I grew up listening to Manhattan Transfer (and still love them to this day). My favorite album of theirs is Mecca for Moderns. It has what is perhaps the weirdest song I’ve ever heard - “(Wanted) Dead or Alive”. This album came out in 1981 and most of the dictators in this song are now dead, but every now and again I’ll come across one in my reading and think, “Oh. That’s one of those guys from the song.” Two of lines in the song are about the Shah of Iran:
“The Shah had a short time to live because the Ayatollah don’t forgive.”
“Shah of Iran tried so hard to survive. He too is wanted, dead or alive.”
I was not very old when this album came out, and I’m using this album to explain my fascination with Iran. (I also think I’ve been cooped up in Nashville too long, and anything exotic and different is bound to pique my interest.) So when several books about this renegade country came across my desk, I decided to check them out to better understand just why my musical heroes were singing about these people.
Firoozeh (and isn’t that a great name?) was born in Iran, but moved with her family to California when her father was transferred for work. This is her version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding - with a little less emphasis on the wedding and a little more emphasis on her crazy Persian family. (Spoiler alert: She ends up marrying a French guy!) I didn’t find the stories quite as hilarious as the author apparently does, but I did think it was highly enjoyable. So much so that I just checked out her follow-up: Laughing without an Accent.
This is the book that started me on my Iranian kick. It is very dense and has been a little difficult to read - partially because I am so unfamiliar with Iranian history (it wasn’t offered at my public high school in rural Indiana - shocking, right?) that it takes me a little time to keep all the players straight, and partially because a lot of the country-defining events in Iran happened before I was born. The Ayatollahs have been the Supreme Leaders basically my whole life. I have learned quite a bit, though. For instance, I now understand why the Shah had a short time to live, so we are making progress.
In the midst of the other two books, up popped Darius the Great. (Sometimes the universe also participates in my reading fascinations.) This is a young adult novel about half-Persian Darius who travels back to Iran with his family to visit his ailing grandparents. His mother grew up in Yadz, which is right in the middle of Iran to the south southeast of Tehran, and his grandparents still live there. I really enjoyed this book and ended up finishing it in a day or two. The other two books gave me culture and history, but this is the only one that made me want to actually visit the country. I’m also excited because I found out that there is a sequel to this book as well: Darius the Great Deserves Better. My hold just came in, so I have to stop typing so I can go read.
So when it comes to Jeopardy categories like “Things You Never Expected Amanda to Read,” Iran should make your short list. But these were all good, and if nothing else, they’ll get your brain out of Nashville for a while.
Happy learning about a foreign nation,