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Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran

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The drama that shaped today’s Iran, from the Revolution to the present day.   In 1979, seemingly overnight—moving at a clip some thirty years faster than the rest of the world—Iran became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Since then, the country has been largely a black box to the West, a sinister presence looming over the horizon. But inside Iran, a breat The drama that shaped today’s Iran, from the Revolution to the present day.   In 1979, seemingly overnight—moving at a clip some thirty years faster than the rest of the world—Iran became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Since then, the country has been largely a black box to the West, a sinister presence looming over the horizon. But inside Iran, a breathtaking drama has unfolded since then, as religious thinkers, political operatives, poets, journalists, and activists have imagined and reimagined what Iran should be. They have drawn as deeply on the traditions of the West as of the East and have acted upon their beliefs with urgency and passion, frequently staking their lives for them.   With more than a decade of experience reporting on, researching, and writing about Iran, Laura Secor narrates this unprecedented history as a story of individuals caught up in the slipstream of their time, seizing and wielding ideas powerful enough to shift its course as they wrestle with their country’s apparatus of violent repression as well as its rich and often tragic history. Essential reading at this moment when the fates of our countries have never been more entwined, Children of Paradise will stand as a classic of political reporting; an indelible portrait of a nation and its people striving for change.


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The drama that shaped today’s Iran, from the Revolution to the present day.   In 1979, seemingly overnight—moving at a clip some thirty years faster than the rest of the world—Iran became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Since then, the country has been largely a black box to the West, a sinister presence looming over the horizon. But inside Iran, a breat The drama that shaped today’s Iran, from the Revolution to the present day.   In 1979, seemingly overnight—moving at a clip some thirty years faster than the rest of the world—Iran became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Since then, the country has been largely a black box to the West, a sinister presence looming over the horizon. But inside Iran, a breathtaking drama has unfolded since then, as religious thinkers, political operatives, poets, journalists, and activists have imagined and reimagined what Iran should be. They have drawn as deeply on the traditions of the West as of the East and have acted upon their beliefs with urgency and passion, frequently staking their lives for them.   With more than a decade of experience reporting on, researching, and writing about Iran, Laura Secor narrates this unprecedented history as a story of individuals caught up in the slipstream of their time, seizing and wielding ideas powerful enough to shift its course as they wrestle with their country’s apparatus of violent repression as well as its rich and often tragic history. Essential reading at this moment when the fates of our countries have never been more entwined, Children of Paradise will stand as a classic of political reporting; an indelible portrait of a nation and its people striving for change.

30 review for Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I received a lovely e-mail from the publisher of "Children of Paradise", suggesting I might be interested in reading this book having read and appreciated "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity", by Katherine Boo. I've been in both countries ...'India' and 'Iran'. I was and am interested. Author, Laura Secor, says..."After 1979, Americans seldom traveled to Iran, and the press reports of any depth were surprisingly rare". I was in Iran in 1975. It was very com I received a lovely e-mail from the publisher of "Children of Paradise", suggesting I might be interested in reading this book having read and appreciated "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity", by Katherine Boo. I've been in both countries ...'India' and 'Iran'. I was and am interested. Author, Laura Secor, says..."After 1979, Americans seldom traveled to Iran, and the press reports of any depth were surprisingly rare". I was in Iran in 1975. It was very common to have local Iranian friends say to me... "You were lucky, you saw our country in the peaceful years". Or...they said.. "You got out just in time". Laura started visiting Iran in 2004. Visas were notoriously difficult to come by ...but as a journalist, she was determined.....(compelled and intrigued to go where one didn't belong). Gotta love this authors spicy-electric-fire in her. Newly elected president, Mohammad Khatami pledged to reform the country's autocratic regime. Laura was surprised to discover "a vibrant, soul-searching country". Yet, the country was more oppressive than she imagined. Ordinary people assumed there phones were tapped and emails read. Anxiety was a way of life in a Iran, yet to her amazement the country was a civil spirit that refused to die. Laura says..."The revolutionary decade had been a violent one: Street battles, bomb blasts, political executions, the brutal war with Iraq, and finally seemingly senseless state-sponsored massacre of political prisoners". The country moved on. But for Iranians who were children then as much as for those who are old enough to fear for their lives or question their own complicity, the 1980s we're a repressed memory that gave the country no peace". This book is in part an effort to explain the graveyard and Roozbeth Mirebrahimi's ( a young blogger that Laura met who spent time in prison), troubled presence on its periphery". Roozbeth, ( years later), came to the United States and stayed with Laura and her husband -- not knowing a word of English. I was moved by what Laura and her husband did.. taking this man into their home....talking about Iranian politics. I can imagine the feelings Laura must have had. Through 'one' man.. one kind ordinary man from Iran ( with a dictionary between them), his painful history...that Laura would yearn for more history -- of Iran's revolution and aftermath. This 500+ page book is divided into 4 parts ...plus an added Epilogue. Part 1....Revolution .....a very dark period .."war, war, until victory, or until Saddam Hussein's unconditional surrender". 43% of the country's 190,000 combat dead by decade's end. Economy has never been worse. War, inflation, political instability and foreign sanctions conspired in its unraveling. Islamic Republic prohibited torture and forced confessions - but allowed corporal punishment. Changes in government ...Ayatollah Khomeini dies...Rafsanjani is elected president ... Part 2....Rebirth ...expansion and contraction: Islamic Left turned to Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Theory. Ganji did not yet know that his outlook would transform him from loyal Islamic Republican foot soldier to national icon of resistance. Part 3....Reform....murders that had been mistakes, student activists took to the streets, more radical demonstrations....( this section of the book has many personal true stories of citizens fearing for their lives yet standing for secular regime. Population grew parks, freeways, billboards, malls, sports center, etc. Then ..Mayor Karbaschi was arrested on charges of embezzlement. Tehran City Council became a powerful force in national government.. etc. etc... Part 4.....Resistance....."A Common Man".....( Mahmoud Ahmadinejad)....... A common man ...and a "demagogue". ( we seem to have a lot of these type of leaders in our country today...wouldn't you say?) Whew...For those who stayed with me while trying to share a 'taste' of this book, I thank you. This is a VERY well researched book from an amazing bright dedicated journalist. The people she interviewed 'told their truths' and believed they needed to be told. This book feels like a 'peace symbol' in ways. ( making peace with with the many who died...who deserved to be grieved). Many Iranians dreams and hopes are with bright energy in their bellies moving forward making constructive changes. Thank You Caitland, and Random House for reaching out...recommending and offering to send me a copy of Laura Secor's book. ( my neighbor, Holly, - from my local book club- has already requested my copy next). Congratulations to Laura Secor: wow... What an amazing accomplishment!!!!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    The story of the past 30+ years of Iran’s dissent and reform movements are told through key events and the biographies of reformers, journalists and activists, most of whom are unknown to the US public. Author Laura Secor first cites the influences on the people/events she later profiles: Samad Behrangi’s children’s story of a heroic martyred fish; Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s “Westoxification” advocating that Iran modernize by building on its own literature and culture; Ali Shiarati’s charismatic lectures The story of the past 30+ years of Iran’s dissent and reform movements are told through key events and the biographies of reformers, journalists and activists, most of whom are unknown to the US public. Author Laura Secor first cites the influences on the people/events she later profiles: Samad Behrangi’s children’s story of a heroic martyred fish; Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s “Westoxification” advocating that Iran modernize by building on its own literature and culture; Ali Shiarati’s charismatic lectures critiquing western philosophers (from Marx to Sartre) and seeing Islam as Iran’s mobilizing philosophy; Abdolkarim Soroush’s sweeping philosophy of religion noting that while influencing the values of a state it should be separate from it. These writers and their thoughts permeate the rest of the book. One pivotal event is the “Chain Murders”. Introduced by a lengthy biography of one of the victims and sketches of a few others, it weaves like a novel into the 1994 open letter signed by 134 intellectuals “We are the Writers”. Over the course of several years many of signatories of this demand for freedom of expression slowly disappeared. There are pages and pages of the harassment and torture of the journalists who followed the case. Many visit the “Miracle Room” (where detainees miraculously see the light and confess) and/or Evin Prison and/or dark rooms that could be anywhere. Personal profiles are lengthy. For example, Asieh Amini has 6+ pages are devoted to her early life, village, family and the books she read. Her career in journalism led her to women’s issues such as a girl pimped by her mother, and after being serially and continually raped was tried for sex crimes and a stoning that became an international cause. While she was never arrested, but her colleagues and contacts were. Her email was flooded with victims and their horrific stories and her helpless horror made her physically ill (2-3 pages). She was eventually called by the mother of “Neda” whose death in the post-2009 election made headlines around the world. Everyone associated with Nada including the doctor who tended her had disappeared. This is the final straw for Asieh who obtained relief, like most of the other activists, by leaving the country. For most activists, torture and prison are a way of life. There are pages and pages of torture, deprivation and suffering. Elected officials either will not, or more likely, cannot do much about it. Sources of this violence in the name of religion and/or the revolution are many but unclear. Perhaps the attitudes of the Guardian Council and intelligence ministry give prosecutors such as Saeed Mortazavi who arbitrarily sets prison terms and bail and judges such as the one in Takestan who defied the law prohibiting stoning because he answered to a higher law – Sharia - permission by looking the other way. Similarly, it's hard to tell who controls the Basij, but they seem to be in the know. There is background on the establishment “reformers”. Abolhassan Banisadr was stripped of his presidency and had to flee. In the 1981-1989 Prime Ministership under Mir-Hossein Mousavi repression seemes more brutal than under the shah. Depicted as a reformer, after his “loss” in the 2009 election, Mousavi remains under a brutal (and life threatening) house arrest issuing Jeffersonian like statements. Mayor Gholamhossein Karabachi transformed Tehran into a more livable city faced (real or imagined) corruption charges that paved the way for Ahmedinejad to rise to power. Great hopes were placed on Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, 1997-2005 but the lack of change led to cynicism. Voters stayed home further helping Ahmedinejad to rise. There is a chapter called “The End of the Dirty War against the Intellectuals” which I wish had lived up to its title. The narratives of the agonizing struggle of liberals and reformers are overwhelming. The gains that they suffer and die for are easily swept away. People and their families are destroyed. While there is a lot here, I’m holding a star because the story is not complete. There little information on the sources of the repression, these can only be guessed from the narrative. There is no information on the wealth of Iran, and how the repression may be linked to it. The book ends hastily in 2012 and without conclusion. The Epilogue for which should be more current and covers nothing that could not be found in quick internet searches.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Has any people anywhere in the world deserved a democracy more than the Iranian people? They keep dying and getting tortured and imprisoned and yet they keep going out in the streets and writing and fighting their government. This book was absolutely riveting and totally heartbreaking. You must read this book if you want to understand Iran. I should mention that these are my people. And Soroush, one of the main characters in her story, is a friend of my parents. My mom spent time in Evin and was Has any people anywhere in the world deserved a democracy more than the Iranian people? They keep dying and getting tortured and imprisoned and yet they keep going out in the streets and writing and fighting their government. This book was absolutely riveting and totally heartbreaking. You must read this book if you want to understand Iran. I should mention that these are my people. And Soroush, one of the main characters in her story, is a friend of my parents. My mom spent time in Evin and was part of the revolution and the later fight against Khomeini. This story was beautifully told--Secor not only understand the Iranian people, but she's taken the time to parse out the uniquely Iranian philosophy and religious impetus that led to the revolution as well as its discontents. Everyone should read this.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Thank you to Penguin Random House for gifting me with a free copy of Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran in exchange for an honest review! There are several large topics I'd like to cover in this review so let's get started! 1. The research and the content. The first thing I'd like to mention is how much research went into this. There are countless interviews and paper sources pieced together with the author's own experience. I honestly can't imagine how long it took to accumul Thank you to Penguin Random House for gifting me with a free copy of Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran in exchange for an honest review! There are several large topics I'd like to cover in this review so let's get started! 1. The research and the content. The first thing I'd like to mention is how much research went into this. There are countless interviews and paper sources pieced together with the author's own experience. I honestly can't imagine how long it took to accumulate the knowledge and actually write the book. This book details exactly what the name implies: the search for the soul of Iran. If you've been following international politics for the past few decades, you know that Iran has always been a tumultuous country. This book attempts to remedy the gap of knowledge that people have to assist them in understanding Iran as a people, instead of as a single, political entity. I'm definitely not an expert on Iran so this book helped fill in so many gaps. You don't have to have a political mind to read this although you do have to read attentively. This definitely isn't a book for light reading. It's pretty dense and slightly horrific in some portions. It's a book that unsettles you with the truths it brings to light. 2. The people and the POV. I really liked the POV of this book. I'm really bad at remembering what the different names of the types of POV's are but the POV in this book is really objective and it fit the material really well. Children of Paradise weaves a spider's web through different events and political figures, interconnecting everyone which I found especially cool. The POV allows you to draw your own conclusions about the cause of all of the brutality and sacrifice. I was actually just talking about this type of POV with a couple of fellow readers and how the choice of POV can influence how you feel about a character exactly how they use music in movies. By never hearing from the POV of a villain, you view them as two dimensional figures to be beaten. The best thing about the objective POV in this book is because it does exactly the opposite. The reader can see how every person is their own three-dimensional person with their own motives that seem good and not evil to them. This ties in to the types of people the author chose to follow. They are a diverse mix of higher-ups and ordinary reformists. I do think it took a while for the author to get into the groove of the book and it takes some will-power to get through the beginning (or it could just be that I have a hard time reading straight philosophy). 3. An index of people. One of the things I do wish was included is an index of people and their positions. Being born and raised in the US, I'm unfamiliar with names that have ties in Middle Eastern nationalities. Because of that, I found it very hard to remember the names, see their differences from other names, and tie the profession and life to the name. If you don't experience this, you won't have a problem! The Final Verdict: A book that is entirely refreshing in the simple fact that it brings to light brutalities and hope that isn't captured in international media. I loved the POV and the people that were followed although I found it hard to remember names. 5 stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    In the late 1960s, the first fissures began to appear in Iranian intellectual life that would lead to the earthquake of the country's 1979 revolution. As the country rapidly modernized under the Shah, writers, clerics and poets began to articulate ideas that inspired the revolutionaries who deposed Iran's ruling class, setting the country on a new course internationally and promulgating a style of government never before seen in history. Neither Iran or the world have been the same since. This b In the late 1960s, the first fissures began to appear in Iranian intellectual life that would lead to the earthquake of the country's 1979 revolution. As the country rapidly modernized under the Shah, writers, clerics and poets began to articulate ideas that inspired the revolutionaries who deposed Iran's ruling class, setting the country on a new course internationally and promulgating a style of government never before seen in history. Neither Iran or the world have been the same since. This book is an intellectual biography of Iran's revolution - before, during and after - told through the lives of those who have stood at the center of it. Many of the figures are writers, activists and dissidents of a sort, but as the author poignantly notes, this is a story of people who were part of the system and sought to make it live up to its promises rather than simply discard it. The story begins with the likes of Ali Shariati and Jalal al-e Ahmad, and culminates with Green Movement figures like Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Along the way the book stops with great thoughtfulness and attention upon the lives of many others - Roozbeh Miribrahimi, AbdolKarim Soroush, Akbar Ganji, Asieh Amini, Ali Afshari, Saeed Hajjarian, Hossein Bashiriyeh, Alireza Haghighi, who have chosen to make known their own hopes for a better Iran, usually at great cost to themselves. Like many revolutionary states before it the Islamic Republic, with tragic regularity, consumes its own. Many of its greatest dissidents, even a would-be Supreme Leader like Ayatollah Montazeri, are those who started off in every way loyal and hopeful disciples of the revolution. Even Hassan Rouhani, an articulate voice of reform on some issues as a leader today, is a product of Iran's right-wing revolutionary current. The Islamic Republic destroyed all other political and philosophical currents within the vibrant milieu of 1979, but somehow it still manages to find a way narrow things even more. However, ironically enough, the state also ends up finding more and new fissures within its narrow ruling elite over time, creating political diversity in Iranian political life almost in spite of itself. It is remarkable to think how many former Hezbollahis are the reform-minded thinkers of today, and how this cycle from revolutionary fervor to critical reflection continues to turn. This book offers a valuable lesson on Iran's past, present and possible futures. But the thing that makes it truly memorable in my opinion is the deep empathy, thoughtfulness and humanity that comes through in the storytelling. It is very obvious to see that this book is a labor of love, invested with time and respect for its subject. It eschews cliches and gives full voice to those whose lives are documented, giving time and space to describe and articulate their beliefs and life stories in the fullest possible way. Unifying all this is the truly beautiful writing - some of the best prose I have ever come across in a non-fiction book and something that made the book a real pleasure. The descriptions of people, events and even pure metaphors were extremely graceful and elegant. I found myself reading many of the paragraphs over again out of simple admiration as a writer. The writing and storytelling offers a wonderful packaging to what otherwise could have been a daunting subject to approach. It made me reflect on how important it is to think critically about the struggles of people in other countries for greater justice in their own lives, and to not view such struggles primarily through the prism of geopolitical interest and ideology. In a way, the sacrifices of Iran's writers, clerics, intellectuals, poets and activists seems hard to understand in a rational framework that tells us actions should be based on self-interest. Dissidence in Iran is often met with terror, while speaking the truth is in many cases a prelude to imprisonment, exodus or worse. But, inevitably, some always take that fateful step. There is something universal that makes it impossible to keep society universally quiet in the face of injustice. Reading these stories you cannot help but feel respect for those in Iran who spoke out against what they felt was wrong in their society, in full knowledge of the consequences, and took the time to articulate a philosophical path to what they felt would be getter. It is a useful lesson and reminder for those who take their freedom to speak, to challenge power, and to expose untruth, for granted.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Evan Siegel

    This is probably the best English-language history of the politics of Iran focused on the Green Movement. It is a partisan book--no one will fail to notice the author's engagement with the movement of the modernizing Iranian middle class to break free of the stifling repression imposed by the clerical government--but it is firm in its judgment of the negative aspects of the liberal intellectuals--their addiction to philosophizing where practical action was needed, which cost them dearly over and This is probably the best English-language history of the politics of Iran focused on the Green Movement. It is a partisan book--no one will fail to notice the author's engagement with the movement of the modernizing Iranian middle class to break free of the stifling repression imposed by the clerical government--but it is firm in its judgment of the negative aspects of the liberal intellectuals--their addiction to philosophizing where practical action was needed, which cost them dearly over and over. But the courage of these activists and their willingness to absorb horrifying punishment to move their country forward against terrible odds comes through vividly. The book is based on the English-language material available to the author. Not all of it is of equal value, but on the whole, she makes good use of it. I think she is a bit too insistent that the 2009 elections had been stolen, and ignores the serious writings of those who were skeptical of this. (I am not referring to pro-regime hacks like the Leveretts.) Her lack of access to Persian-language sources is a major defect of this book. It is a shame that this book hasn't found more readers. Sadly, the Green Movement and its legacy has been largely forgotten. Ms. Secor has left us a monument to its memory.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Seth D Michaels

    A long, powerful, tremendously well-reported history of the ideological origins of the Iranian revolution and its reformers and dissidents. Chronological but not a straight history - it's seen through the people and especially the ideas that shape the times. If you are into a grim, careful book that takes you inside a country often seen as opaque or monolithically evil, this is precisely for you. In particular, I couldn't help but be struck by the way everyday life and the paranoia of living und A long, powerful, tremendously well-reported history of the ideological origins of the Iranian revolution and its reformers and dissidents. Chronological but not a straight history - it's seen through the people and especially the ideas that shape the times. If you are into a grim, careful book that takes you inside a country often seen as opaque or monolithically evil, this is precisely for you. In particular, I couldn't help but be struck by the way everyday life and the paranoia of living under a violent autocracy can intersect - and with the parallels between Iran's political scene and our own (I kept highlighting and tweeting photos of excerpts). Not for everybody, but riveting if a long intellectual history appeals to you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    I read about 1/3 of it, and got frustrated. The flap on the inside of the front cover raves because the author talks about all the thinkers in Iran -- artists, politicians, literary figures, blah, blah, etc. -- which would be great except that did she need to talk about ALL of them? It all begins to run together, and yet, in another sense, it's too tidy of a narrative. She makes pronouncements about peoples' motives, their guiding purposes, the results of whatever it is they were trying to do, w I read about 1/3 of it, and got frustrated. The flap on the inside of the front cover raves because the author talks about all the thinkers in Iran -- artists, politicians, literary figures, blah, blah, etc. -- which would be great except that did she need to talk about ALL of them? It all begins to run together, and yet, in another sense, it's too tidy of a narrative. She makes pronouncements about peoples' motives, their guiding purposes, the results of whatever it is they were trying to do, with supreme confidence, but often I'd think, "How can she know THAT?" It reads like a novel in that sense, with an omniscient narrator. But she's not, nor can she know as much as she claims to know. However, she's a fine, fine writer. Until I got entirely lost in the cast of thousands, I really enjoyed her writing. Even the omniscient narrator aspect -- it can be relaxing to read someone who knows everything, who writes confidently as though the way they are writing the story is the Way Things Are. And even though I was frequently bothered by that, I still enjoyed her sense of narrative, her fine sentences and paragraphs, and her seeming understanding of the grand sweep of recent Iranian history. If there were only a way for her to delve into the individual stories without losing the forest for the trees! An admirable shot at a probably impossible task; ultimately, I just couldn't keep reading. Maybe some day when I have the time and energy to write out all the characters with mini-bios on each of them, I could read the book again and keep track of people. Maybe. But I probably won't. As I say fairly often in book reviews, life's short, and if a book isn't cutting it I find no reason to keep reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Romero

    Laura Secor has written about Iran for many major publications and has worked at The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The American Prospect and Lingua Franca. She has been a fellow at the New York Public Library's Cullman Center and the American Academy in Berlin and has taught journalism at NYU and Princeton. To say she is well versed in the subject matter would be an understatement. She tells this story of individuals, some famous, some not, caught up in the times, seizing and wielding ideas p Laura Secor has written about Iran for many major publications and has worked at The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The American Prospect and Lingua Franca. She has been a fellow at the New York Public Library's Cullman Center and the American Academy in Berlin and has taught journalism at NYU and Princeton. To say she is well versed in the subject matter would be an understatement. She tells this story of individuals, some famous, some not, caught up in the times, seizing and wielding ideas powerful enough to shift its course as they wrestle with Iran's apparatus of violent repression in addition to its rich and often tragic history. In 1979, almost overnight, Iran became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Since that time, the country has largely been to the West, a sinister presence looming over the horizon.But inside the country, religious thinkers, poets, journalists, political activists have re-imagined what Iran is or is not. Told in 4 parts: Revolution, Rebirth, Reform and Resistance Ms. Secor has done her research and has been to Iran numerous times beginning in 2004. Her relationships with the people she interviews and write about are genuine and informative. Our relationship with Iran is complicated and can be very hard to understand. I felt she did a wonderful job of telling this story so that everyone can understand the country, it's religions and it's politics. This is a book I will read again and highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to be more informed and not just opinionated.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alia Bellwood

    This is a necessary history to understand as the US and Iran barrel towards more violent interactions. Every American should read this book with empathy. But it was also a heartbreaking read. Secor does a phenomenal job tracing the larger arch of the last 40 years with beautiful biographical attention to its actors as they come up in the larger story. Phenomenally written. Audiobook is a challenge as it is harder to skip over the descriptions of torture that so many Iranian Reformists, journalis This is a necessary history to understand as the US and Iran barrel towards more violent interactions. Every American should read this book with empathy. But it was also a heartbreaking read. Secor does a phenomenal job tracing the larger arch of the last 40 years with beautiful biographical attention to its actors as they come up in the larger story. Phenomenally written. Audiobook is a challenge as it is harder to skip over the descriptions of torture that so many Iranian Reformists, journalists, and activists endured. But the audiobook also helped me better memorize the many important names because I was hearing their correct pronunciation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John Jeng

    This is the best nonfiction book I've ever read about Iran! It made me cry during a few passages about political dissidents in jail... I like the story of the black fish that undergirds the book. And the last line was perfect.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Franklin Furlong

    As I finish reading Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran by Laura Secor, Iran is conducting parliamentary elections and has concluded a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Laura Secor’s history of Iran from before the the 1979 Islamic Revolution arrives just in time for US Readers to understand this moment in time for Iran. My hope is that Secor’s history will help those of us in the US to move beyond the fearful reflex we have in the US about everything Iranian, and replace it As I finish reading Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran by Laura Secor, Iran is conducting parliamentary elections and has concluded a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Laura Secor’s history of Iran from before the the 1979 Islamic Revolution arrives just in time for US Readers to understand this moment in time for Iran. My hope is that Secor’s history will help those of us in the US to move beyond the fearful reflex we have in the US about everything Iranian, and replace it with a historical understanding. Certainly there is reason to be fearful of Iran because of the autocratic violence described in this book directed by the Iranian government against it’s own young, and what we would consider Iranian patriots. However, understanding comes from an understanding of history. Laura Secor begins there, with history. one might call hers a history of ideas, more than a history of events. A US reader approaching this history might anticipate an authoritative chronological account of the overthrow of Mossadegh, the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi and the SAVAK secret police, the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Occupation of the American Embassy, the Iran-Iraq War and the continuation of the theocratic Islamic government to the present day. While Secor writes about all those events, she tells the story of these events through people. Many chapters in her book begin with the introduction of an important person in Iranian History. Samad Behrangi was the author of a children’s story, “The Little Black Fish” in 1968. Shariati, an Islamic scholar, also wrote poetry, actually studied in France and brought Marxism and existentialism to Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini, supreme leader that Shariati probably pointed to a need for. Others were Alireza Haghigi, Mostafa Rohsefat, Bani-Sadr, Beheshdi, Rafsanjani, Mousavi, Ali Khameni, Akbar Ganji, Khatami, Shahram Rafizadeh and Ali Afshari. Through these characters who appear and reappear in the historical narrative she describes the blend of Western ideas and Iranian Shiism that struggle for the soul of Iran. The third section of the chapter on Revoilution entitled, The Period of Constant Contemplation, is key to understanding all the underlying tensions in Islamic thought in Iran. It is well worth the slog through philosophy through which Laura Secor leads us. Secor also relies on Crane Brinton and Hannah Arendt’s historical study of the historical similarities in societal revolutions to explain how the Iranian Revolution follows a historical “pattern” in so many ways. I commend Laura Secor’s history to your careful reading. Despite the slog of philosophy in “The Period of Contemplation”, there are stories such as told of Ali Afshari that are personal and tragic. There is the accounting of the days of the overthrow of the Shah in which many people died. The many executions ordered at Evin Prison by Khomeini near the end of his life, and the Iranian security apparatus’ Chain Murders are horrific. May you gain some understanding why and how we have arrived at this point in Iranian history. There are hopeful signs in the successful negotiation of the nuclear treaty, and the new elections. However, Secor describes it as a struggle of the soul of Iran. Nothing is assured.

  13. 5 out of 5

    James Klagge

    A sort of philosophical-cultural-political journey through Iran over the last 50 years. It's not really a history, because it stays too close to the ground. It is written by a journalist, so it is based more on personalities and events. It does not give a bird's-eye view. Still, I felt like I got a sense of the personal landscape. A chart of the people and their roles would have helped me. Because most of the names were unfamiliar to me, I had trouble keeping track of the players without a score A sort of philosophical-cultural-political journey through Iran over the last 50 years. It's not really a history, because it stays too close to the ground. It is written by a journalist, so it is based more on personalities and events. It does not give a bird's-eye view. Still, I felt like I got a sense of the personal landscape. A chart of the people and their roles would have helped me. Because most of the names were unfamiliar to me, I had trouble keeping track of the players without a scorecard. I was impressed how much philosophy played a role in the story--not Persian philosophy but Western, and even analytic, philosophy. An Iranian friend of mine told me, "Iran is most of all the land of thinkers." That comes across clearly. Debates about Karl Popper and his critique of authoritarianism as well as his philosophy of science have had real relevance to political debate there. Apparently Wittgenstein also figures in their discussions (though he was never mentioned in this book). I was interviewed several years ago by an Iranian news agency about my views on philosophy, and my book Wittgenstein in Exile was published in Persian last year. So these kinds of things really matter there. Here is a Facebook page in Persian about Wittgenstein: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Wittg... It has nearly 4000 "likes"! That's impressive. The interest in philosophy and in Wittgenstein in Iran made me think maybe it would be neat to visit there sometime and talk about philosophy and Wittgenstein. BUT, this book made me completely rethink that. Here's a very recent example of the dangers: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/06/... The story line of the book is really how virtually every attempt to open discussion in the society has met with severe and brutal repression. This repression is not particularly correlated with the government in power, but seems to be an ongoing element regardless of who is in control. It seems to operate outside of the legal system, as though the prisons and the enforcers are an authority unto themselves. The amazing thing is that citizens continue to try to open discussions and reveal abuses, regardless of the costs. But it seems that leaving the country soon becomes the only real alternative for many. I have a number of Iranian friends--some have left for good, some have left at least temporarily, and some are "Facebook friends" that are still there and that have friended me presumably because of my book. I have the greatest respect for these citizens and wish them all the best. I hope the nuclear accord is some help to them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elfl0ck

    In the US, we tend to view Iran as a monolith--entirely one thing before the revolution, entirely another thing after 1979. If there's one thing at which Laura Secor excels in this book, it is breaking down that misconception. She tells the story of post-revolutionary Iran not as a historian, but as a journalist, following personal narratives into surprising and enlightening territory. The characters she focuses on are generally counter-cultural figures. Whether religious or secular, the thing th In the US, we tend to view Iran as a monolith--entirely one thing before the revolution, entirely another thing after 1979. If there's one thing at which Laura Secor excels in this book, it is breaking down that misconception. She tells the story of post-revolutionary Iran not as a historian, but as a journalist, following personal narratives into surprising and enlightening territory. The characters she focuses on are generally counter-cultural figures. Whether religious or secular, the thing that unites these characters is their struggle to make their opinions known, and their deep dedication to the future for their country. Secor describes how, in most parts of the world, poets and political philosophers would never find a popular audience, but "in Iran, the language of abstraction, whether poetic or philosophical, was a native one." She paints a picture of a culture that is impassioned, idealistic, and locked in ceaseless debate with itself. All the more remarkable is the fact that these writers, activists, and philosophers pursue their goals against the backdrop of a sometimes chillingly authoritarian state. Despite her dedication to presenting the nuance of Iranian opinions and civil society, Secor doesn't shy away from criticism of the state. This book is full of stories of torture, suppression, and fraud, but always with an eye to the events' greater historical context. Secor explores the injustices that led the revolution in the first place, the political structures that allowed the revolutionary state to become increasingly more draconian through the 1980s, the changes that could have been made if Montazeri had been allowed to succeed Supreme Leader Khomeini, and the changes that could come under the leadership of moderate pragmatist President Rouhani. On the heels of the implementation of the JCPOA, this is a timely book, and sheds some much needed light on what many see as an irreparably dark subject.

  15. 5 out of 5

    lisa

    An intense look at Iran, and its various histories. This is not easy to get through (it look me months) but I will recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the country's constantly shifting ideas and politics.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Broughall

    Brilliant! Eye-opening!

  17. 4 out of 5

    May

    good primer on iran, but secor never unpacks the scores of labels that precede names: reformist, islamist, leftist, anti clerical, nationalist. what do they mean?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Akin

    ('Haaretz', 5.4.16. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/....) 'Westoxification' and worse: Probing Iran’s turbulent history Two new books – by American journalist Laura Secor and human rights activist and lawyer Shirin Ebadi – shed light on Iran's complex political and religious psyche. By Akin Ajayi “Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran,” by Laura Secor, Riverhead Books, 508 pp., $30 “Until We Are Free: My Struggle for Human Rights in Iran,” by Shirin Ebadi, Random House, 304 pp. ('Haaretz', 5.4.16. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/....) 'Westoxification' and worse: Probing Iran’s turbulent history Two new books – by American journalist Laura Secor and human rights activist and lawyer Shirin Ebadi – shed light on Iran's complex political and religious psyche. By Akin Ajayi “Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran,” by Laura Secor, Riverhead Books, 508 pp., $30 “Until We Are Free: My Struggle for Human Rights in Iran,” by Shirin Ebadi, Random House, 304 pp., $27 In 1963, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, shah of Iran, launched the White Revolution – a series of political and social reforms inspired by the progressive democracies of the West and directed at improving the lot of the Iranian working classes. That’s what he claimed, anyway. In fact, the intended principal beneficiary of the reforms was the shah himself; he assumed that a newly empowered middle class would shore up his wobbly political standing. But he was wrong. It wasn’t that the proposed schemes – including land ownership reforms, a literacy drive and extending suffrage to women – were untimely in themselves. But the inchoate, incompetent and often corrupt attempts to implement the changes merely underlined the self-interest behind them, and ultimately exposed an even wider swathe of Iran’s population to the shah’s capricious rule. The reforms also created enemies among the clergy, who resented what they saw as the dilution of their traditional power base: the rural poor and landless. One leading agitator was the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who railed against the White Revolution’s Westernizing ambitions, framing them as a threat to Islam – while at the same time leveraging the shah’s human rights abuses to his own political benefit. After Khomeini described the shah as a “wretched, miserable man,” in an incendiary 1963 speech, the shah sent him into exile. Afterward, the shah attempted to diminish the threat the ayatollah represented to his reign by dismissing him as a an “obscurantist little cleric.” If only. As we know now, the shah’s misjudged drive to Westernization prepared the ground for his eventual overthrow. The mass literacy achieved by White Revolution indeed expanded the educated middle classes, but not the economic infrastructure needed to support them. Unemployment and social discontent burgeoned. Over the next decade or so, two ideological movements steadily grew in strength and influence, finding a receptive audience amid the discontent. The first, led by left-leaning intellectuals, championed the evolution of an indigenous and independent Iranian identity, freed from slavish mimicry of the West. The other, religious and conservative in orientation, proposed the extension of Islamic jurisprudence into the public and political spheres. The populace was primed for the introduction of a new order. But whose? The enduring face-off between these two movements, always fractious and often violent, forms the crux of “Children of Paradise: The Struggle for a New Iran,” by American journalist Laura Secor. The principal achievement of her thoughtful political history lies in its comprehensive engagement with the social and intellectual complexities that shaped the creation of this modern-day religious state. Iran, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution that rid it of the shah, has been commonly described as ruled under the inflexible fiat of fundamentalist clerics. There is truth in this characterization, obviously. But it’s also a conveniently reductive narrative, and Secor – who over the last decade and a half has written about Iran for Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker and The New Republic, among other publications – broadens the terms with which one might decipher the enigma that is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Authentic identity “The story of the Iranian revolution… is not only – perhaps not even primarily – a story about religion,” Secor argues. “It is a story about politics and identity, about social division and cohesion, about the forces that move history everywhere in the world.” The painstaking detail she invests in charting the ideological journey of modern Iran gives this claim persuasive heft. By starting with the principles and tracing the growth of a uniquely Iranian intellectual awareness in the wake of the shah’s failed reforms, Secor enables the reader to engage with a far more nuanced social and political history. The “anchor” wasn’t religion in itself, but rather the desire of Iranians to create an authentic identity, a sense of self that could stand independently of Western mores. By the mid-1960s, the distrust had begun to coalesce into a tangible philosophy: Gharbzadegi, usually translated into English as “Westoxification.” Suspicion of Western influences had long been a feature of the Iranian political psyche, particularly after the CIA-supported overthrow of the Iranian prime minister – and the shah’s political rival – Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. But Westoxification extended beyond the political to the historical and cultural, the cornerstones of Iranian identity. In 1962, essayist and political activist Jalal al-e Ahmad wrote – and secretly circulated – an influential essay on this theme, characterizing Westoxification as a disease eating away at Iran’s identity from within. Interestingly, given his secular influences, Al-e Ahmad’s tract recognized a place in the national psyche for the only aspect of Iranian identity that, to his mind, remained untainted by exposure to the West: religion. The clerical class was not quite so pluralistic in its outlook. Khomeini, who spent much of his exile in neighboring Iraq, was always clear that the only legitimate government must be Islamic, guided by religious leaders. Khomeini’s theocratic ideology derived from the Shia jurisprudential philosophy of Velayat-e Faqih, which vested custodianship of the populace in the clerical class. As is usually the case where the spiritual and the profane intersect, the intended scope of this religion-informed (and at the time, hypothetical) custodianship was disputed. By 1974, Secor reports, Khomeini had made his definitive statement on the matter, favoring a maximalist interpretation: The state, he argued, had no need for either a constitution or for legislation beyond the revealed word of God. There is one thing all organized faiths hold in common: the promise to believers that religion, and it alone, can create an irreproachable communal identity. Perhaps this explains why the left-leaning activists and intellectuals who followed Al-e Ahmad could find common ground with the clerics during the tumultuous late 1970s. Secor points out that despite his preference for what might be charitably described as guided democracy, “[Khomeini] also presented a seductive theory of a ‘proud and defiant’ national identity.” This could be interpreted as an embrace of Westoxification, but it ultimately turned out to be something else entirely. In any case, the shah’s undiscriminating but uniformly brutal attitude to his opponents made rapprochement between the two streams of dissent easier. The opposition prevailed, and in early 1979 the shah fled increasing domestic unrest in Iran for a short, peripatetic exile (he died, of a form of blood cancer, in Egypt the following year). In Iran, however, the settling of accounts had just begun. Intellectual soul In visceral detail, Secor describes the political lurches and turns of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the country’s transformation from autocratic fiefdom to a theocratic “democracy”: the collapse of the monarchy; the approval of a constitution vesting overall power in a clerical Council of Guardians (manifestation of Khomeini’s favored Velayat-e Faqih); and the establishment of the Revolutionary Guard, to offset the military establishment. Late in that year, the American hostage crisis presented Khomeini with the pretext to complete his power grab, by using the selective leaking of documents from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to discredit political moderates. By the beginning of 1980, the clerics were in full political control, liberal thinking co-opted, frozen out, or worse. But while these religious leaders might have won the political battle, the struggle for the intellectual soul of Iran had only just begun. You can lead a horse to water, the saying goes, but you can’t force it to drink. However, give a person enough material and he’ll have no choice but to think. Velayat-e Faqih might have been presented as the starting point of an Iranian Enlightenment, but in fact it was as repressive – perhaps even more so – than the shah’s regime. In the face of common sense and good reason, Khomeini exploited the ruinous Iran-Iraq War until it reached a pointless stalemate, leading to more than 190,000 Iranian deaths. In parallel, domestic enemies of the new order were wiped out – literally. Secor notes the more than 7,900 political detainees were executed between 1981 and 1985 – at least 79 times the number killed in the name of the shah throughout the 1970s. “Cast out of the inner circle of power, the militants of the Islamic left turned to philosophy, sociology and political theory for new answers,” Secor writes. “What was the State? Why did it exist? How could they distinguish the word of God from its reflection in their own eyes?” As a work of narrative journalism, “Children of Paradise” works particularly well because it reaches beyond the documentation of Iran’s turbulent recent history, and succeeds in personifying it. Secor accomplishes this by crafting evocative portraits of many of the principal characters (as well as some who were not in the limelight) in the battle for Iranian hearts and minds. The reader meets Ali Shariati, the sociologist from a clerical family who became a main champion of Al-e Ahmed, exhorting the revolutionary potential of religion before his mysterious death in 1977; Abdolkarim Soroush, the engineer-turned-scholar, who strove, ultimately unsuccessfully, to negotiate an intellectual space where cultural and philosophical criticism of the ayatollahs could be possible without challenging the primacy of Islam; and later, reflecting the spread of intellectual opposition, student leader Ali Afshari, human rights activist Asieh Amini and writer/journalist Mohammed Mokhtari, among many others. Through them, the book places markers along the path, tracing the evolution of an almost organic sensibility; the understanding, amid the dissent and defiance, that political freedom is but one aspect of the challenge to create a new Iran. Any inclusive identity must include respect for the human rights of all – and this is something that the Velayet-e Faqih will never quite achieve. Impassioned memoir Despite its strengths, “Children of Paradise” is not quite the complete article. Reportage, even when as detailed and informed as Secor’s, can never quite replace the experience of life as actually lived. For this reason, one approaches “Until We Are Free: My Struggle for Human Rights in Iran,” by Shirin Ebadi, with the anticipation that it will help complete the picture. Ebadi, a lawyer by training, qualified as a judge in 1970 and subsequently became president of the Tehran city court – the first woman to hold this position. Following the 1979 revolution, the clergy forced her into early retirement, whereupon she opened a legal practice, focusing on civil rights and protecting the legal status of women and children. Her work brought her into sharp conflict with the clerics, and several of her clients were killed during a purge – widely assumed to have been sponsored by a hard-line faction of the sitting government – in 1998. (This, as well as the subsequent history of Iranian dissent, is covered comprehensively in Secor’s book.) Ebadi herself was tried and convicted on the peculiar charge of tape-recording a confession by a government agent in connection with one of these killings, although her five-year prison sentence was suspended by a superior court. In 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace; the jury acknowledged her work as a lawyer, writer and activist, and also pointed out that she “never heeded the [threats] to her own safety” provoked by her activism. “Until We Are Free” is an impassioned memoir, framed by the eight-year reign of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the once little-known engineer who trumped the odds to be elected Iran’s president in 2005. Mohammad Khatami, his predecessor, had tread a thin line between acknowledging demands for social reform and respecting the supreme custodianship of the clerics. Ahmadinejad, who owed his electoral success to those religious figures, promptly reversed the incremental advances secured under Khatami, thrusting Iran back into political tension. Activists had by this time internalized the lesson, learned from the hard days of the 1980s and ‘90s, that championing full human rights for all was a far more effective strategy than demonstrating overt political opposition to the clerics. Even so, Ahmadinejad was indiscriminate in attacking perceived opponents of the existing order. Ebadi’s work as a feminist campaigner and activist – and her international profile as Nobel laureate – made her an obvious target; a warning to other campaigners that dissent would not be tolerated. On the one hand, “Until We Are Free” is a powerful document, vividly portraying the repressive rule under the clerics and Velayat-e Faqih. “The Islamic Republic has a myriad of shortcomings,” Ebadi writes. “It vests absolute power in an unelected leader, harasses independent-minded clerics who challenge the religious basis of its severe Islamic rule, and pursues policies that are ideologically radical and detached from the national interests of the Iranian people.” The republic’s insistence on the development of a nuclear program, in the face of crippling international sanctions, stands as testament to this. (Said sanctions are presently in the process of being dismantled. However, as a recent UN Human Rights Council reports, gross human rights violations continue apace.) Ebadi can testify to this firsthand. After failing to co-opt her as an unwitting proxy in the regime’s attempts to evade international sanctions, Ahmadinejad’s factotums turned against her unrelentingly. Her civil rights organization, Defenders of Human Rights, was closed down (inauspiciously on December 10, International Human Rights Day); her family was harassed, and she gradually comes to understand that even if her international profile protected her from the worst of the regime’s actions, this shield does not extend to colleagues and associates. Her daughter’s passport is seized without explanation, then returned without excuses or justification. An intern at Ebadi’s NGO is threatened with dire personal consequences if she continued to work with Ebadi. Ebadi herself is later allocated an official “minder,” to keep an eye on her activities; the minder warns her that public criticism is dangerous, because it empowers Iran’s international enemies. “If the state stops behaving badly, then I won’t have anything to say,” she retorts. But the state won’t stop, and the implication is that thus, neither will she. But for all this insight, “Until We Are Free” sometimes reads as though trapped within an incomplete perspective. The warning for the reader (noted in retrospect) can be seen already in the declarative first-person singular of the book’s subtitle, a narrow point of view that runs throughout the work. This may be a matter of social milieu. Ebadi is, correctly, critical of Ahmadinejad’s “money and envelopes” (or, to put it bluntly, vote-buying) policy – “seducing the urban and rural poor with cash,” as she describes it. But she doesn’t pause to consider: Might there be a reason why people might allow themselves to be seduced thus? Later, she muses about the difficulties faced by “ordinary people” trying to obtain visas for study abroad. One would be willing to wager that travel abroad would not have been a high priority for the many Iranians who have had to contend with the effects of international sanctions. This is not to deny Ebadi’s personal commitment to championing the basic human rights of all Iranians, to a much greater degree than one can say of the government. Despite all the indications to the contrary, Ahmadinejad was “re-elected” president of Iran in 2009, and immediately set about neutralizing the opposition with vigor (Secor, again, covers this period with admirable clarity). It was clear to Ebadi – attending a conference abroad at the time – that returning to Iran would put her in personal danger; by default, she became a political exile, which remains her status until today. Both of her daughters had by this time relocated to the West, but her husband remained in Tehran. Unscrupulous to the last, Ahmadinejad’s operatives turned him into a tool against Ebadi, by engineering a cruel betrayal. That fact, and indeed the book as a whole, serves as a poignant and painful reminder of the personal price paid by many dissidents for their opposition to the regime.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathanael Roy

    I knew very little about the modern political situation in Iran going into this book. I had some idea that Iran had a supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, but also had some elections held for president and parliament. I knew that it was an Islamic state with a regime suspicious to the west and supported by oil. I also knew, of course, that the United States had reached a nuclear deal though I had no insight into what the state of the current regime looked like. I did not know the influence of Ali Sharia I knew very little about the modern political situation in Iran going into this book. I had some idea that Iran had a supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, but also had some elections held for president and parliament. I knew that it was an Islamic state with a regime suspicious to the west and supported by oil. I also knew, of course, that the United States had reached a nuclear deal though I had no insight into what the state of the current regime looked like. I did not know the influence of Ali Shariati and how his influence reaches and resonates within the population and the two factions- conservative and reformist- into today. Through reading this book I would learn of Bazargan and Abbas Amir-Entezam and their symbolism as one of the earliest sparks of liberal-democracy in the post revolution days, the 1988 Massacre of prisoners, of Montazeri (how would things have been different had he become supreme leader?), of the Chain Murders. So many players within the institution of the Iranian state have fought against other factions for rights, or power, or for their version of what an Islamic state with Islamic values should look like. On the public facing side, the characters that animate the ideological discussions in Iranian politics are dynamic, interesting, and often stunningly resilient in the face of this truly revolutionary and tumultuous modern period of Iranian history. Reformist journalists and secular writers again and again had their lives turned inside out and their reality turned into a horror story as state actors committed atrocities against them for threatening the grip of power or spreading messages deemed to be dangerous to the state. Iranian thinkers draw from some of the same those in the west draw from, with Abdolkarim Soroush an ideological descendant of Karl Popper and Ahmad Fardid the ideological descendant of Martin Heidegger. Karl Marx played an influential role in young people as especially a voice of revolution, but was elsewhere seen as too extreme an influence. Everyone drew from Shariati it seemed like, and from Islamic religious teachings. I found myself drawing, at one point, a parallel with the United States in the grip on presidential power passing from Rafsanjani to Khatami to Ahmadinejad, similar to the torch passing from Bush to Obama to Trump. The core takeaway of mine from this book was that the political life of Iran is rich and as varied as the population that lives within the borders. As with our politics, there are factions as well as factions within factions. Peaceful transfer of power as well as freedom of speech is not as assured as in the United States but it is fought for. I was kind of surprised, in the end, by how engaging I found this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kyra

    "Iran doesn't have a culture of passive citizenship, despite the best efforts of its rulers, past and present, to produce one. What it does have in many quarters is a restless determination to challenge injustice and to seize control of its destiny." Laura Secor's subtle reflections and confidently produced insights into the turbulent and often violent ideological battles inside the Islamic Republic yields an exceptional book. Her intent is to reveal the deep intellectual roots of the Islamic Re "Iran doesn't have a culture of passive citizenship, despite the best efforts of its rulers, past and present, to produce one. What it does have in many quarters is a restless determination to challenge injustice and to seize control of its destiny." Laura Secor's subtle reflections and confidently produced insights into the turbulent and often violent ideological battles inside the Islamic Republic yields an exceptional book. Her intent is to reveal the deep intellectual roots of the Islamic Revolution which aren't widely apparent in our generalized understanding of Iran as a clear enemy of the US. Secor's voyage in this book take us from the streets of the student uprisings in the 70's which led to the take over the US Embassy in Tehran and established a theocracy meant to demonstrate a commitment to both democracy and religious and cultural self determination. But whose law prevail? Man's or God's? And who determines right and wrong? Meanwhile, power grabs and oil money spoil the hopes of those persistently ambitious for justice and democracy. Secor introduces us to a series of individual activists inside the Islamic Republic of Iran -- advocates for democracy, for human rights, for civil rights, for social justice -- all in the name of the revolution. This is a remarkable book, if only to read to see and be reminded of the lengths that people will go to set their country on the road to political justice. The consequences of their righteousness are often immediate imprisonment, sentences doled out in televised kangaroo courts, where heroes of reform are forced to recant their mostly deeply felt beliefs, after decades of torture, and perhaps most horrifying -- each of these acts of terror against its own citizens often causes the turning of former allies and comrades against each other, as each does what they can to survive. It's not a pretty tale but it may shame you into thinking that you could be much more courageous than you are right now in upholding our own democracy and to keep the least powerful safe from the overreaching hand of executive authority.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Newman

    While not a history of the Islamic Revolution itself, this book represents a compelling and wonderful peek into the culture surrounding that revolution, and what followed. At times it is difficult to read, not because of the text but because of the authors ability to put the reader in the midst of the struggles average Iranians experience on a day to day basis, not to mention the brutality experienced by those seeking even the most rudimentary civil rights. The author describes the country as a While not a history of the Islamic Revolution itself, this book represents a compelling and wonderful peek into the culture surrounding that revolution, and what followed. At times it is difficult to read, not because of the text but because of the authors ability to put the reader in the midst of the struggles average Iranians experience on a day to day basis, not to mention the brutality experienced by those seeking even the most rudimentary civil rights. The author describes the country as a “black box” which is an apt description—I have spent some time examining Iran and it’s politics in terms of its national security implications, and done some limited reading in that capacity. I thought I had an understanding of the country, it’s politics, and it’s people. I was wrong. I recommend this book to those interested in national security strategy, and particularly to those practicing it. It is also an interesting read for a criminal law practitioner. While our system of justice is, to be sure, flawed, the author bears witness to a truly repressive regime supported by a criminal justice system based on forced confessions and mass incarceration of dissenters. Overall a fantastic read well worth your time and interest.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Russell Kapryn

    You will learn a lot about Iran in terms of its pre-revolution days, the era of the revolution itself, and after the revolution up to the 2010's. Specifically, you will learn about presidential elections, the urban development of Tehran, the selling of density in the capital city, journalism, protests, university upheavals, and in-depth stories of those who were flagged and fell victim to dubious elements of the theocratic government. The book doesn't hold back in going into detail concerning the You will learn a lot about Iran in terms of its pre-revolution days, the era of the revolution itself, and after the revolution up to the 2010's. Specifically, you will learn about presidential elections, the urban development of Tehran, the selling of density in the capital city, journalism, protests, university upheavals, and in-depth stories of those who were flagged and fell victim to dubious elements of the theocratic government. The book doesn't hold back in going into detail concerning the squalid conditions of secret jails and torture that was often experienced by dissidents, reformists, and protesters. Some elements of the book I felt are a bit long and could have been cut. For example, the chapter on Asieh Amini spans over 40 pages. I pondered the relevance of the lengthy details where she pursues an abortion because she already had a child and was inconvenienced to have another because she was a working woman in the midst of her career. Overall, it is a good book that does well to share views and insights of Iran that Westerners are perhaps aware of generally but not in the depth or detail that this book reveals.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert S

    Children of Paradise is an excellent read that details the dissent and reform movements in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Secor does a fantastic job giving life to the individuals in Iran who have been fighting to make a real difference, giving ink to a different side of Iran that doesn't typically get covered in the media. Secor made an active choice to have the book focus on the people of Iran, ignoring many of the typical pitfalls of books that try to cover a foreign country but get bogged do Children of Paradise is an excellent read that details the dissent and reform movements in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Secor does a fantastic job giving life to the individuals in Iran who have been fighting to make a real difference, giving ink to a different side of Iran that doesn't typically get covered in the media. Secor made an active choice to have the book focus on the people of Iran, ignoring many of the typical pitfalls of books that try to cover a foreign country but get bogged down with trying to relate everything back to its impact on American foreign policy. Definitely worth reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Terry94705

    Actually, I am still listening to this book, but wanted to start the review before I forget a point. The audiobook reader is excellent , but unless you have already sorted the cast of characters in your head, you may regret not having their names in front of you in typeface. To my western and untrained ear, some of the names sounded similar, so I ended up listening for the feel of the general cultural history rather than sorting out the individual actors. I have some regrets about this, as they Actually, I am still listening to this book, but wanted to start the review before I forget a point. The audiobook reader is excellent , but unless you have already sorted the cast of characters in your head, you may regret not having their names in front of you in typeface. To my western and untrained ear, some of the names sounded similar, so I ended up listening for the feel of the general cultural history rather than sorting out the individual actors. I have some regrets about this, as they are quite interesting individuals.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Thomas

    Really enjoyed this. Good on-the-ground reporting of the last twenty years or so of Iranian politics, with an range of fascinating characters and stories. A little bit light on actual history, though. Likewise, I felt that there could have been a bit more discussion RE the major intellectual currents in Iran: terms like 'Reformist', 'Islamist', and 'Principilist' are thrown around a lot without any real explanation of their wider meaning.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Priyadarshini

    This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys history, politics strong characters and anyone who wants to really about Iran. This is not a historical novel with dry and wry characters. Every significant event in the last few decades has been written with hidstorical accuracy and yet not losing the emotional philisophical connection it has to society..

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    In principle an interesting book, but way too much detail and way too long.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Lennon

    Good history of the people and principles of Iran's 3 contemporary factions, although understandably better and more insightful on the reformers and moderates than conservatives.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scott Shapiro

    Best book on Iran I have read. Beautifully written and deeply insightful. Brava!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Reem

    Note to self: stop reading 'mainstream' books on Iran.

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