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Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran Hardcover – August 10, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Political upheavals like the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism may be analyzed endlessly by scholars, but eyewitness accounts like Hakakian's help us understand what it was like to experience such a revolution firsthand. The documentary filmmaker and poet was born to a prominent Tehran Jewish family in 1966, two years after the Shah had exiled Islamic fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini. As Jews in a largely Muslim world, the family knew how to live respectfully with their neighbors. With powerful illustrations, Hakakian relates how, in 1979, when the Shah fled and Khomeini returned triumphant, she joined the cheering crowds. Khomeini's revolution seemed liberating, but before long, the grip of the Islamic extremists tightened. Women were put under strict surveillance; books and speech were censored. Anti-Jewish graffiti appeared. As the targeting became more visible—being made to use separate toilets and drinking fountains, being required to identify their businesses as non-Muslim—many Jews emigrated. After Hakakian describes the teacher who risked her job to give her high marks on a "subversive" paper or grips readers with the tale of how she and her teen buddies barely evaded the morality police, readers just want her to leave, too, which her family did, in 1984. Hakakian's story—so reminiscent of the experiences of Jews in Nazi Germany—is haunting. Maps.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Hakakian recounts her past as a girl growing up in the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East–Tehran–during the takeover of the Ayatollah Khomeini. She paints pictures of a changing Iran, from a land that was immersed in the poetry of life and discovery to one that spoke of militaristic prayer and repression, where Jewish people were once again subject to anti-Semitism and where women were stripped of many of their rights. Hakakian's story is that of an individual changing from innocent child into disillusioned, rebellious teenager. As revolutionary fever overtook her country, she was swept up in, and then engulfed by it. Hakakian's poetic prose is lovely, lyrical, and wry, full of metaphor as well as humor and pain. Teens who are interested in history, poetry, different cultures, or biography should enjoy her memoir.–Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400046114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400046119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Journalist Roya Hakakian's beautifully written memoir of growing up in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran makes a striking contrast to another journalist's Iranian memoir, Azadeh Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad," a contemporary portrait of Tehran from the viewpoint of a Californian-Iranian, looking for identity. While Moaveni battled her mother over Madonna's music, Hakakian rioted against a fanatical headmistress who found sin in a strand of female hair.

Hakakian describes a rather idyllic childhood in a quiet house in Tehran's "Alley of the Distinguished." She is the only daughter of a Jewish schoolmaster and scholar, beloved baby sister to three brothers. Her closest friend, Z, is a Muslim neighbor girl and her first inkling of the stirrings abroad were the political speeches Z's older sister and her devout Great-Uncle listened to in secret.

Though one by one her three older brothers are sent out of the country, Hakakian finds herself caught up in the heady togetherness of revolution. "Within weeks, Tehran seemed to have matured by years. Even drunkards stopped ranting about their personal misery. Neighbors did not fight. Cars honked constantly, but not in gridlock, only to announce the advance of the uprising, or the fall of another barracks."

She explores the child's perceptions: the jangly scariness of her parents' tense arguments and distressed uncertainty contrast unfavorably with the liberation let loose in the streets. But almost immediately anti-Semitic slogans appear on walls. The Hakakians sell their home and move into an apartment. Islamic dress is imposed and then the Jewish headmistress vanishes one day, and her Muslim replacement asks Hakakian why Jewish men customarily deflower their daughters.
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Format: Hardcover
The somber cover, the title, and the reference to prison abuses at the opening of this book are a little misleading. This memoir is not especially dark or grim, and the journey it recounts is an internal one, more from the land of "yes" than "no." It captures that particular youthful optimism that buoys up children and adolescents in the worst of times. And the Islamic revolution in Iran becomes the worst of times for the community of 100,000 Jews living in Tehran in the late 1970s, as the monarchy is toppled and the Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to assume power.

Hakakian's book is a vividly and wonderfully remembered account of her coming of age in these tumultuous years. The equally gifted younger sister of three precocious brothers, an admitted "class clown," she happily plays her own growing self-confidence and self-awareness against the reader's knowledge of coming events. Through her, we experience the almost universal public euphoria that followed the fall of the Shah, and while she chooses to discount its significance, we see mounting evidence of the approaching political and social forces that will finally drive her family to join the Jewish exodus from Iran.

This is a fine, well-written book, often entertaining and sometimes starkly moving. The parallels Hakakian draws to Orwell's "1984" illustrate the gradual erosion of self that occurs when the state attempts to control individuals' thoughts and desires. In this and other ways, it's an excellent companion to Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book opened my eyes like nothing I've read since "Midnight's Children." And it is all the more powerful for being a woman's story. Do we have many books like this? I don't think so. It's the story of the convergence of the peak, rapid-fire events of the writer's dawning adolescence with the historically definitive crises of her country of Iran, her city of Tehran. I agree with Salman Rushdie that the health of a culture can be measured by its treatment of women. JOURNEY follows a trail of blood--the blood of the lamb slaughtered for a wedding feast, the blood of a disgraced female cousin's questioned virginity, and finally the blood of the martrys of the revolution. And then there is the writer's own blood--her first menstrual blood at 13. On the threshold of womanhood, she wonders at the shame assigned to women, the glory to the martyr's sacrifice: "No matter how young or old, that bleeding head was venerated. And not my blood?"

A wonderful thing in this book is the chapter about the character of Mrs. Arman. The female schoolteacher, mother and muse of women writers. (Like a Eudora Welty schoolteacher heroine.) She gives her students a sense of solidarity in their exile under the Muslim regime; her touch restores them to their bodies. And it's the moment when Mrs. Arman proclaims--you're a writer! you're a writer! Don't ever forget it! Don't let me down!--that is the decisive one in the author's story, that baptizes her and sanctifies her coming journey out into the world.

Because the story's about her emergence as a writer as well. It's only when the map of her beloved city (which her writing traces) is no longer recognizable and the notebooks she's filled with her poetry have been burnt, that her journey from the land of No is inescapable.

The writing is breaktaking. The metaphors flow effortlessly. I think this is a major book by an important writer.
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