This book was a fun, quick read shedding some light on life in Iran pre and post the 1979 political change. Aghdashloo also shares her memories of her early days in a Western culture, both in England and the USA. This is one of the things that I really enjoyed about this book. I love seeing American culture through foreign eyes. It gives me new appreciation for the beauty outsiders find and what I might, perhaps, be taking for granted. Thinking back on the book, there are several things that stood out for me. Let me share those with you.
As a child, Shohreh Vaziritabar (family name) and her siblings were surrounded by family and one servant. This servant was passed on to the family from another family. She and her sister had been stolen from their family’s boat before they were teens and sold separately on the human slavery market. It was unclear to me if her status was as a paid servant or as a well treated slave by the time she was given to the Vaziritabars. I have never, to my knowledge, known anyone who has been a slave and my mind stumbles a bit trying to grasp onto what that is truly like, especially long term, in a society that was moving away from it.
As Shohreh passes into teenhood, she was fascinated with fashion and eventually theater. However, modeling and acting were not well reputed careers for women at that time. Her parents forbade her acting, except at the occasional family play, and she was stuck. However, a successful and polite man (Aydin Aghdashloo) courting her shows interest in movie and theater actors, providing a basis on which to build a friendship that blossoms into a marriage. the marriage was not arranged, but did start off with a formal courtship. Also, Shohreh was 19 and Aydin in his mid to late 30s. I know that such an age difference has not been uncommon for much of written human history, but still my cultural upbringing quirks my eyebrow over it. Age differences aside, it appears to have been a loving and mutually respectful marriage even up to it’s ending.
With her successful acting career, Shohreh goes from comfortable middle class to a luxuriant living, complete with maid and driver. I was surprised by how honest the author was about her sudden fall from her lavish (to some) lifestyle upon leaving Iran during the political upheaval. She had temporary living quarters, had to learn to drive, hand to clean and cook for herself, and had to get a job that paid the rent (shopgirl). These parts of the book were the most human and connected the most with me.
I was actually surprised at how little was said about the politics of Iran. We learn more about the author’s feelings on movies, fashion, and her two husbands than we do about the politics of her home country. We do read how she has been active both before and since leaving Iran in political demonstrations and theatrical pieces that portray the plight of Iran’s people, but she skirts short of stated her beliefs clearly. Perhaps because she has made them public elsewhere? As a talk show host and radio show host, she spoke on Iran’s politics for a number of years.
I also found the descriptions of the denizens of Hollywood a little lean, with the bulk of the descriptions being happy and rosy. Any negative comments are left vague and for the reader to fill in or dig up on the internet. In some ways, I respect this as so many books are full of trash talking. On the other hand, I don’t think any career could have so few bumps and negative personal interactions. Still, the author is allowed her privacy just like the rest of us.
Over all, the book was an interesting read, showing a melding of not just Persian and American cultures, but also that it is possible to walk back and forth between theater and movie acting careers. It made me grateful that the USA doesn’t have enforced curfews, that we can get married right away, and that folks can openly discuss politics over icecream at any time.