The Heartbeat of Iran, real voices of a country and its people

Heartbeat of Iran
(Photo: Heartbeat of Iran)

"At a time when the world is divided by bigotry and political agendas, I believe in the urgency of building bridges, crossing divides, and uniting by way of understanding one another’s stories," says the writer in the introduction to this fascinating book.اضافة اعلان

And to Jordan News over email: "The Heartbeat of Iran is the first and only book out there for a Western audience that focuses on the real-life stories of ordinary Iranians inside Iran and helps humanize a nation beyond the world's monolithic view of this isolated country."

Born and raised in Tehran to Iranian parents who upon finishing their post-graduate studies became American citizens, Tara Kangarlou wrote the book in the hope that it will "serve as a small reminder that beyond our skin color, religion, and passport, we all share similar dreams, fears, and aspirations — and are all bound to one another through our joint humanity".

The book is not about politics, she says, "nor is it meant to paint a rosy picture of a country whose people are suffering on a daily basis from repressive forces at home. Rather, it is an invitation for readers, particularly in the US and elsewhere in the West, to take a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, and to view the intricacies of their lives in a unique environment unfamiliar to many living outside the country".

And while admitting that "twenty or so portraits cannot ever capture the entirety of a nation of 80 million", she hopes that "the complexities of each story in this book can help bring readers closer to the textures, nuances, and chasms of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran".

Interspersing the stories told by people with her own comments, Kangarlou takes the readers on interesting personal journeys, but also informs them of the history of her country of birth. As a true journalist, she provides historical and political background that should greatly help those unfamiliar with the realities of Iran.

The millennia-old history of that country, its richness, feats, and foibles are easily explained by this writer of great talent who colors the stories in her book with warm, glowing hues or harsh, glaring, jarring tinges.

Geographical boundaries, long chipped at by later powers, mores, and political games at play in Iran are presented alongside people's accounts, making for a fast-paced, interesting, and educative reading into the history of a very old civilization that has been witnessing turmoil and dramatic changes brought about by the powers of the day without a thought for their impact on people's lives.

The readers come to know about Iran's long history in the course of the story of a nonagenarian whose "resilience in the face of tragedy perfectly captures the ethos of Iran over the past century: two kings, a world war, a coup, a revolution that completely pulled the nation apart, followed by an eight-year war".

They get introduced to cultural aspects — cuisine, customs, literature, history, geography, religion — to the most disparate characters — from a star actor of modest demeanor to a "cool", reform-oriented, "avid fan of theater, movie buff, and music enthusiast" Shiite Muslim cleric, to a rabbi whose very presence in Tehran where he teaches religious texts and classes belies the prevailing narrative serving certain interests — or get a glimpse at the intricacies of Iranian politics, the ayatollahs' advent to power through the Islamic Revolution, and the insidious foreign interference in the country's affairs that, like in many other nations, has only bred resentment.

The interviews reflect the image of bright, mostly educated, Iranians who had the power to break free from the shackles of dogmatic religious upbringing and see the world for the complex universe it is. They could incur the wrath of religious conservatives, but the exhilarating feeling of freedom they discover seems to be enough to give them courage to express themselves.

But they are also stories of humanity, of lifestyles, of affluence and poverty, of ignorance and erudition, that all find a way in the book and through which Kangarlou weaves a rich tapestry of the people of Iran.

With clinical, impartial eye, she paints a complex image of society. Having interviewed the widest array of individuals, she creates a fascinating tableau of the inhabitants of a country that is often maligned by the sometimes ignorant West.

Whether a woman married off at 12 to a man 18 years older, or "one of the few Muslim female race car champions in the world", an engineer turned restaurateur, a former drug addict turned photographer, a saffron farmer who brings to the fore the water crisis in the country and reminds of the crippling sanctions it has been under, a blind PhD in political science who made it against all odds and who is also "a passionate advocate for the environment, women, and the disabled people of her community", an Olympic gold medalist archer who "sitting in her wheelchair …  made history as the flag-bearer of her country during the game’s opening ceremonies", or a transgender, whether Zoroastrians, Muslims, Christians or Jews, her characters pour their heart out, have no pretenses, but lots of hope and love for their ancestral land.

In the tradition of Scheherazade, Kangarlou presents story after enthralling story, this time, though, told by real people about their real lives.

The young writer's interesting interventions enrich the whole, are enlightening lessons in the history, politics, faiths, and social customs of Iran, making for page-turning reading.

She is an award-winning American journalist who had worked with news outlets such as NBC-LA, CNN, and Al Jazeera America, and "a frequent on-air contributor" to various international news outlets covering the MENA region, foreign affairs, and humanitarian issues ". In 2018, she was the recipient of the Ted Sorensen Award from Network 20/20 "for her impact journalism and humanitarian work".

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, writes in the foreword to the book: "This is no monochromatic culture she is dealing with, but an extraordinary kaleidoscope of human experiences, and all concentrated in a single geography once the home to some of humanity’s greatest poets. I hope you enjoy this magnificent book as much as I did." 

This writer certainly did.

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