Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hooman Majd's "The Ayatollahs' Democracy"

Born in Tehran but educated in the West, Hooman Majd is the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (an Economist and Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2008) and The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Ayatollahs' Democracy and reported the following:
Opening my book to page 99, I searched for a sentence, or a paragraph, that might signal that the quality of the book would be revealed. “'That’s what Iran has come to,' said Mohammad with a shrug.” Is that it, at the top of the page? I suppose yes in a way, because the book does indeed ask “what has Iran come to” and it also does so through personal experiences and encounters, in this case with Mohammad, in Iran. The last paragraph is perhaps even more telling. “In the lead-up to what promised to be a hard-fought and even ugly presidential election, one that pitted extreme conservative thought embodied by Ahmadinejad against the liberal theology and progressive politics embodied by Mir Hossein Mousavi and his mentor, Mohammad Khatami, anything was possible.”

“Anything was possible.” Yes, that is the Iran I describe, and the fateful 2009 presidential election there is only a part of it. In that sense Page 99 is not truly representative of the book, for I did not set out to only recount the events of 2009, but to give readers a sense of what Iran was, is, and wants to be, in terms of its political identity as well as its ambitions on the world stage. The elections of 2009 are a starting point, and I come back to them time and again, but only because they are representative of this struggle, or quest, that I portray, for a unique form of democracy, one that may not even be able to be defined as democracy in the Western sense, that Iranians have been engaged in for over one hundred years.

But no, wait. As neither a scholar nor historian, but as an observer and writer of stories, page 99 reveals my style, one of describing a scene or a person (admittedly sometimes in excruciating detail) and allowing the reader to join me in discovering what the experience means, but it also might be misleading. This is not a history book, nor is it a foreign policy or international relations book. What about my opéra bouffe? The opening of the book, page one not 99, which I write as a play, complete with a dramatis personae? It is not a real play of course, just real life. And for real life you need real people, just like Mohammad on page 99. Perhaps the brief encounter we have with him on that page does get to the essence of what my writing is about, after all.
Read more about The Ayatollahs' Democracy, and visit Hooman Majd's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.

Writers Read: Hooman Majd.

--Marshal Zeringue