Book Review: Dreams of a forgotten childhood in Shiraz
Book Review: Dreams of a forgotten childhood in Shiraz
His interest in Iran’s history led him to write articles for both Iranian and Western publications. When he turned 37, the editor of “The Iranian,” a popular online magazine for Persians emigres, suggested that he should travel to Egypt to share his thoughts about Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s final resting place.
“I jumped at the idea,” Kadivar wrote. In October 1999, he flew to the country that had taken in the Pahlavi family 20 years previously. The shah had been welcomed by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and, according to the author, “Richard Nixon was reportedly impressed by Sadat’s noble gesture for his friend and he believed that the way the US government treated the shah was unforgivable.”
Kadivar added: “The shah’s exile and his death in Egypt had transfigured him in a way that prevented a critical but balanced assessment of his life and achievements.” During a visit to Cairo’s Rifa’i Mosque, where the shah lies in a temporary burial chamber, Kadivar kept asking himself: “How did we lose our country?”
Upon leaving the mosque, a poor man came up to Kadivar. He refused the alms given to him and, looking straight into his eyes, told him: ”Nobody should be buried away from the country of his birth. Insh’Allah, your shah will one day be reburied in Iran. On that day, you will find your country again.”
“Inside me, something had been unlocked. I realized that despite the years of soul-searching, I had not been able to properly mourn all that had been lost. Nostalgia for a forgotten world and my beloved city of Shiraz flooded my senses,” the author wrote.
The search for a vanished world begins in Shiraz, the city of fragrant roses, splendid sun and refreshing breezes streaming from the purple-tinted Zagros Mountains. It is a city where the author spent a happy childhood surrounded by his parents and loving grandparents. His grandfather knew Shiraz when there was little to do but under the new rule of Reza Shah, life was better.
When Reza Shah Pahlavi’s predecessor, Ahmad Shah, was deposed by parliamentary vote in October 1925, the elite, the clergy and the majority of Iranians voted in favor of the monarchy because they believed a republic might create instability and disunity. On April 1926, Reza Shah Pahlavi was crowned “Shahanshah” — the king of kings in English — in the Golestan Palace in the presence of his six-year-old son and future heir, Mohammed Reza.
Reza Shah, an admirer of Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, declared that all men not serving in the military, especially civil servants, must discard their old clothes and adopt Western dress. A new law also ordered every citizen to adopt a new surname devoid of lengthy titles. The author’s grandfather eventually chose the name “Kadivar,” meaning a country squire in English.
During World War II, Reza Shah’s support for the Axis powers caused his downfall. He was forced to abdicate and his son, Mohammed Reza, was sworn in as the new shah by Iran’s parliament. He eventually appointed Mohammed Mosaddegh as prime minister — a formidable character and brilliant orator who nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and was overthrown in a coup d’état aided by the CIA in 1953. From that day onwards, “Mohammed Reza Shah was determined to rule as an absolute monarch,” Kadivar wrote.
However, trouble was on the horizon as in the late 1970s, a friend of the Kadivar family shocked them when he said “there are going to be major changes in Iran if your king continues the way he’s going. Things will not stay like this forever. All appears calm on the surface now, but it could suddenly change overnight.”
A year later, the situation got worse. There were frequent demonstrations. The shah’s personality seemed eclipsed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s personality and, eventually, the shah left for Egyot in January 1979.
The book features an interview with Hossein Amirsadeghi, whose father was the shah’s chauffeur and the first to announce the news of the shah’s departure. “If the king and his supporters had shown more resolve, we would not have lost our country,” he told Kadivar. This belief was also shared by the author’s father who could not understand why the shah failed to take the decision to restore his authority.
After revolutionaries stormed the author’s father’s office following the revolution, he returned home and told his family that “Iran is no longer a country for a young man. We have to get out. It’s for the best.”
Looking back on those events, many believe that a combination of bad decisions made by the imperial regime caused the demise of the monarchy. Kadivar also reminds us that in May 1980, two months after his arrival in Egypt, the shah gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he acknowledged that trusting the Americans and the English had cost him his throne.
This riveting memoir is marked by its sincerity and elegance. It expresses the author’s feelings and efforts to overcome the pain of leaving his beloved country. His last words call for “a truly free nation where nobody lives in fear, where truth, not falsehood, is a virtue.”
What We Are Reading Today: Alienation of a January child
A line resonates with me from Safia Elhillo’s collection of poetry which traces her journey as a January child.
Elhillo describes the January children as “the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.”
In a raw collection, Elhillo addresses being Sudanese-American, and her constant feelings of not belonging to either. She delves into postcolonial Sudan, and how she no longer recognizes the Sudan her mother and grandmother relayed to her through tales and trips when she was a child.
This is a book that continues to mean something to me because of Elhillo’s unabashed usage of Arabic terms. She weaves them in with English in a way that reminds me a lot of how my brain works, expressing myself in a tongue that is neither Arabic nor English.
But what first drew me to grab a copy of “The January Children” was the poet’s relationship with everyone’s beloved Egyptian singer, Abdelhalim Hafez, and how she seemed continuously to converse with him, seeing herself in his lyrics — as we all do; it reverberated with me as I’ve had a childhood filled with his music, and I’ve grown to listen to him even more as an adult.