Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Valleys of the Assassins

For those of us who remember 1989, 2009 in Iran is eerily reminiscent. The only question is whether it's going to be the Velvet Revolution of late 1989 which freed Eastern Europe from Communism or whether its going to be June 1989 when the Chinese government crushed a pro democracy movement in Beijing by murdering hundreds of students in Tianamen Square. I don't know which way Iran is going to go, but this has clearly become a huge story. Andrew Sullivan has been posting live twitter feeds from Tehran and raw photo images from the AP and Getty. The BBC is starting to cover this a bit more (their Farsi service, apparently has been excellent) and CNN has now woken up to the enormity of these events. I am not a political blogger, it's not my bag at all, and if I was to blog about things which are of interest to me willy nilly then there would be a lot of tedious posts here about rugby, baseball and beer. I like the discipline of keeping this blog vaguely in the realm of the arts, especially books and films, so in the spirit of that, I'd like to briefly mention two more Iranian books that I've read that might give you an insight into Persian culture and identity: First, Shahrnush Parsipur's lovely collection of stories Women Without Men (nice nod to Hemingway in the title) and second Freya Stark's monumental The Valleys of the Assassins where the indomitable Miss Stark sets out to find the Old Man of the Mountains and the cult of assassins in 1930's Persia. Parsipur is a miniaturist whose observations on Iranian life and identity are precise and eloquent. Freya Stark (1893 - 1993!) is one of the greatest travel writers of all time, undaunted by threats of delay, disease and death, she went wherever she wanted and did exactly as she pleased right up to the end of her long life - they just don't make 'em like that anymore, more's the pity. (BTW the reason this post is green comes from a twitter idea in Iran, to show solidarity with the Green Revolution.)