Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran

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1966: Roya Hahakian is born.
January 1979: The shah leaves Iran.
February 1979: Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran and assumes power.
April 1979: In a national referendum the overwhelming majority of Iranians choose an Islamic Republic as their form of government.
August 1984: Roya and her mother leave Iran.

Journey from the Land of No by Roya Hakakian starts in 1975 when her brother Albert leaves Iran for the United States and ends in 1984 when her father declares “It’s time we leave for America”.

While Iran changes dramatically Roya grows from a child into a bright teenager and the events that unfold in her country are described through her eyes. The book offers no political analysis but the reader realizes that Iran is going from bad to worse.

I think there are two main reasons why I enjoyed Journey from the Land of No so much: I am only very slightly older than its author and remember the historical events that took place in Iran in the late 1970s – all the more so as when I was ten I had attended a summer camp where there were Iranian children whose families were close to the shah. I have a keen interest in the history of Jewish communities worldwide and to a certain extent Roya Hakakian’s book reminded me of My Father’s Paradise.

The author doesn’t need to warns us about the horrors of Islamisation; it is enough to read about Mrs Moghadam, the new principal who is appointed to Roya’s school after the Revolution, to realize the perversity of the new regime.

Conversely there is a wonderful passage about Mrs Arman, Roya’s literature teacher, a Muslim woman, who entrusts her father’s pen to a young Jewish girl she is able to identify as a great writer, making her promise that she will put it to good use.

There is also a poignant episode, at the end of the book, when Roya goes back to her old neighborhood to visit her childhood friend Zaynab and hears about all the terrible things that have happened to her friend’s family within 5 years: a brother wounded at war, a sister in jail, a disturbed mother. All the hopes that the girls had in 1979 have been shattered, leaving only disaster and pain.

Journey from the Land of No is full of this kind of gems. Thanks to Leora for pointing it out on her blog some time ago.