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Memoirs Recount Limitations Of Life In Modern Iran

Feb 10, 2009 (Morning Edition)

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Two new memoirs chronicle life in pre- and post-revolution Iran and offer a glimpse of a people struggling to find pockets of freedom within a repressive regime.

Azadeh Moaveni, a California-born journalist who lived in Iran from 1999 until 2002 and again from 2005 until 2007, is the author of Honeymoon in Tehran, in which she recounts the complexities of moving in with her boyfriend and becoming pregnant — before getting married — in a restrictive Islamic regime.

Moaveni describes modern Iran as an "as if" society, where young Iranians avoid the rules by acting as if they don't exist and where what people do in private tends to be very different from the way they are forced to behave in public.

"For example, you have a middle class of young people who has premarital sex, drinks alcohol — behaves as young people around the world, and this is something the regime can't do anything about because, for the most part, it all takes place behind closed doors," Moaveni tells Morning Edition's Renee Montaigne.

But, Moaveni adds, that "as if" game works only as long as the government is willing to play along: "When I was living there this time [in 2005], for example, there was a massive crackdown on what women were wearing in the streets," Moaveni says. "Within a week, everyone was wearing black again because the police were sent out. ... I think they arrested something like tens of thousands of women."

Fellow memoir writer Azar Nafisi, author of Things I've Been Silent About, grew up in Iran in an earlier generation and remembers a sense of freedom that stands in stark contrast to the current reality.

"I grew up in a society where my heroine was a young Iranian feminist poet who openly wrote about having sinned in the arms of a man who was not her husband. I took all of this for granted," Nafisi says.

But Nafisi says that members of her daughter's generation have been jailed and flogged for wearing lipstick — which she jokingly refers to as a "weapon of mass destruction" — or for showing their hair or listening to forbidden music.

Both Moaveni and Nafisi describe a constant struggle between the private and public lives in modern Iran — but Nafisi says that if there is one good thing about the repression it's that it has renewed Iranians' passion for living: "By depriving its people of the pleasures of imagination and love and culture, the government has directed us towards them."

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Nafisi Reads from and discusses her new memoir, on Book Tour

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