Journey From The Land Of No. A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran – Roya Hakakian
Three Rivers Press, 2005
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Journey From The Land of No is about Roya Hakakian’s childhood in revolutionary Iran. As a daughter of Jewish parents who had sympathies for the (left) resistance against the Shah, she paints a picture of both pre-revolutionary Iran, as well as revolutionary Iran, as a country that doesn’t offer (enough) freedom to its citizens. Both the title and the subtitle of this memoir convey this message. Surely, Journey From The Land Of No is meant to point out the many limitations Hakakian suffered from while growing up in Iran. Likewise, a girlhood caught in revolutionary Iran implies the cagelike feeling she experienced.
It’s true that there’s more emphasis on the limitations she experienced during and after the revolution, but I liked that this book stressed the repression people suffered from during the Shah’s regime. The subject is often ignored in memoirs that deal with the revolution. I can’t help but feel that this must be related to the fact that these memoirs are all catered towards a western audience. The regime of the Shah was supported in most western countries and the US promoted it as a primary example of a stable regime in the Middle East. For western readers, as well as for the authors who are writing these memoirs after they’ve left Iran, it might be all too easy to forget the wrongs of a regime that’s been replaced by a regime they disagree with even more.
What I also liked about this memoir is that it pays more attention to the suppression of minorities in revolutionary Iran. As a Jewish girl, she experiences these things firsthand. When she’s arrested by a few revolutionaries for climbing a mountain together with boys that are not directly related to her, she’s released after they realize she’s a Jew. Why? Because there’s simply no way a Jew could care about anything except for money (or so Hakakian states the revolutionaries thought about Jews). Instead of purely emphasizing her experience as a girl/woman in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hakakian stresses her experiences as a Jewish woman, which at times makes for a more balanced account.
There’s another difference between Hakakian’s memoir and others I’ve read about Iran and that is the use of language. Journey From The Land Of No reads like a novel instead of a biography. In my opinion, there was a more “poetic” feel to her use of language than in Things I’ve Been Silent About, for example. I’ve been thinking about the effect of this a lot these last few days: it might work better in identifying with the story for some people, but for me it didn’t quite work that way.
All in all, Journey From The Land Of No is a great read for people who are interested in reading memoirs about revolutionary Iran. I can’t say that this is the best place to start, but it makes for a good supplement to the other memoirs out there. And as such, it deserves to be read.
On a side note, but not unimportant: I’m still trying to come to grasps with the whole phenomenon of memoirs written by women who have fled from Islamic countries. I strongly believe that these are catered towards a western audience and that they are frequently read as true accounts that proof that “Islam suppresses women”. I can’t say I agree with such a reading of these books. However, it’s hard to find a balance between being a complete skeptic (which I’m not) and believing everything that’s written down, while at the same time trying to combine this balance with a respect for the experiences of the authors. It’s an issue I think about a lot & am trying to figure out, but I’m not yet sure what my definitive answer should be.
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