Tales of Two Cities: A Persian Memoir
by Abbas Milani
New York: Kodansha, 1997. 263 pp. $15 (paper).
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Milani, professor of social sciences at a small college in California, recounts an Iranian version of a classic twentieth-century tale. Growing up in privileged circumstances, he felt discontented with his environment, discovered Marxism-Leninism (as well as much else) in the course of an education in the West, returned home to make revolution, and soon found himself in the right-wing regime's jail. Then, when revolution did come, it brought an order even worse than the right-wing one, so he left the country and settled in the West. Despite the title, the memoir deals mostly with one city (Tehran) and little with the other (San Francisco).
In addition to its candor and appealing presentation, Milani's memoir contains a number of interesting points. His early recollections reveal a dislike for Islam whose expression is most unusual in the post-Rushdie era. "My childhood was contaminated with religion.... Religion was synonymous with mourning and fear ... [and] with incomprehensible rituals, occasionally violent, often filled with the pungent odor of body sweat." Beyond religion, his unhappiness followed from an adult attitude that "Children were necessary nuisances." Khomeini's unexpected success caused Milani to acknowledge his own ignorance about Iran and prompted him to do some serious rethinking. Also of note is the improvement in the shah's jails that followed from Jimmy Carter's efforts: "While I do not know how history will judge his presidency, I know that because of his human rights policy, I, and many like me, were spared much suffering."
Related Topics: Iran | Daniel Pipes | June 1997 MEQ
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