Azadeh Moaveni was born in the United States in 1976 to Iranian parents. As part of the Iranian diaspora community in Palo Alto, California, Moaveni experienced the pleasures and pains of being part of two cultures; however, she struggled with never quite feeling that she understood her family’s country of origin:
What I wanted, though I chose not to admit it to myself, was to figure out my relationship to this other country, to Iran. Originating from a troubled country, but growing up outside it, came with many complications. Worst of all, at least on a personal level, was that you grew up assuming everything about you was related to that place, but you never got to test that out, since the place was unstable and sort of dangerous, and you never actually went there. You spent a lot of time watching movies about the place, crying in dark theatres, and feeling sad for your poor country. Most of that time, you were actually feeling sorry for yourself, but since your country was legitimately in serious trouble, you didn’t realize it. And since it was so much easier and romantic to lament a distant place than the day-to-day crappy messes of your own life, it could take a very long time to figure it all out.
In 1999, students began demonstrating in Tehran in response to the closing of an independent newspaper. Mouveni, who was studying Arabic in Cairo at the time, decided to seize the moment and travel to Tehran and be a witness to history. Eventually, she landed a job as a stringer for Time magazine. Thanks to her Iranian origin, she would be the only American journalist allowed to base herself in Tehran.
Lipstick Jihad serves as both a personal story of Moaveni’s search for identity and an analysis of Iranian culture and politics at the dawn of the 21st century. Her experiences are at times disturbing, as you might expect, but they’re also sometimes surprisingly funny. The book is far from being unremittingly grim. Moaveni provides plenty of insights into Iranian politics and culture, which makes it timely reading right now. Her explanations of how the restrictions on women’s dress and behavior actually heighten the sexual tension in society aren’t particularly original, but she explains the contradiction well and includes several personal stories that demonstrate the likely truth of her assessment.
This book is, of course, only one woman’s story, and so it’s not meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the situation in Iran. It is, however, a good, comprehensive look at one woman’s journey to discover her home and herself. I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.