Saturday, January 13, 2007

Book Club: LIPSTICK JIHAD Azadeh Moaveni

I wish I had something erudite, astute, and articulate to say about this book. Other than: I liked it. Yeah, that does sound a tad lukewarmish. But I finished it, which considering the half-read genuis-works littering the floor by my bed (Amy Tan, we're talking about you--) is a great compliment.

I liked that I got a glimpse from the inside of Iranian culture. I went to graduate school with a lot of Persian/Iranian emigres. Mostly they were, like Moaveni, the American-born children of those who fled when the Shah was deposed, making a diaspora in Beverly Hills. But some were Iran-born, like two of my three dentists (the third is a Cohen from Cincinatti, I think).

And if the personal is not political enough, consider our wise and sainted President who, according to Ted Koppel, seems to be threatening war with Iran. So it is fascinating, if not relevant to be able to peer through the window into the Persian-American world Moaveni offered. I don't know if the Beverly Hills diaspora is different from the Bay Area diaspora where she grew up. Her whole world seems to be Muslim, whereas the Persians I know in L.A. are Jewish and Muslim and Zoroastrian. And that might make a difference. Or maybe not. I'll ask the dentists.

The window into the Iranian world was a tad more murky. For one, Moaveni is a Muslim, so her Iran is filtered through a Shi'a lens. For another, the Iran she talks about is that of the late 20th, early 21st century, when for a brief moment, it seemed as if Iran might be joining the world (yes, I know that is a disgustingly, Eurocentric attitude, but--Moaveni herself describes it that way). Today we know it never happened; the Lipstick Jihad, if it ever really existed, got (get ready for an appalling metaphor) wiped off the face of the Middle East.

I did not like that she kept reminding me in one way or another how very young and how very cool she is. And, seemingly, rich, or at least without any concerns about the mere facts of life, like food and rent. In this, she is very like the women I went to graduate school with. They were, most of them, dealing with the conflict of becoming self-actualized American women while not having to give up the Prada and Lauren and Chanel that daddy let them buy.

What I really liked was the way she dug into the internal conflict between her Iranian and her American selves. Her conclusion is that she could never find a home in either country (and she did move to Beirut), but I think the conflict she described is far less specific.
. . .I now realized that I would perpetually exist in each world feeling the tug of the other. The yearning, which I must embrace and stop assaulting, was a perpetual reminder of the truth, that I was whole, but composed of both.
When I read that, I felt a shock of recognition. She is describing the essential Otherness that we all have to deal with, and that makes this book far more than just a memoir.

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So--whaddaya think?