Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).
Who I Recommend This To: If you have an interest in Persian culture or Hollywood, this is quick, fun read.
Publisher: Harper (2013)
Length: 288 pages
The publisher inadvertently sent me two copies of this book, so I will be given away the unread copy. Giveaway at the bottom of this post.
In this memoir, Shohreh Aghdashloo shares her memories, from her earliest fascination with American movies and European styles, to her teen and early adult years in politically unstable Iran, her first marriage, and finally her leaving Iran for London and eventually America. Starting off with simple backyard fashion shows, Aghdashloo eventually moves to stage acting. Her talents allow her to travel to many countries. As her abilities both grow and become more well known, she is offered parts in movies. Her first husband, Aydin Aghdashloo, an artist and restorer of historical calligraphy, supported her throughout their many years together. But as political turmoil grips Iran in the late 1970s, Shohreh Aghdashloo finds she cannot simply keep her political beliefs to herself. Fleeing Iran, she lands in London and successfully chases after an international politics degree while working as a shop girl in a classy clothing store. With re-entering the world of theater, comes another opportunity and a move to California in America. Hollywood is on the horizon.
This book was a fun, quick read shedding some light on life in Iran pre and post the 1979 political change. Aghdashloo also shares her memories of her early days in a Western culture, both in England and the USA. This is one of the things that I really enjoyed about this book. I love seeing American culture through foreign eyes. It gives me new appreciation for the beauty outsiders find and what I might, perhaps, be taking for granted. Thinking back on the book, there are several things that stood out for me. Let me share those with you.
As a child, Shohreh Vaziritabar (family name) and her siblings were surrounded by family and one servant. This servant was passed on to the family from another family. She and her sister had been stolen from their family’s boat before they were teens and sold separately on the human slavery market. It was unclear to me if her status was as a paid servant or as a well treated slave by the time she was given to the Vaziritabars. I have never, to my knowledge, known anyone who has been a slave and my mind stumbles a bit trying to grasp onto what that is truly like, especially long term, in a society that was moving away from it.
As Shohreh passes into teenhood, she was fascinated with fashion and eventually theater. However, modeling and acting were not well reputed careers for women at that time. Her parents forbade her acting, except at the occasional family play, and she was stuck. However, a successful and polite man (Aydin Aghdashloo) courting her shows interest in movie and theater actors, providing a basis on which to build a friendship that blossoms into a marriage. the marriage was not arranged, but did start off with a formal courtship. Also, Shohreh was 19 and Aydin in his mid to late 30s. I know that such an age difference has not been uncommon for much of written human history, but still my cultural upbringing quirks my eyebrow over it. Age differences aside, it appears to have been a loving and mutually respectful marriage even up to it’s ending.
With her successful acting career, Shohreh goes from comfortable middle class to a luxuriant living, complete with maid and driver. I was surprised by how honest the author was about her sudden fall from her lavish (to some) lifestyle upon leaving Iran during the political upheaval. She had temporary living quarters, had to learn to drive, hand to clean and cook for herself, and had to get a job that paid the rent (shopgirl). These parts of the book were the most human and connected the most with me.
I was actually surprised at how little was said about the politics of Iran. We learn more about the author’s feelings on movies, fashion, and her two husbands than we do about the politics of her home country. We do read how she has been active both before and since leaving Iran in political demonstrations and theatrical pieces that portray the plight of Iran’s people, but she skirts short of stated her beliefs clearly. Perhaps because she has made them public elsewhere? As a talk show host and radio show host, she spoke on Iran’s politics for a number of years.
I also found the descriptions of the denizens of Hollywood a little lean, with the bulk of the descriptions being happy and rosy. Any negative comments are left vague and for the reader to fill in or dig up on the internet. In some ways, I respect this as so many books are full of trash talking. On the other hand, I don’t think any career could have so few bumps and negative personal interactions. Still, the author is allowed her privacy just like the rest of us.
Over all, the book was an interesting read, showing a melding of not just Persian and American cultures, but also that it is possible to walk back and forth between theater and movie acting careers. It made me grateful that the USA doesn’t have enforced curfews, that we can get married right away, and that folks can openly discuss politics over icecream at any time.
What I Liked: Culture experience in an easy to access book; a woman’s story told by a woman; the author had to suddenly and drastically change her life and came out stronger for it; now I want to try saffron cherry chicken rice.
What I Disliked: Sometimes I felt like the author was holding back, glossing over some things (but we’re all allowed to do that, so I won’t be too harsh on this).
I received this book through TLC Book Tours. If you would like to see other reviews and posts on this book tour, click HERE.
As you saw at the top, I received two copies of this book and I am giving one away. Now, this is an uncorrected proof without the fancy final cover, as seen in this picture with my cat. This will be a simple thing. Leave a comment on this post about this book, Shohreh Aghdashloo’s theater or movie work, or something you enjoy about Persian/Iranian culture to be entered into the drawing for the giveaway. Leave an email where I can contact you. I will be mailing this on my own dime, so it is open to North America (Canada, USA, Mexico). The giveaway will be open for 4 weeks. Have fun!