Book Review: Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni (3/5)

22 Oct

This book was part of a major book haul I did years ago at a used book sale. It lingered on my shelf so long that I wondered when I’d ever read it. Yay for quarantine providing the time to get to long-neglected books.

Cover image via Amazon

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni

Summary from Amazon: 

As far back as she can remember, Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American. In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds. At home, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran. Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna. For years, she ignored the tense standoff between her two cultures. But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist. This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history. It is also the story of Iran, a restive land lost in the twilight of its revolution.

Moaveni’s homecoming falls in the heady days of the country’s reform movement, when young people demonstrated in the streets and shouted for the Islamic regime to end. In these tumultuous times, she struggles to build a life in a dark country, wholly unlike the luminous, saffron and turquoise-tinted Iran of her imagination. As she leads us through the drug-soaked, underground parties of Tehran, into the hedonistic lives of young people desperate for change, Moaveni paints a rare portrait of Iran’s rebellious next generation. The landscape of her Tehran — ski slopes, fashion shows, malls and cafes — is populated by a cast of young people whose exuberance and despair brings the modern reality of Iran to vivid life.

While I think this book would have hit home harder closer to its publication date, I still found it insightful and moving fifteen years after its publication date. Moaveni was in Iran during a very volatile time in its history and she was in a difficult position because of her childhood. She felt Iranian. Her whole childhood was living in America, pining for Iran and the motherland she was taught to miss. But when she arrived, she was ostracized for her Western ideology and ways of living. There was no happy median, no middle country she could find peace in. Her job as a journalist put her in even more of a precarious position as she reported for the Western media from inside the Middle East.

Moaveni tells us about a wide variety of people in her story. There are those who believe in the regime, those who openly subvert it, and the majority who secretly enjoy elements of Western culture, but put on a face of piety to avoid trouble in society. I think Moaveni gives us a fair account of these people and I felt like I had a good understanding of how people ‘got around’ the restrictions of the culture and how they embraced it at the same time.

There wasn’t a character that I attached to more than the others. The people surrounding Moaveni seemed to come and go, as people do from our lives. Her family was a big part of her life in Iran early on. But once she moved out, they weren’t as prominent. There were times her coworkers seemed to be a bigger part of her story and then they’d fade away. Besides Moaveni herself, there didn’t seem to be a lot of consistency in the characters.

When I was in college, I was an International Orientation Leader (IOL). We would pick up international students from the airport and lead them through a week of ‘American Orientation’ before they’d go through the University’s Orientation. I remember students from the Middle East who were surprised I wore shorts, could drive them around, and had a boyfriend (who is, funny enough, now my husband). They both expected me to be like the stereotypical blond bimbo in movies and to act with the same modesty expected of a woman in their country. When Moaveni experienced this same resistance and expectation, I remembered that time well and I understood the uneasiness that she felt at not wanting to shock and surprise but also wanting to fit in. However, I had it in a bit of reverse than Moaveni did.

Azadeh Moaveni
Image via the International Crisis Group

The end of the book hit me. Moaveni’s perspective of her safety changed after 9/11 and I think any American can say the same to some degree. The knowledge that there were people who hated us just because of where we lived and would go to such violent extremes because it was profoundly shaking. Her fear and unease seemed much more grounded than mine in the Midwest.

This book dragged for me a bit and I’m having a lot of trouble putting my finger on why. It was a bit too much of a history lesson at times, but that seems necessary given the region Moaveni was covering and the impact of history on what was happening around her. I think I was hoping for a faster read at the time and just didn’t get what I was hoping for. It wasn’t bad by any means and there was no single part that I didn’t enjoy, but there’s a reason I picked up a thriller after this.

Moaveni drives at national pride throughout her book and this seemed very relevant to me today in a divided America. She was proud of being Iranian when she was in America. But when she got to Iran and wasn’t accepted, it was harder to be proud because she was told time and time again that she wasn’t Iranian. How can she be proud of a country that’s rejecting her? How much should she fight for a country that doesn’t want her? I feel a lot of these feelings right now with a leader I don’t feel respects women and seeing neighbors get into fighting matches masks and teachers.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing is a great way to speak out when no one around you will listen. Your words carry further than your voice. Moaveni’s audience wasn’t the people surrounding her in Iran. And it probably took her time to find the words to express the myriad of emotions she was feeling. I think stories like this, from people who don’t fit in the world they’re living in, are the most impactful. They can see holes in something that no one else can.

An impactful book, but not what I was looking for at the time. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts: 
Review of “Lipstick Jihad” by Azadeh Moavei | Rhapsody in Books Weblog 
Lipstick Jihad | Fizzy Thoughts 
Lipstick Jihad | Ruined by Reading 
Toe to Toe: Funny in Farsi versus Lipstick Jihad | Welcome to Pedagogy and American Literary Studies 

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6 Responses to “Book Review: Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni (3/5)”

  1. nickimags @ Secret Library Book Blog October 23, 2020 at 11:15 AM #

    Fab review Sam! Do you think it would’ve been more enjoyable if there wasn’t so much history in it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam October 23, 2020 at 11:51 AM #

      I don’t think it would have made as much sense with less history. The historical context of the region is so important to understand the experience Moaveni had. I think it would have been great in a literature course but it wasn’t as exciting for before-bed reading. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person


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