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Publisher: Penguin Group USA$50.00
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-12-21
- Reviewer: Staff
This immersive intellectual history will be, for many Western readers, their first encounter with the complex currents of thought that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and continue to fuel Irans evolving story today. Journalist Secor delves into the ideas of the Islamic Republics varied rulers and intellectuals, as well as those of their pre-revolutionary antecedents. This is no lightweight summary, with topics including the contradictions of the Iranian revolutionary constitution and Austrian-British political theorist Karl Poppers abiding influence on critics of the Islamic Republic. The theoretical material is interspersed with short biographies of dissident writers, journalists, and activists who are little known outside Iran, despite the brave stands that sent many to jail; those who survived imprisonment were exiled. Secors detailed but accessible explanations provide both concrete facts and a general sense that Iranian politics are far more complex than the thumbnail analyses typically provided in Western coverage. She also makes clear, with multiple accounts of violent crackdowns, that almost no one in Iran is safe from its deeply entrenched security state, with writers coming across as particularly vulnerable. Secors clear writing offers a firm grounding in the last 40 years of Iranian political thought and the many actions it has inspired in a complicated and fascinating country. (Feb.)
An intricate portrait of Iran
In 1979, Iran became a revolutionary theocracy. Since then, to the outside world, the country has been identified with repression, false confessions, brutality, torture and worse. But as journalist Laura Secor demonstrates in her compelling, enlightening and often disturbing Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, there is another aspect of the country’s modern history, a “revolutionary impulse as complexly modern as the society that produced it.” These are the heroic efforts of ordinary citizens who exhibit extraordinary courage in endowing the Islamic Republic with their dreams, who embody “the soul of the matter, the experience of politics as it is lived.” They have not moved to overthrow the government but instead challenge injustice, encourage electoral participation and push the government to function in the best interests of the populace.
Between 2004 and 2012, Secor made five trips to Iran, where she observed four elections. Her extensive research included interviews with over 150 people, both inside and outside the country, about conditions there. They ranged from journalists and bloggers to philosophers and political operatives, most of them activists and survivors of imprisonment and torture. Almost all of her interviewees have been forced to leave the country.
The story of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the republic that followed “is not only—perhaps not even primarily—a story about religion,” she writes. It is about politics and identity, about social division and cohesion, the convergence of many streams of thought and activism.
Among the many examples of bravery and idealism profiled in the book is Abdolkarim Soroush, a lay theologian who argues that religious knowledge, like all human knowledge, is subjective and open to question. He believes the Islamic Republic made a fatal mistake in emphasizing Islamic jurisprudence over every other aspect of Islam. Soroush was seriously threatened because of his views.
Anyone who wants to better understand the modern history of Iran as it has been lived by people there should not miss Children of Paradise. It is an insightful mix of first-rate reporting, eyewitness accounts and intellectual history, told in a style that holds us in its grip from page to page.