Synopses & Reviews
Both a love story and a reporters first draft of history, Honeymoon in Tehran
is a stirring, trenchant, and deeply personal chronicle of two years in the maelstrom of Iranian life.
In 2005, Azadeh Moaveni, longtime Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, returns to Iran to cover the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As she documents the firebrand leaders troublesome entry onto the world stage, Moaveni richly portrays a society too often caricatured as the heartland of militant Islam. Living and working in Tehran, she finds a nation that openly yearns for freedom and contact with the West, but whose economic grievances and nationalist spirit find a temporary outlet in Ahmadinejads strident pronouncements. Mingling with underground musicians, race car drivers, young radicals, and scholars, she explores the cultural identity crisis and class frustration that pits Irans next generation against the Islamic system.
And then the unexpected happens: Azadeh falls in love with a young Iranian man and decides to get married and start a family in Tehran. Suddenly, she finds herself navigating an altogether different side of Iranian life. Preparing to be wed by a mullah, she sits in on a government marriage prep class where young couples are instructed to enjoy sex. She visits Tehrans bridal bazaar and finds that the Iranian wedding has become an outrageously lavish-though often still gender-segregated-production. When she becomes pregnant, she must prepare to give birth in an Iranian hospital, at the same time observing her friends struggles with their young children, who must learn to say one thing at home and another at school.
Despite her busy schedule as a wife and mother, Azadeh continues to report for Time on Irans nuclear standoff with the West and Iranians dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejads heavy-handed rule. But as women are arrested on the street for “immodest dress” and the authorities unleash a campaign of intimidation against journalists, the countrys dark side reemerges. This fundamentalist turn, along with the chilling presence of “Mr. X,” the government agent assigned to mind her every step, forces Azadeh to make the hard decision that her familys future lies outside Iran.
Powerful and poignant, fascinating and humorous Honeymoon in Tehran is the harrowing story of a young womans tenuous life in a country she thought she could change.
"In her new memoir, American-born journalist Moaveni (Lipstick Jihad) returns to Tehran in 2005 to cover Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election for Time magazine, hoping to make the city her permanent home. Her plans are complicated by the standoff with the U.S. over Iran's nuclear program, as well as several unexpected turns in her life. She falls in love, moves in with her boyfriend, becomes pregnant, gets married in that order in a country that has no word for 'boyfriend' and no qualms about brutally beating unmarried pregnant women. Through her own experience, Moaveni reports on the growing apathy of the people of Iran, a society burdened by staggering inflation and tensions between religion, political oppression and secular life, the latter ever more enticing through ubiquitous, illegal satellite television. Gradually, the idealism and religious faith that characterized Moaveni's younger years wane. With the birth of her son, her misgivings come to a head, compounded by the spying, threats and intimidation she experienced at the hands of the Ministry of Intelligence. Moaveni, who now lives in London with her family, has penned a story of coming-of-age in two cultures with a keen eye and a measured tone." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Powerful and poignant, "Honeymoon in Tehran" is a stirring, trenchant, and deeply personal chronicle of two years in the maelstrom of Iranian life.
About the Author
Azadeh Moaveni is the author of Lipstick Jihad
and the co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, of Iran Awakening
. She has lived and reported throughout the Middle East, and speaks both Farsi and Arabic fluently. As one of the few American correspondents allowed to work continuously in Iran since 1999, she has reported widely on youth culture, women's rights, and Islamic reform for Time
, The New York Times Book Review
, The Washington Post
, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times
. Currently a Time
magazine contributing writer on Iran and the Middle East, she lives with her husband and son in London.
Reading Group Guide
1. On her trip to Iran to report on the 2005 presidential election, Moaveni encounters many Iranians who are boycotting the vote to register their disapproval with the government. (44) Others, however, plan to participate despite their opposition to the mullahs, because they wish to shape the outcome. Compare these two perspectives of ethicality versus practicality. Discuss whether voting under an authoritarian regime adds to the governments legitimacy. Are those who choose to abstain also somehow complicit in what unfolds? What would you choose to do in such a situation?
2. Moaveni writes of Iran in 2005, “Iranians accustomed to a bland, mullah-controlled existence lacking in entertainment and retail prospect had never faced so much choice” (47). Compare her portrait of Iran at that moment with the more repressive society she describes in the books final pages.
3. In exploring the shock victory of the hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Moaveni learns that he ran on a platform of more jobs and economic change. The new presidents radical Islamic ideology was as much a shock to Iranians as it was to everyone else in the world. Discuss whether the real circumstances surrounding the presidents victory were effectively reported by the Western media. Did you assume that Ahmadinejad reflected Iranians true worldview?
4. Shirin Ebadi, Irans Nobel laureate, appears as a character throughout the book. How would you describe her?
5. Compare Arash and Azadehs attitudes to the Shia festival of Ashoura (119). How do their views reflect their respective experiences with Islam, and Islams intersection with politics?
6. Does Azadehs description of the governments premarriage class (141), with its frank discussion of sex and liberal attitudes toward marriage and divorce, resonate with your understanding of Iran as a fundamentalist nation?
7. Was it foolish for Azadeh to risk her future by getting married under Iranian law?
8. Moaveni writes that “Iran has struggled for centuries to reconcile the Islamic and Persian traditions.” The tension between these two pasts recurs throughout the book. Discuss what it means for Iran to be a Persian, as opposed to Arab, nation, and how this history influences Iranians identity today (159).
9. Azadeh and Arash argue frequently about Islam, specifically whether the faith should be judged by its core tenets or by the realities of its modern adherents (168). What do you think?
10. In the chapter entitled “The Persian Brides Handbook,” Azadeh describes a society enthralled with extravagant weddings. What parallels do you see between the Iranian and the American wedding industries? What does the desire for such productions, the willingness to spend beyond ones means, say about our societies?
11. As she chronicles Iranians attitudes toward their governments support for groups like Hezbollah, Azadeh portrays a moderate society that frowns upon radicalism and yearns for respectable ties with the outside world (208-216). Is her depiction surprising, given how Iran is typically portrayed in the media? Is it convincing?
12. Discuss Azadehs interaction with the family she describes in the chapter “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” How do Azadehs attitudes toward her reporting and the Iranians she interacts with evolve throughout the book?
13. The history of Iran-U.S. relations, particularly the impact of the two countries troubled relationship on the daily lives of Iranians, is discussed throughout the book. Arash describes how U.S. economic sanctions keep Microsoft from developing Farsi software, effectively denying millions of Iranians access to computer-based learning. We learn that sanctions bar Iran from buying American and often European aircraft, and that many civilians die each year from air accidents in shoddy Russian planes. Azadeh also finds that the Bush administrations democracy promotion fund has prompted a major government crackdown on civil society. She writes that “activists and scholars, the people who were toiling in their respective fields to make Iran a more open society, were being targeted as a result.” Discuss how intimately U.S. policy affects Iranians lives.
14. Azadeh questions “whether it was even possible to raise an open-minded, healthy child in a culture that was fundamentalist and anarchic.” Discuss how families cope when trying to impart values that run counter to the mainstream culture around them.
15. Azadeh writes that “paradoxically, authoritarian laws had somehow made Iranian society more tolerant” (282). In her description of young Iranian womens instrumentalist attitude toward the veil, she interprets the ease with which women shed or don the veil to suit their relationship ambitions as progress. Would you agree that this is progress within a still deeply patriarchal culture, or do you consider it just an extenuation of adjusting to fit the demands of men?
16. The portrait of Iran that emerges throughout Honeymoon in Tehran is often quite complex. Azadeh describes the regimes censorship of music and literature, but points out that censorship predates the Islamic Republic. In describing how Iranians attitudes toward music have evolved in the last century, she notes how the governments repressiveness once reflected very real culture mores: “Something in our culture nurtures tyranny, and has for centuries.” Discuss the theme of complicity between Iranians and their government.
17. Discuss how Azadehs relationship with Mr. X evolves throughout the book.
18. In the Epilogue, Azadeh finds motherhood in the West more challenging and isolating than in Iran. Discuss how cultural norms of family life influence how stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are able to balance their own needs against those of their children.