BOOK REVIEW: Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard & Deloupy

Iranian Love StoriesIranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: December 14, 2021

This graphic novel shows what life is like in Iran. A French couple engaged in immersion journalism converses with Iranian men, women, and couples. As the title suggests, the theme of the book is intimate relationships (and marriage, when it – sadly – doesn’t fall into that category,) and the trials of love under an ultra-conservative theocratic regime. The book offers insight into how singles sneak love, how arranged marriages work (or don’t,) and how the bizarre in-law dynamics of arranged marriage are navigated. One also learns about non-amorous elements of Iranian life – i.e. the illicit nature of dog owning, workplace dynamics, etc.

The people Deuxard talked to were overwhelmingly wealthy, educated, and unhappy with the regime. That said, there’s a range of views presented. There were a few who were mostly happy – e.g. one young woman complained about the impossibility of openly dating, but said she was ultimately happy not to live in the West where she would probably have to work and / or take on other responsibilities she was freed of as an Iranian housewife. Additionally, one girl said that a relationship in Europe would offer no thrill because, you know, no one will murder you for smooching your boyfriend in Denmark. There were also many who desperately wanted out of the country, some of whom felt trapped and others who were working toward getting away (there are measures in place to make this difficult for many – e.g. if you have an Iranian degree, you have to pay it off before you’re granted an exit visa.) Some were hopeful that the theocracy would be overthrown, but most were resigned to a tormented life.

As a traveler, I’m fascinated by how people live at various places around the world, and so I found this book intriguing and thought-provoking. However, I can see how those who aren’t interested in such questions might find it a bit dull. It’s essentially documentary-style interviews in graphic novel format. That said, I thought the artist and writer did a good job of conveying mood. If you want to know what life is like in Iran, check it out.

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BOOK REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book is about the perils of adopting a false face when dating. At first Nick and Amy seem like the perfect couple, but that’s because Amy is donning the guise of “Cool Girl” and Nick is playing the part of the romantic. When the facades crack apart, so does their marriage. Then Amy goes missing under mysterious circumstances.

This isn’t the type of book that would normally call to me, but I read it because I kept seeing references to it and had to see what the hullaballoo was about. I must say, however, the book did not disappoint. I found Gone Girl hard to put down. Flynn does an outstanding job of carefully revealing information—and sometimes planting false flags—so that one is kept thinking throughout the book. To the characters in the book—besides Nick–it increasingly looks like Nick killed his wife, but to the reader it’s more of a roller coaster ride. At first we can’t believe he’s responsible, then we discover he’s not who he appears, then we learn who Amy really is, and so on.

The organization is alternating chapters from the point of view of the two leads, Amy and Nick. This is why we can’t believe Nick is a murderer at first, because we are seeing his point of view, but then we realize that it’s a limited point of view, and Nick isn’t particularly forthcoming about his peccadilloes and vices. In fact, Nick’s penchant for lying is a major factor in his deepening crisis. Nick’s problem is that he can’t stand to not be liked, particularly by women. Amy’s problem stems from having parents who wrote a book series called Amazing Amy that portrays a character that is a thinly veiled version of her—except perfect in every way. This leads to a condition in which Amy needs to appear perfect, even if she realizes that perfection is illusory.

If the reader has a point of dissatisfaction with this book, I believe it will be with the ending. I, myself, have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, the ending seems unbelievable and maybe a little flat. On the other hand, it’s an unexpected ending, and I think any ending that wasn’t completely unexpected would come across as a letdown after all the twists, turns, and reveals of the book.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes a good story. As I said, it’s highly engaging and readable.

FYI – there is a movie version coming out on October 3, 2014.

Here’s the trailer:

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The Puzzling Sexuality of India

India, land of the Kama Sutra, is prudish. America is known for being pretty puritanical–at least if you don’t compare it to Muslim countries. In the U.S., for some reason, we would rather a child see a human cleaved into eight individual pieces with a machete than to be witness to a nipple slip. Well, India censors the innuendo and sexual references  that sailed right past the FCC.

On the street, my wife and I can expect odd looks for holding hands and worse for a smooch. In the city, this rarely amounts to more than a sidelong glance, but we’re told in the countryside the people can be more vocal. (We’ll see, we’re planning our first trip into the countryside for next weekend.) On the other hand, young men routinely hold hands with other men, and the same is true of pairs of young women. Same-sex hand-holding is par for the course, but hand holders of the opposite sex are breaking mores. Some may say that the difference is same-sex hand holding isn’t sexually-charged, but I think it strains credulity to think both that different-sex hand holding is always inherently sexually charged and same-sex hand holding is never sexually charged.

Anyway, one would expect that a country that was so comfortable with same-sex public displays of affection (PDA) would have liberal views about homosexuality. No. Until 2009 homosexuality was a crime, and there is still rampant Ahmedinejad-style denial that homosexuality exists in this country. (Ahmedinejad is the Iranian president who– in an act of denial that was stunning, though in character–stated that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Iran.) To add another wrinkle, I’ve read that some men, who would be fighting-mad to be described as anything other than straight, routinely engage in behaviors that most would find indicative of homosexuality or bisexuality (we are talking well beyond hand holding or a kiss on the cheek here.)

There are a couple of reasons why young people who vehemently identify as straight might engage in sexual behaviors that are not. First, there are those who are homosexual and are either in the closet or in denial. One expects that there are many people who fit into this category in India because of the tremendous pressure to live a traditional family life–whatever else one may do on the side. In many countries, “denial” and “the closet” might cover the gamut of explanations for such anomalous behavior. However, in India there is a second reason that one might associate with places where men and women are strictly segregated over long periods of time (think a prison.) That is some of these the aforementioned people presumably are heterosexual, but have no sexual outlet because they don’t have any private interactions with people of the other sex who are not their blood relatives. So in an ironic twist, in society’s attempt to rigorously enforce and control a “traditional” paradigm of heterosexual familial units, more unions that do not fit that model are created than otherwise would be.

So you may be wondering whether I’ll be explicit about what I find “puzzling” about Indian sexuality. It’s a little puzzling that the culture that brought us the Kama Sutra and vast orgiastic bas reliefs on the temple at Khajuraho would have a problem with a couple hugging in the park or who choose for themselves with whom they are intimate. The overwhelming trend across most of the world is to become more tolerant of consenting adult’s freedom to exercise their sexuality as they see fit. Granted, there are certainly other examples where there has been a countervailing trend. Caligula’s Rome versus the Rome of today. Also, it should be noted that over a recent time span India seems to becoming more tolerant, and thus following the trend—if slowly.

Another thing I find puzzling is that by some measures the Indian approach seems to work. Following the incentives, I’d expect the Indian system of arranged marriage and limited premarriage intergender interaction to result in nothing but heartache. Indians will point out that their divorce rate is infinitesimally low. However, one then has to then consider other questions such as whether it results in more spousal murders, marriage related suicides, and vow-breaking. In other words, are there other means of marriage terminations that take place in a society that for all intents and purposes doesn’t allow divorce?

There is something particularly pernicious in Indian society called dowry murders. This is when a man and his mother set the man’s bride on fire so that they can erase the marriage and start all over in search of more bling. (That’s got to max out the bad karma.) Dowries were made illegal because of this, but both dowries and dowry murders continue. India does have a high suicide rate (though not as high as the US’s), but I have no idea whether any studies have been done to try to isolate the role of a bad marriage. I also can’t say whether there is evidence that “stepping out” on the marriage is higher in India. While there is plenty of evidence that this goes on, like anything related to sex, few Indians talk about it.