The Iranian society, like any other society, shall not be evaluated as a massive homogenous block, with goods vs. bad in a permanent struggle. Even in the most sophisticted totalitarian regimes, there are always holes through which people are able to breath and reclaim their difference. Religious communities are not homogenous, political hierarchies are not smoothly and even within a family, people may have different political and religious choices.
City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai reveals the layers under the layers of the Iranian society. An Iranian-born journalist for English-speaking publications, she started to write this book while waiting that the decision to suspend her press permit was reconsidered by the authorities.
The axis of the stories is the Vali Asr street, uniting the reach North with the poor South, an urban development which shares histories and unique encounters.
Through the stories you can understand not only the big social differences and historical influences on the behavior of everyday residents of Tehran, but also the micro-histories and testimonies of people living there. Navai's stories are based on real stories, although names and circumstances might have been changed. My friends knowledgeable with the life in Tehran confirmed that, indeed, life can be as diverse and dynamic and challenging as some of the stories in the book let it think it is. Some people will always look to find windows to breath fresh air that might mimic freedom, as some other people will only look to inflict the freedom lovers the hardest punishment. What personally struck me in this book was the cruelty of humans against other humans, in the name of strict religion. It is cruel to proclaim yourself as a simple human self-righteous and try to control what people are doing in their homes and with whom and eventually put to death those who are not respecting this - out of the many - version of truth.
The stories are sad and hopeless sometimes, but also full of nostalgy and love for the city and its sins.
My only problem was that although I've really appreciated the spirit of the stories, the writing style did not excel. I appreciated the alert journalistic reporting but more often either the dialogue or the narrative are not coming along in a smooth literary way.
Otherwise, a good source for reading about contemporary Iran, especially Tehran.
Rating: 3 stars