Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran

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The truths about Iran—quite different truths from versions put forward by Washington, Tehran, and the media.
Afshin Molavi, a young journalist and writer born in Iran and educated in the West, traveled his homeland for more than a year, encountering every facet of Iranian society—students of the right and left, bazaar merchants, Islamic clerics, pro-democracy journalists, Islamic hard-liners, reformist politicians, grumbling taxi drivers, urban slum dwellers, partying teenagers,...

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The truths about Iran—quite different truths from versions put forward by Washington, Tehran, and the media.
Afshin Molavi, a young journalist and writer born in Iran and educated in the West, traveled his homeland for more than a year, encountering every facet of Iranian society—students of the right and left, bazaar merchants, Islamic clerics, pro-democracy journalists, Islamic hard-liners, reformist politicians, grumbling taxi drivers, urban slum dwellers, partying teenagers, village farmers, handicapped war veterans, and kids hooked on anything western. All opened their hearts to him, speaking candidly about a wide range of issues: unemployment, politics, freedom, religion, poetry, history, the Internet, the legacy of the Islamic revolution, the current pro-democracy movement, Iran's relations with the West, and much more. Throughout his meetings and travels, Molavi wove the tale of nearly 3,000 years of Iranian history through pilgrimages to ancient and contemporary sites, shrines, and monuments, vividly explaining the relevance of Iran's past to today's Iranian predicament. The pilgrimages ranges from the tomb of Cyrus the Great on the windswept plains of Pasargad to the splendid rose gardens at the Shiraz shrine for the fourteenth-century poet Hafez, the golden domes of Ayatollah Khomeini's vast mausoleum in Tehran, a haunting war veterans' shrine for survivors of the devastating Iran-Iraq war near the border of Iraq, and the European embassy "visa pilgrimages" of college graduates frustrated by bleak job prospects and the social and political restrictions at home. Cutting through the official rhetoric of the Islamic Republic, Molavi adds much-needed context to its political power struggle and demonstrates that the realities of today's Iran are far more complex than if often understood in the West. Through interviews with courageous journalists, students, and pro-democracy advocates who battle an entrenched conservative ruling class unwilling to accommodate popular opinion and numerous conversations with average Iranians frustrated by their deteriorating economy and the conservative stranglehold on power, Molavi chronicles a land and a people hungry for change. Few books have penetrated the soul of Iran—both past and present—as deeply as this exceptional report on one of the world's most important nations. Persian Pilgrimages is a journey to remember. "A rare and important work that examines Iranian society from a grassroots, human level while offering a taste of the grand sweep of Iranian history. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary Iran." —R. K. Ramazani, professor emeritus of politics, University of Virginia.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Molavi begins the chronicle of his year-long journey through a land in perpetual turmoil by saying, "This is a book about Iran and Iranians." In the midst of America's war on terrorism and as America is faced with the very real possibility of a second war with Iraq, this is a timely read. Reflective and at times deeply personal, Molavi, who was born in Iran and now lives in Washington, D.C., poignantly reveals Iran and its history through the voices of the people he interviewed, including merchants, students, feminists, traditionalists, children and revolutionaries, as they speak on such subjects as poetry, campus politics, personal appearance, democracy, religion, war and the West. In addition to his descriptions of landmarks and monuments, Molavi makes comparisons to other writings on Iran. He takes readers much further beyond the scope of magazine and newspaper articles, leading them through his own discovery of his homeland. In the end, he leaves Iran a conflicted man, weighed down by his new knowledge of the people and himself. "Surely, it would not be the last time I visited Iran, but somehow, I felt melancholy.... Had I seen everything I needed to see? Had I talked to enough people? What was this sense of loss I felt?" Not only a portrait of a country and people, this is also a personal journey into a man's past and his future. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Molavi, born in Iran but raised and educated mainly in the West, makes a return trip to the country of his birth and visits the major cities, sites, and shrines, ranging from Persepolis to the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Using his status as a Persian speaker attuned to the distinctive codes of Iranian culture but still necessarily an outsider, he brings to life the sampling of Iranians he encountered, from taxi drivers to top officials. He also weaves in excellent short takes on Iranian history from pre-Islamic times to the present. By his account, a broad spectrum of Iranians is disaffected from the clerical regime, but Molavi does not speculate about whether the hard-liners or the reformers will prevail. Instead, more modestly but usefully, he provides a brilliant tableau of today's Iran.
Library Journal
Iranian American journalist Molavi spent approximately one year (1999-2000) living in Teheran and exploring the country that his family had left more than 20 years before. As he traveled the well-known cities (Isfahan, Tabriz, Khoramshahr) two decades after the revolution, he simultaneously explored the rich historical and cultural past of his roots. Molavi discovers two schisms in the popular consciousness, the first between the pre-Islamic Persian Empire dating from 500 B.C.E. and the current Islamic Iran, the second between a genuine devotion to Islam in the street and a concurrent wish for a green card or visa to a Western country. Cities with historical or cultural significance give him a springboard to discuss Persian poetry, the greatness of Persia, and more recent history and its effects. Unlike Elaine Sciolino's Persian Mirrors, which summarizes her experiences reporting from Iran for over 20 years and many visits, this account is total immersion. Both paint a warm and positive picture of a people and a place that have recently been portrayed in the news as the "axis of evil" and as always hostile to the West. Suitable for public libraries. Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Whither Iran, asks Washington-based Iranian journalist Molavi in this tour of the country’s past and present.

Molavi, who has lived in the US since his youth, returned to Iran for a year of journeying through the provinces to gain a sense of what Iranians were feeling about the course of the Islamic Republic. What he hopes to reveal here, by considering Iran’s current state of affairs in light of the country’s past, is just how complex a place it is, not at all like the one imagined by Iran’s authority figures, the conservative clerics, "who constantly demand black and white." For Molavi, shades of gray are best exemplified by Iranian writers, from the chronicler of Kings, Ferdowsi, on through Hafez’s ambiguities (though his "seize the day" attitude toward living holds particular resonance for contemporary Iranians, be they devout or sensualist) to the satirists, parodists, and allegorists of today, many of whom are in prison. Same as it ever was, might say those who remember the like treatment such writers received under the late Shah Pahlavi. But ambiguities abound, sloshing over the "complex lines between private and public space in Iranian society," between the behavior that is expected from an autocratic clerical state and the desires of a population who have long been familiar with the greater world. Molavi does well in explaining the fluid nature of Iranian politics, the obscure opening and shutting of democratic opportunities, the rise of the reformist clergy, and the evolution of a youth who "are less idealistic than their parents’ generation," thirsty for choice and opportunity, grounded in the real—though that real must perforce take its cues from a government under thecontrol of an entrenched, conservative, quixotic clergy.

A welcome and—in the best Iranian tradition—subtly shaded journey through a country that once commanded US attention and then seemed to drop off the radar. (Photographs)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393051193
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Afshin Molavi has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, has reported on Iran for Reuters and the Washington Post, and contributes to many publications, including Foreign Affairs. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2002

    A Pilgrimage de Force

    Simply put, for those interested in learning about contemporary Iran this is the book you should buy. It is beautifully written and insightful, I highly highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    A Book of Stunning Beauty

    This is a wonderfully written book, I highly recommend it to everyone who is interested in Iran. Molavi is a fine writer and a superb story teller, Persian Pilgrimages was a joy to read.

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