Twenty-four characters make up Iran’s heartbeat, Tara Kangarlou’s book on the inhabitants of this complex country. Each of them tells us something about Iran – its history, politics and daily life – and also something about human nature. It’s a combination that makes it a particularly readable book, which serves both as a brief history of the country but also as a whole new portrait of life there today.
Kangarlou presents the facts of the various regimes that have controlled Iran during the life of its subjects in a clear manner, without judgment or agenda. This is not a call to arms to change Iran, but an entirely human story. As she says in her article on page 16 of this magazine, celebrating art and beauty also does not take away from the difficulties. That’s really the point of the book: to introduce Westerners in particular to certain Iranians – good, hardworking and inspiring people, according to MPs we have seen chanting “Death to America” in the Iranian parliament.
Some of his interviewees stand out for their remarkable achievements. There is Laleh Seddigh, one of the world’s first Muslim women racing car drivers. Her story of going from an alarming and rebellious teenager to a totally determined young woman is all the more remarkable in a context in which the roles of women are narrowly prescribed and where the “morality police” control what women wear. and do in public. Undeterred, Laleh obtains a letter from an Ayatollah known as a fatwa “excusing” her for being “a woman” and justifying that she was not prohibited from running. ” There is also Ali Nassirian, one of Iran’s most famous actors, and Zahra Nemati, an Olympian and Paralympian archer. The mistrust, perseverance and empowerment of women are among the key themes of its history.
Other interviewees are less known, but no less remarkable and these same themes are often present. Among these, it is Hooriyeh Zeinali that really stands out. Now 90, she lived through war and unimaginable hardship, losing two husbands (one of whom was her first husband’s brother). And yet there is some kind of peace in his lasting love for his children. At the very end of the book, Nima also stands out, offering a portrait of the hardships of growing up gay in Iran, a place where members of the LGBTQ community have no legal rights.
There are surprises in these stories. While Kangarlou makes it clear that some groups in Iran face terrible repression (notably the Baha’i religious minority – this religion was created in the 19th century and its followers have faced continued persecution since its inception), some members of Minority groups get along surprisingly well given the strict Islamic rulers. Aren Barkhordarian, the Armenian-Christian owner of a burger restaurant, says he thinks his people are highly respected in the country. It’s a similar story for Ashkan Khosropoor, a journalist raised by a Zoroastrian family – his problems stem from Iran remaining a police state when it comes to press freedom, but not its religious identity. Even Harev Yehuda Gerami, a remarkably successful young Jewish rabbi, says he can largely go about his business undisturbed. (Many people are unaware that Iran is home to the largest number of Jews outside of Israel in the Middle East.) For some in the book, this indicates the broader moderation and tolerance of the Iranian people, so poorly represented by its hard line, Conservative government.
In fact, one of the most alarming stories comes from within the Islamic elite. Faezeh was born and raised in a “colony” of die-hard revolutionaries where she grew up with contempt for the West. While attending college, she gradually found some freedom and forged a new path – albeit at the cost of alienating her family – but it’s a stark reminder that there are many more. like her, deprived of a proper education and brought up by hatred.
Iran’s heartbeat shares all of these stories and more, brought to you by the firm, non-judgmental hand of Kangarlou.