coming events. Through her, we experience the almost universal public euphoria that followed the fall of the Shah, and while she chooses to discount its significance, we see mounting evidence of the approaching political and social forces that will finally drive her family to join the Jewish exodus from Iran.

This is a fine, well-written book, often entertaining and sometimes starkly moving. The parallels Hakakian draws to Orwell's "1984" illustrate the gradual erosion of self that occurs when the state attempts to control individuals' thoughts and desires. In this and other ways, it's an excellent companion to Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran."
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A major book by an important writer 30 septembre 2004
Par Wendy Salinger - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This book opened my eyes like nothing I've read since "Midnight's Children." And it is all the more powerful for being a woman's story. Do we have many books like this? I don't think so. It's the story of the convergence of the peak, rapid-fire events of the writer's dawning adolescence with the historically definitive crises of her country of Iran, her city of Tehran. I agree with Salman Rushdie that the health of a culture can be measured by its treatment of women. JOURNEY follows a trail of blood--the blood of the lamb slaughtered for a wedding feast, the blood of a disgraced female cousin's questioned virginity, and finally the blood of the martrys of the revolution. And then there is the writer's own blood--her first menstrual blood at 13. On the threshold of womanhood, she wonders at the shame assigned to women, the glory to the martyr's sacrifice: "No matter how young or old, that bleeding head was venerated. And not my blood?"

A wonderful thing in this book is the chapter about the character of Mrs. Arman. The female schoolteacher, mother and muse of women writers. (Like a Eudora Welty schoolteacher heroine.) She gives her students a sense of solidarity in their exile under the Muslim regime; her touch restores them to their bodies. And it's the moment when Mrs. Arman proclaims--you're a writer! you're a writer! Don't ever forget it! Don't let me down!--that is the decisive one in the author's story, that baptizes her and sanctifies her coming journey out into the world.

Because the story's about her emergence as a writer as well. It's only when the map of her beloved city (which her writing traces) is no longer recognizable and the notebooks she's filled with her poetry have been burnt, that her journey from the land of No is inescapable.

The writing is breaktaking. The metaphors flow effortlessly. I think this is a major book by an important writer.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Journey from the Land of No 4 avril 2005
Par Cyrus - Publié sur Amazon.com
Often articles and books written about the 1979 revolution in Iran are partial. Most are written by people who claim to have foreseen the catastrophic consequences of the revolution and never supported it. Few writers are bold and introspective enough to acknowledge their excitement about the possibility of a democratic change at the time, followed by sobering disenchantment during the immediate post-revolutionary years. Roya, using an exquisitely vivid language, becomes the voice of a generation as it underwent this latter political and personal maturation. She opens a window into the minds of Iranians circa 1979, and follows the dreams of a hopeful nation as they turn into nightmares. Incorporated into this mosaic of politics and family life are images of the private lives of Iranians living in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. If you want to learn more about the complexity that is Iran, this book will be a reliable and an entertaining guide.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent choice for a literature class 1 août 2005
Par N. Plant - Publié sur Amazon.com
I used this memoir as one of three core texts for an intensive summer course and my students loved it. It is beautifully written, poetic and very honest. I lived in Iran from 1983 to 1993 and I believe this is the most accurate memoir of life in Iran that I have read.
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