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Canadian Books About Iran
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Canadian Books About Iran

By 49thShelf
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Books in which Iranian and Canadian experiences intersect.
Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins

A Mystery
also available: Paperback

“Iran’s stormy history is the atmospheric backdrop for Ausma Zehanat Khan’sAmong the Ruins, the third book in her exceptional series featuring Esa Khattak…The story takes on the air of a James Bond movie, including an explosive finale on the Caspian Sea.”—The Washington Post
On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak …

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Taste of Persia

Taste of Persia

A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan
tagged : central, essays

Winner, James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year, International (2017)
Winner, IACP Award for Best Cookbook of the Year in Culinary Travel (2017)
Named a Best Cookbook of the Year by The Boston Globe, Food & Wine, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal
“A reason to celebrate . . . a fascinating culinary excursion.” —The New York Times
Though the countries in the Persian culinary r …

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Honeymoon in Purdah

Honeymoon in Purdah

An Iranian Journey
also available: Hardcover
tagged : women

To go beyond the legacy of revolution, religious fundamentalism and veiled women and find the real people of Iran, a young Canadian dons the cloak of Islam. The result of Alison Wearing's journey is a warm, funny and shocking collection of riveting portraits and stories about the generous, irrepressible people she met. With a novelist's love of language and eye for detail, she takes the reader into the homes and hearts of people whose spirit, intelligence and laughter enlighten and impress. Beau …

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On the main street, tin-box cars race along like go-karts. There are no traffic lights, therefore no pattern of movement, no lulls or rushes, only a steady stream of cars moving as fast as they can without crashing. As a result, there is no opportune time to cross. The only thing to do is swallow hard and make a run for it. And not expect oncoming cars to make allowances.

The reason we are so determined to cross is that I see colour, there--No, look: over there, no, there, in the window. Circles of bright orange, canary yellow, two shades of green, lurid pink with black spots.
Carrots. Carrots and grapefruits and oranges and watermelons and bananas, all piled up in the window into a fruit mosaic.

Behind the counter is a young boy, looks about ten, an orange press, a blender and a juicing machine. I sound out the words from the list on the wall and am so excited by the idea of a fresh juice, I projectile-salivate when I open my mouth to order. "Yek-" Oops, sorry. (Wipe.) "Yek livan ab portegal lotfan."

The boy blinks a hundred times as he is cutting oranges in half. Looks at us from the corner of one eye as he is pressing the fruit into juice, gives an embarrassed smile as he hands me the glass. A smile that grows as I swallow the contents in one long gulp.

I order another one each.

He looks at us face-on now, even as he is halving fruit with a knife the length of his forearm. He serves up two more pulpy juices and crosses his arms over his chest, proudly. We drink these just as quickly, replace the glasses and thank him. Move to pay.

The boy steps back. He tilts his head shyly and waves our money away.

Ian tries again with a different amount, but the boy tosses his head back in refusal, raises his hand to his heart and closes his eyes.

Ian and I exchange smiles of disbelief and put the money away. We thank the boy again and again. Each time, he nods and looks embarrassed. We thank him once more before leaving. The boy smiles and shrugs. We step back onto the street.
"That was generous!" Ian and I say in unison. "What a sweet boy! So gracious! I wonder if the whole country will be like this!" Ian checks his watch. "We should head back."

We walk back to the intersection and are gearing ourselves up to cross when the boy catches up to us, panting, eyes brimming with tears. He looks at the sidewalk, red-faced, and asks Ian, in a combination of hand gestures and humble whispers, if we could please pay for our juices.

I pull out a roll of bills and ask the boy how much. He mumbles the price out of the corner of his mouth. Seven hundred rials. Exactly what was written on the wall. The precise sum we offered him a few minutes ago. I pay. The boy bows and leaves. Ian and I watch him run back into his shop, turn, and look at each other with the dopey expression of walruses.
Hamid is beside himself with worry. He speaks for minutes at a time and has a voice like grape jelly. Did we have difficulties? Was everything enough interesting? Have we enough eating and drinking?

"Yes yes yes, just fine. Except . . . well there was this boy at the juice shop. He refused our money, then chased us down the street for it a few minutes later. We're not sure whether he--"

"--this is taarof." Hamid is laughing. "I think it is not Canadian taarof, only Iranian. A man must not take first time, no, he must not accept--" Hamid tsks and throws his head back, just as the boy did
"?then again second time--" he closes his eyes and puts a hand over his heart "--then, third time okay for taking. It is custom."

"Custom to refuse everything twice?"



"Why?" Hamid repeats.

"Yes, why?"

Hamid pauses. Wrinkles his chin. "Why, it is not good question. Please make me another question."
Ian is ill. Just a cold, but a bad one. He's been in bed the last two days. Headache, fever, chills, a cough, and a throat so sore it hurts to swallow.

Hamid is worried, terribly terribly worried. Paces and holds his head when I tell him that Ian isn't hungry. Looks teary-eyed when I tell him Ian has a cold. Shakes his head and gathers the roll of blankets in the corner of the room.

"No no, there are enough blankets. He isn't cold, he has a cold." I look the phrase up in my book, but it isn't there. I cough and fake the sniffles. Hamid purses his lips. Looks up a word up in his Farsi-English dictionary (bought especially for our visit) and shows me an entry translated as Windpipe disease: infibulation of the neck and sinus holes.

I nod.

Hamid calls a friend whose uncle is a doctor. After the examination and several glasses of tea, the doctor says he has just the thing for Ian's condition. A special medication from America, given to him by his wife's cousin, whose husband's nephew lives in Los Angeles. The doctor has only one pill left, but he is happy to give it to Ian. He reaches into his bag and passes Hamid a pill wrapped in paper and plastic. Hamid passes it to me. I take it to Ian. It is something called Dristan.

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Prisoner of Tehran

Prisoner of Tehran

A Memoir
also available: Hardcover

In 1982, 16-year-old Marina Nemat was arrested on false charges by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and tortured in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. At a time when most Western teenaged girls are choosing their prom dresses, Nemat was having her feet beaten by men with cables and listening to gunshots as her friends were being executed. She survived only because one of the guards fell in love with her and threatened to harm her family if she refused to marry him. Soon after her forced conversion to I …

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Our Man In Tehran

Our Man In Tehran

also available: Hardcover eBook

The explosive national bestseller

Finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Non-Fiction

The world watched with fear in November 1979, when Iranian students infiltrated and occupied the American embassy in Tehran. As the city exploded in a fury of revolution, few knew about the six American embassy staff who escaped into hiding. For three months, Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran—along with his wife and embassy staffers—concealed the Americans in their homes, terrified that …

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Poets and Pahlevans

Poets and Pahlevans

A Journey into the Heart of Iran
tagged :

Marcello Di Cintio prepares for his “journey into the heart of Iran” with the utmost diligence. He takes lessons in Farsi, researches Persian poetry and sharpens his wrestling skills by returning to the mat after a gap of some years. Knowing that there is a special relationship between heroic poetry and the various styles of traditional Persian wrestling, he sets out to discover how Iranians “reconcile creativity with combat.”

From the moment of his arrival in Tehran, the author is overwh …

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And now they meet — now rise, and now descend,
And strong and fierce their sinewy arms ­extend;
Wrestling with all their strength they grasp and strain,
And blood and sweat flow copious on the ­plain;
Like raging elephants they furious ­close;
Commutual wounds are given and wrenching ­blows.
Sohrab now claps his hands, and forward ­springs
Impatiently, and round the Champion ­clings;
Seizes his girdle belt, with power to ­tear
The very earth ­asunder . . .
An old man recites poetry into a microphone. The measured verses float over the assembled crowd through a static-­garbled loudspeaker. When the poem ends he calls two wrestlers to the centre of the circle. Both are barefoot, and both brush the ground with their fingertips before touching their lips and forehead. This is an invocation to Allah, something I don’t quite understand. Village men sit on the perimeter in their white turbans and old fedoras, smoke cigarettes and spit out black sunflower seeds. They shout and cheer their muscled ­heroes.

The wrestlers shake hands and kiss each other on both cheeks, then lock their arms around each other in a warriors’ embrace. Their bodies, now merged, are tense and already sweating. I can see their faces: both are nervous but resolute. Their stillness is momentary. When a referee taps them on their shoulders the men ­clash.

The poetry, epic tales of ancient wars and legendary heroes, was meant to inspire the wrestlers in their battle, but now the crowd’s roar replaces the old verses in their scarred ears. They push each other back and forth in the circle, maintaining their grip around each other’s waist. Their knuckles blanch. The dust mingles with their sweat and slicks their legs with salty mud. The mob wave their arms and holler instructions in the village dialect. Young boys bounce on their grandfathers’ ­laps.

Then one wrestler thrusts his body forward. His grip turns to stone and he lifts his opponent from his feet. The noise of the crowd swells. The man hurls his rival to the ground and crashes down on top of him. They are invis­ible in the cloud of dust until the referee helps them stand. Both are filthy and exhausted, but only one man is a winner. The referee raises his arm and the two wrestlers shake hands and kiss again. The victor strides into the throng of his fans and is immersed in their cheers. The loser leaves ­alone.

When I pressed the button at the Iranian consulate in Istanbul I had no reason to be confident. I wasn’t granted a visa from the embassy in Ottawa and the verdict on my visa in Istanbul had already been delayed twice. I did not know why. Admitting I was a writer was, in retrospect, a strategic error; Iran is famously wary of foreign “journalists.” Also, Toronto was in the middle of its sars crisis. Canadians were being turned away at borders around the world. The man at the embassy who accepted my visa application wasn’t overly diligent on this point. “Do you have sars?” he asked. I said no and that was that. I worried, though, that his superiors might be less ­cavalier.

I waited for nearly two weeks, wandering through the fabu­lous mosques that crown each of Istanbul’s hills and point the way to heaven with their slender minarets. Five times a day the call to prayer boomed out over the city and gave a moment’s respite from the Turkish pop music blaring from every storefront and taxicab. Fashionable Istanbulus smoked water pipes and drank tea in popular garden cafés. The bazaars were filled with briny olives, Turkish silks, Ottoman antiques and cheesy ­belly-­dance costumes. It had been three years since my last visit to the Middle East and it was a pleasure to be back among the pistachio vendors, tea houses and ­honey-­soaked ­pastries.

But for all Istanbul’s charms, my mind was a thousand kilometres east. I’d spent the last two years infatuated with Iran. I had read Persian history and become obsessed with Iran’s politics, but it was the Persian love for poetry that first drew me to the place. I learned that all Iranians, even small children, could recite poetry from memory. Poets who have been dead for centuries are revered. Their verses resonate over time and colour everyday language. I wanted to investigate this devotion and be in a place where bazaaris and taxi drivers spoke in measured verse. Istanbul was a poor consolation. I wanted to be in ­Iran.

While the consulate deliberated on my visa application, I bought my ticket for the ­Trans-­Asya Express to Tehran, and did all the things I knew I would not be able to do once I crossed the border. I watched American action films in modern cinemas. I went to ­European-­styled coffee shops to sip espresso, and drank pints of Efes lager in noisy bars. I read a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Fury I found in a used ­bookstore.

I returned to the consulate. When the visa official opened the door he was not smiling. Neither was I. “Mr. Marcello?” he asked. I nodded. Then he tapped my passport against my chest and opened it to a fresh visa sticker. “You have one month. Have good times in Iran.”

The Haydarapasa train station stands on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait on the very edge of the continent. Asia begins here, and from Haydarapasa there is only east. I went to the station early, and was the first passenger on the train. The car was dark, but enough light filtered in through the window for me to find my cabin and stow my rucksack beneath a ­seat.

Another man entered the cabin. He was in his fifties, balding and with a thick white moustache. He smiled and greeted me, but beyond his salaam I didn’t know what he ­said.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

“You are a foreigner,” he said in English. I was relieved. “Tourist?”

“Yes,” I said, though I hate that designation.

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Undiscovered Minimalism

Undiscovered Minimalism

Gelims from Northern Iran
tagged : rugs

Over the course of the past two decades a previously unrecognized genre of startlingly modern looking large flatwoven hangings and covers (gelims) has emerged from an isolated highland region in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran. No one had imagined that hidden in the forests south of the Caspian Sea there could have existed such sophisticated treasures, which in their deceptive simplicity of abstract patterning and subtle coloring are much in accord withthe aesthetic canons of contemporary m …

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Flight of the Patriot

Flight of the Patriot

Escape from Revolutionary Iran
also available: Hardcover

This is a gripping, page-turning memoir of a US-trained Iranian fighter pilot who flew in the Shah of Iran’s and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s air force.

Sharifirad was shot down in the Iraqi-Iranian war in the early 1990s. Saved by a group of local Kurds, he returned to Iran where he became a national hero. A movie, called Eagles, based on his rescue, was made in Iran in 1984. Sharifirad’s story was also published in Iran in a book called Crash on the Fortieth Mission. Shortly after his return …

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