Modern Iranian Culture for Dummies

Modern Iranian Culture for Dummies

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If you couldn’t get enough of momentous national street protests before, Iran’s ongoing Tweet-volution will certainly keep you buried in a backlog of must-see/read/post-to-Facebook digital tidbits of cyber-democracy in action for a long time. Between refreshing Andrew Sullivan’s page for the next tsunami of Persian-green tweets, and watching all those YouTube videos with bigger crowds than Braveheart, it might be easy to think you know the nooks and crannies of Tehran like the back of your hijab. However, while the mainstream media’s coverage of the posts linked round the world may resemble a brontosaurus trying to win the 100m dash, there is only so much depth you can get out of 10 mins of low-res cell phone footage or texts with a 160 character limit. So for those of us curious for a window into Iran that allows for a more leisurely, reflective glimpse, there’s certainly been no shortage of sources of late that don’t require a DSL connection—and won’t strain your eyes without the proper gamma correction:

If you’ve been within eyeshot of a New York Times best-seller list anytime with in the past five years, chances are you’ve heard of Azar Nafisi’s acclaimed 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. After resigning from a comparatively liberal Iranian university in the mid-90s, Nafisi hand-picked female students to read “forbidden” works by Fitzgerald, James and of course, the grandiloquent patron of literary perversion himself, Vladimir Nabokov. Then, she wrote down her experience and the stories of her students demonstrating how a book club can be an act of sedition. More recently, Iranian-American Azadeh Moaveni, who first re-connected with her inner Iranian in Lipstick Jihad, returned to Tehran in 2005 to cover Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election. After she fell in love, got pregnant, and got married, she tried to make a permanent home there for herself—she didn’t quite succeed but her clashes with the Ministry of Intelligence became the backbone of her new book Honeymoon in Tehran. If you still don’t have enough of an idea of the challenges facing women in modern Iran, Marjene Satrapi’s two-volume graphic novel Persepolis will ease the strain on your eyes with its compelling visual style. (You should also watch the equally engaging, award-winning animated film of the same title.) For a dose of testosterone, Economist correspondent Christopher De Bellaigue did his best George-Orwell-in-Spain impression and catalogued his years in the Islamic Republic with In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs to give a complex, nuanced take on the history of the Islamic Republic and daily life inside it.

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Photo: A still from Bahman Ghobadi’s Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, about the underground indie rock scene in Tehran.

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