The odyssey of three generations of women torn between two beloved but divided homelands: Iran and America.
At the age of eighteen, I took a leap of faith. Homesick and suffering from the mounting pressures of a typical American adolescence and my parent’s divorce, I left the comfortable suburbs of Brookline, Massachusetts to return to revolutionary Iran, where I had spent my childhood and early adolescence. Only a few years earlier, the country had undergone the chaos of the Islamic Revolution and women especially faced strict religious pressure to abandon the Western values that had come to define the previously secular society.
Though I had witnessed the Revolution’s unsettling beginnings in Iran, upon my return I made the decision to live as a devout Muslim, enticed by my mother who had become a practicing Muslim herself. While in Brookline, I had dabbled in modeling, posing like Brooke Shields in her famous Calvin Klein jeans ad, now I donned a black chador and agreed to an arranged marriage. Life in Tehran would never be the same, yet to me it was home, where my mother and brother still lived, and though I had escaped fearing the loss of freedom, I returned seeking refuge.
Today this reverse migration seems curious, perhaps incomprehensible, but it was a familiar prospect to me as I was following in the footsteps of the women whose strength and resilience I hoped to emulate. Fifty-five years earlier, my grandmother Helen Jeffreys, who came from a pioneering family in Idaho, had fallen in love with Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, an Iranian physician who swept her off her feet in Harlem, New York. My grandmother Helen followed my grandfather to Iran, where they built a hospital and worked side by side until political unrest drove her back to the States.
My mother, Mary Nell, was raised Catholic in Washington D.C. and moved to Iran after marrying my father, an up-and-coming Iranian architect. Years later, their divorce would send my mother into intense study of Sufism. My quest to find balance in my life would involve equally volatile shifts in geography and philosophy, and when I became disillusioned with the life I had chosen in Iran, I would turn to the intrepid spirit that was my birthright to set me, once again, on a new path.
Drawing on my family history informed by my father’s love of architecture, and my mother’s historical and religious scholarship, and a family saga that sweeps back and forth between East and West, tradition and modernity, I hope to reveal a country and a family inextricably linked to one another. My Name Is Iran is the story of how we all learned to navigate between divergent cultures in a journey that would lead from the United States to Iran and back again.
*Adapted for the web from the book jacket.
“My Name Is Iran: A Memoir” is published by Henry Holt and edited by Vanessa Mobley and Supurna Banerjee. My mother, Mary Laleh Bakhtiar played a pivotal role in providing research and inspiration in the writing of this book.
My full name is Iran Davar Ardalan. My memoir is based on the radio story “My Name is Iran”. In February 2004, I traced my personal journey between Iran and America against the backdrop of Iran’s struggle for a lawful society in a series on NPR’s Morning Edition and an American RadioWorks documentary. My radio series was co-produced with Rasool Nafisi and edited by Deborah George, Ted Clark, Jeffrey Katz, Susan Feeney and Loren Jenkins.
Ardalan’s testimony to the feminist spirit of the pioneering women in her family, and in the face of centuries-long strictures against the advancement of women, is a supreme achievement.
It's easy to lose yourself in Ardalan's lyrical and layered prose. We witness the author's love affair with Iran undergo the painful transition from infatuation to affection to a tempered and mature reality that includes bold criticism and condemnation combined with a still- lingering fondness; the same emotional journey she is forced to make with her own imperfect father.
Elaine Margolin for The New Jersey Star-Ledger
My Name Is Iran is a wonderfully told story of the author's growth in understanding who she is—both American and Iranian. It is a story for all Americans who maintain their heritage of origin, while becoming an American.
Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent NPR News
Fascinating, graceful, and threaded with historical insight, My Name is Iran offers a rich account of a life shaped by both Iranian tradition and Western individualism. Davar Ardalan tells a story that is at once an enthralling family epic, and a textured exploration of how the political, the religious, and the personal intersect across three generations of remarkable women.
Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran
This is a fascinating story about one woman's remarkable life between the worlds of Iran and America.
Ole D. Mjøs, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee
Here you will meet the Iran Davar Ardalan who long ago captured my imagination and encouraged my love for Iran. Without fear, she reveals her place as the great-grand daughter of the Revolution, caught in its complexities. A product of dreamers and do-ers who are both unforgettable and amazing, her story is a broad tapestry on which East and West commingle. This book is her gift to both cultures, and to you.
Jacki Lyden, Senior Correspondent & Host, NPR and author of Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
For the past three decades the West has been mesmerized by how a seemingly modern Iran was swept by a radical revolution to become America’s nemesis. At times tantalizingly close to democracy but ultimately stubbornly defying the West Iran continues to hold the West’s attention. A child of Iran’s modern elite Davar Ardalan lived the Iranian revolution before she became a successful producer at NPR in America. Her life story takes the reader through a journey that cuts across generations, traversing cultural boundaries between Iran and America, and modern Middle East and its Islamic heritage. At once insightful and symbolic, My Name Is Iran is an intimate, readable and revealing tale of a maverick daughter of modern Iran and a rare glimpse into the many layers of in the life of that nation and the aspirations and frustrations that have shaped its recent history.
Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future