Title: The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay: An American Family in Iran
Author: Hooman Majd
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Journalist and author Hooman Majd decides that it’s time to return to the city of his birth, to Tehran, Iran. With his American wife and toddler son in tow, Majd lives for one year in the bustling city, relaying his own experiences while also providing commentary on the politics and culture of this complex country.
Majd provides an intriguing cultural memoir of his time in Iran combined with an insightful look at the current state of Iranian politics. Readers wanting to learn more about this country will revel in this entertaining look at the culture and history presented in this book.
Iran is one of those countries that is constantly in the news, yet Americans don’t know a lot about it. Yes, there’s the ripped-from-the-headlines stories: the revolution, the hostages, the current nuclear negotiations. But what is underneath all of that? What motivates Iranians and what lies behind their politics? It’s these difficult questions that Majd seeks to answer in The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay, to introduce modern Iran to a new audience and to help them understand the complexities that underlie daily life in this country.
Majd presents The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay as a memoir, and it succeeds well in this regard. The author does a wonderful life relating his life during the year he spent in Iran; his wife’s struggle to find organic foods, the Iranian obsession with his blond-haired son, and more. It’s a great personal story of what it’s like for an expat to return home, that inner longing finally satiated but, at the same time, the confusion that comes with realizing you no longer belong. It’s very well done.
The atmosphere of the memoir is intense. It has its lighter moments, and it’s not a difficult read, but underlying every word in The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay is the fact that Majd is being watched. It’s the idea that he’s not wanted in Iran, that the authorities could, at any moment, arrest him without cause and throw him in jail forever. Majd does an incredible job relating the personal insecurity that comes with living in a security state, highlighting how Iranians live with it on a day-to-day basis.
The real highlight of The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay, though, is the deft political analysis that Majd wields like a precision instrument. It’s so important to understand the political situation in Iran, but it’s hard to find sources that explain it well to a layperson. Majd provides a conversational overview, delivering context and history where necessary. He comments on the cultural peculiarities of Iran and how that’s affected its politics (the “big sulk” is especially hilarious and illuminating); this book is a must read for many reasons, but it’s Majd’s take on the Iranian political situation, and his ability to distill complex information such that it’s easily understandable, that really shines.
The surprising thing about The Ministry of Guidance Invites You To Not Stay is how enjoyable it is. It’s an entertaining read while simultaneously being a great source of knowledge. It’s rare that a book that teaches you is also this compulsively readable; all the disparate parts combine well into a great memoir.