Book bits

Three books about Iran

Jason Elliot opens Mirrors of the Unseen with a marvelous description of the daily terrors of traffic in Tehran. ("Cars slew at reckless velocity between the lanes, and swerve to avoid disaster with the suddenness of dragonflies in midflight.") Elliot, author of the bestselling "An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan," spent four years traveling in Iran, and armchair travelers will enjoy moving with Elliot through both fabled cities and remote corners of Iran. Some of Elliot's forays into Iranian art and history (particularly his efforts to locate organizing principles of Iranian architecture) may fatigue the general reader, but, still, it's hard not to warm to a writer who strolls alone through the streets of a provincial Iranian city confessing, "I had Mongols on my mind."

In My Name is Iran Iranian-American NPR producer Davar Ardalan tells the story of three generations of women in her family who for decades cycled back and forth between Iran and the United States. Ardalan, the granddaughter of an adventurous nurse from Idaho who married an Iranian, was born in the US, raised partly in Iran, and married there at 18 in an arranged union. Ardalan took up journalism and later divorced and returned to the US. While largely a tale of a personal quest for identity, this memoir also offers a window into Iranian life and culture.

Maryam Mazar thought she could leave Iran behind when she fled to England, but it took her much of a lifetime to understand how impossible that would be. The Saffron Kitchen, a fiction debut for Yasmin Crowther, is the story of Maryam and her British-born daughter Sara, both of whom struggle to come to terms with Maryam's past and her ongoing yearning for Iran. Although overly portentous at times ("Greetings, I am Maryam Mazar, and the seasons are changing"), "The Safforn Kitchen" is also a moving look at the plight of the immigrant torn between two homes. "Sometimes you can rattle so hard between places, it's like your bones should break," Maryam tells Sara, who must travel to Iran herself before she fully understands her mother.
– Marjorie Kehe

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?
Readers' picks

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg, one of the most amazing books I have ever read. His memoir is composed of a series of short stories, primarily about his childhood spent growing up on a large, remote dude ranch, the oldest in Wyoming. The spare, unsentimental prose reflects the character of the landscape and his upbringing. I can't recommend this book enough.
– Brenna Boyd, Chicago

I am reading Iran Awakening, the autobiography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. She was a judge under the shah, then an outcast due to her sex, then a prisoner. All the time she was championing women's rights and gender equality. Her courage and love of humanity are really inspiring. It's a hard book to put down.
– Robin Kadz, Calgary, Alberta

I am reading Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have been on a classics kick over the past couple of years, reading all the books I was supposed to read back in high school and college. I have always been a fan of Fitzgerald. So far it's typical of his writing – lots of scandalous romance, with lots of glamour!
– Barb Peck, Monterey, Calif.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It is incredible, and it will show you the Congo, the US, missionaries, and religion in a whole new way.
–Madison Shelton, Olympia, Wash.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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