The Dooreh (book discussion group) offers stimulating, informative discussions of titles about Iran or Peace Corps, and/or books written by Iran RPCVs. Now in its third year, the Dooreh continues to generate interest and engagement. Approximately 12-15 members attend each session, with a core group of perhaps 25-30 members who participate fairly regularly.
Each year in the fall, those on our large Dooreh email list vote in an online survey for six titles to be read in the next year. Jackie Spurlock (Abadeh, Riz, 1974-76) and Jim Goode (Tuyserkan,1968-71) provide a long list of books, which have been recommended by members. The Dooreh meets every other month on the second Wednesday, on Zoom. Besides the discussion facilitator (usually Jackie or Jim), we make every attempt to have the author (if living) join us. If that is not possible, we recruit another “expert” familiar with the author and the work.
Books Selected for 2017-2018
Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village (Stanford University Press, 2013) by Mary Hegland (RPCV Mahabad, 1966-68). Outside Shiraz in Fars Province in southwestern Iran lies "Aliabad." Mary Hegland arrived in this then-small agricultural village of several thousand people in the summer of 1978. She became the only American researcher to witness the Islamic Revolution firsthand over her eighteen-month stay. Days of Revolution offers an insider's view of how regular people were drawn into, experienced, and influenced the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath. Returning to Aliabad decades later, Hegland investigates the lasting effects of the Revolution on the local political factions and in individual lives.*
A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry (Three Continents Press, 1987) by Michael C. Hillmann (RPCV Mashhad, 1964-66) The story of Forugh is given a scholarly treatment but this book also captures her spirit and voice. She was the most famous female poet in Iran and before her untimely death was a spokesperson for artistic and personal freedom. A marvelous woman and poet, she and her work are treated with respect in this book. Discussant, Farzaneh Milani, UVA.
A Hundred Veils (Real Nice Books, 2015) by Rea Keech (RPCV Tehran, 1967-69). The Islamic revolution in Iran did not arise out of thin air. For years, the country had seethed with repressed resentment of the Shah's heavy-handed, authoritarian policies. The universities, mosques, and tea houses were filled with discussions that ranged from the theoretical to the seditious. This novel presents a heart-warming picture of the Iranian people who befriend, guide, love, and laugh at Marco, a young American teaching at the University of Tehran when forces opposing the Shah were gathering strength. Marco naively assumes at first that U.S. help is wanted and appreciated by the Iranians, but soon he comes to see himself--in the eyes of some--as an instrument of the West's arrogant assertion of control. And then he falls in love.*
Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History (US Institute of Peace Press, 2009) by John W. Limbert (RPCV Sanandaj, 1964-66). As the United States weighs a change of approach toward the Iranian government after thirty years of confrontation, John Limbert steps up with a pragmatic yet positive assessment of how to engage Iran. Through four detailed case studies of past successes and failures, he draws lessons for today’s negotiators, and he challenges both Americans and Iranians to end decades of mutually hostile mythmaking. While he acknowledges that any progress at best will be measured in baby steps, Limbert provides clear reasons for renewing dialogue and outlines 14 principles to guide the American who finds himself or herself in a negotiation—commercial, political, or other—with an Iranian counterpart.*
Walled In, Walled Out: A Young American Woman in Iran (Peace Corps Writers, 2017) by Mary Dana Marks (RPCV Kerman, 1964-1966). When Mary joins the Peace Corps, the shah reigns in Iran and John F. Kennedy has left his mark on the world. Sent to Kerman, a conservative city on the Iranian plateau, she teaches English to high school girls. In the classroom or walking through the bazaar amid turbaned Baluchi tribesmen and chanting Sufi dervishes, she is the exotic one. The adobe walls that seclude women exclude her, a bareheaded foreigner. Woven throughout are dusty travels from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, colorful feasts, rich history, and hidden romance. Walled In, Walled Out recounts her convoluted, often humorous journey from ignorance to understanding in a country where the people speak with many voices.*
Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy (Yale University Press, 2017) by Trita Parsi. The definitive book on Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran from the author of the Foreign Affairs Best Book on the Middle East in 2012. This timely book focuses on President Obama’s deeply considered strategy toward Iran’s nuclear program and reveals how the historic agreement of 2015 broke the persistent stalemate in negotiations that had blocked earlier efforts.*
Books selected for 2019
The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy, (Routledge, 2019) by Reese Erlich. Based on frequent, first-hand reporting in Iran and the United States, foreign correspondent Reese Erlich explores the turbulent recent history between the two countries and reveals how it has led to a misguided showdown over nuclear technology. He provides a detailed critique of mainstream media coverage of Iran and offers insights on Iran’s domestic politics and popular culture.*
To Keep the Sun Alive: A Novel, (Catapult, 2019) by Rabeah Ghaffari. The year is 1979. The Islamic Revolution is just around the corner. In this epic novel set in the small Iranian city of Naishapur, a host of vivid, unforgettable characters that range from servants to elderly friends of the family present a compelling story that not only informs the past, but raises questions about political and religious extremism today.*
I’m Not a Terrorist but I’ve Played One on TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man (Simon and Schuster, 2015) by Maz Jobrani. A hilarious and moving memoir of growing up Iranian in America, and the quest to make it in Hollywood, without having to wear a turban, tote a bomb, or get kicked in the face by Chuck Norris. His attempts at assimilation made no difference to casting directors, but finally, through patience, determination, and only the occasional compromising of his principles, he found a path to stardom.*
Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora (University of Arkansas Press, 2006) by Persis M. Karim and Al Young. Here is an extensive collection of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by women whose lives have been shaped and influenced by Iran's recent history, exile, immigration, and the formation of new cultural identities in the United States and Europe. Divided into six sections, the book's themes of exile, family, culture resistance, and love create a rich and textured view of the Iranian diaspora.*
A Young American in Iran (Peace Corps Writers, 2014) by Tom Klobe (RPCV, Gorgan, Alang 1964-66). This presents an account of the author’s Peace Corps experience in a remote Iranian village when, under the Shah, Iran was undergoing incredible changes in education, health care, and community development.*
Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran (Ticknor and Fields, 1980) by Terence O’Donnell. Expatriate Terence O'Donnell lived in Iran for fifteen years in the 1960s and 1970s. This book was drawn from the material in his extensive journals. His memories of that time have yielded a masterpiece of national portraiture, wonderfully alive to the complexities of the Iranian character. It will deepen every reader's understanding of the often elusive country behind the headlines. Discussant, John Lorentz (RPCV, Karaj, 1962-1964).
Books Selected for 2020
Ambling Through Life (IMN Productions, 2015) by Jay Crook. Former field officer and deputy director of Peace Corps Iran, Jay Crook spent more than half of his adult life studying, working, and ambling throughout the Middle East and South Asia, with excursions into neighboring lands as well as Europe and elsewhere. The present volume is a kind of harvest of journeys shared with the reader. He also includes some of his poetic musings and observations on Indian, Pakistani, and American movies.*
Song of a Captive Bird (Ballantine, 2018) by Jasmin Darznik. A spellbinding novel about the trailblazing poet Forugh Farrokhzhad, who defied Iranian society to find her voice and her destiny. Inspired by her verse, letters, films, and interviews, Darznik uses the lens of fiction to capture the tenacity, spirit, and conflicting desires of a brave woman who represents the birth of feminism in Iran.*
Persian Mosaic (Writers’ Showcase, 2001) by David Devine (RPCV, Zahedan, 1971-1973). Another excellent book by an Iran RPCV. Dave starts with a trip back to Iran 25 years after he left, having served in Zahedan as an urban planner from 1971-73. Included are his memories from his first days of training, assignment to remote Zahedan, and travels and experiences. In 1998 he returns and compares Iran to the one he remembers.*
Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution (Crown, 1992) by Sattareh Farman Farmaian with Dona Munker. Growing up in the 1920's in a prominent family, Farman Farmaian took herself off to the US during WWII to study social work. Later she returned to Tehran and established a school of social work, where Peace Corps volunteers worked during the 1970s. She managed to escape Iran early in the revolution and settled in the US. Her account contains fascinating details of life under the Pahlavi shahs and their immediate successors. Discussant, Nasrin Rahimieh, UC Irvine.
The Man in the Mirror: A True Inside Story of Revolution, Love, and Treachery (Unwin Hyman, 1988) by Carole Jerome. Fascinating account of the life of Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Iranian revolutionary and high official in the early years of the Islamic Republic, who was consumed by the revolution he helped to initiate. Written by a Canadian journalist, who had a long, personal relationship with him. Discussant, Matthew Shannon, Henry & Emory College.
Prisoner, My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison (HarperCollins, 2019), by Jason Rezaian. The dramatic memoir of the journalist who was held hostage in a high-security prison in Tehran for eighteen months, accused of spying for America and whose release became a part of the Iran nuclear agreement. Written with wit, humor, and grace, Prisoner brings to life a fascinating, maddening culture in all its complexity.*
*indicates authors participating in Dooreh.