Molavi, born in Iran but raised and educated mainly in the West, makes a return trip to the country of his birth and visits the major cities, sites, and shrines, ranging from Persepolis to the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Using his status as a Persian speaker attuned to the distinctive codes of Iranian culture but still necessarily an outsider, he brings to life the sampling of Iranians he encountered, from taxi drivers to top officials. He also weaves in excellent short takes on Iranian history from pre-Islamic times to the present. By his account, a broad spectrum of Iranians is disaffected from the clerical regime, but Molavi does not speculate about whether the hard-liners or the reformers will prevail. Instead, more modestly but usefully, he provides a brilliant tableau of today's Iran.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.