ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton & Co., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110-0017.
CAREER: Journalist and lecturer. Arab News, diplomatic correspondent, 1992-94; covered Iran for Washington Post and Reuters, 1998-2000. Worked at International Finance Corporation (private sector development arm of the World Bank). Lecturer on contemporary Iran at Columbia, Georgetown, and Johns Hopkins universities, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Middle East Institute, National Defense University, Open Society Institute, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson Center fellow.
Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Afshin Molavi was born in Iran but left the country with his parents before the 1979 revolution. After receiving his education in the United States, he covered Iran as a journalist specializing in the politics of the region.
Beginning in 1999, Molavi spent more than a year traveling in Iran, this time on a cultural journey to expose the rich history of the country and document the stories of the people who live there. His reporter's notebook studies more than 3,000 years of history through his pilgrimages to shrines, monuments, and ancient and contemporary places that range from the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the sixth-century king who founded the Persian Empire, to Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum in Tehran. He visited the shrine of the poet Hafez in Shiraz and another dedicated to the nearly 300,000 men killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Washington Post Book World contributor Chris King wrote that "readers who crave a shift away from shadows of the self and toward illuminations of the world will rejoice to read Afshin Molavi's prologue . . . in which he writes that 'the following pages are not devoted to my own interior personal journey'. . . . Molavi might well have been tempted to explore the self in his journeys across Iran, but this book has a different agenda: a description of 'the history of this old civilization, of the current Iranian predicament, and most of all, of the lives, fates, and hopes of Iranians I met along the way.'"
King praised Molavi's reporting of his pilgrimage to Tabriz, the home of his family and an ancient city important for its role in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911, when Iran made its most significant move toward Western-style democracy. While there, Molavi met participants in the 1999 student protests that were put down by force.
Molavi writes of meeting a group of hardliners shouting protests against America. When they discovered he spoke Farsi, they said that Molavi should not take their words seriously. In a country where there is almost no economic opportunity, it wasn't surprising that one of the group took Molavi aside and asked him about his chances for getting a green card to come to the States.
"Music is yet another attraction," noted Sol Schindler in the Washington Times. "That which is most popular in today's Iran is recorded in Los Angeles by expatriate Iranians. However, American popular culture is a two-edged weapon. Reformers and hardliners alike are repelled by the overt sexuality of so much that we export."
Hugh S. Galford reviewed the book for Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, saying that it "is a wonderful synthesis of history, politics, travelogue, and interview, and deserves the widest possible audience. The book's major strength lies in the range of Iranian voices Molavi introduces to the reader. Because he talked to everyone across the political spectrum, social and class divisions, even religious divisions, he is able to paint a more realistic, if less black-and-white picture of Iranian society. . . . Molavi asked Iranians to tell him their story, listened intently, and has produced a fine work that belongs in the hands of anyone interested in Iran."
Molavi discusses other writings about Iran and the work of both ancient writers and poets and contemporary, many of whom are in prison. "He takes readers much further beyond the scope of magazine and newspaper articles, leading them through his own discovery of his homeland," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Booklist's Michelle Kaske remarked that Molavi "packs a lot of information into this work, but his readable prose makes this an appealing journey." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Persian Pilgrimages "a welcome and—in the best Iranian tradition—subtly shaded journey through a country that once commanded U.S. attention and then seemed to drop off the radar."
Schindler concluded by saying that Molavi "makes no recommendations for American foreign policy. He is content to show us a picture of the country of his ancestors, a country he clearly loves. The majority of its population disapproves of its government and would like to see better relations with the United States."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Molavi, Afshin, Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys acrossIran, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, September 15, 2002, Michelle Kaske, review of Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran, p. 202.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of PersianPilgrimages, p. 1202.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Marcia L. Sprules, review of Persian Pilgrimages, p. 117.
Publishers Weekly, September 2, 2002, review of Persian Pilgrimages, p. 70.
Washington Post Book World, November 10, 2002, Chris King, review of Persian Pilgrimages, p. 4.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January-February, 2003, Hugh S. Galford, review of Persian Pilgrimages, p. 88.
Washington Times, December 8, 2002, Sol Schindler, review of Persian Pilgrimages.
Iranian.com,http://www.iranian.com/ (September 28, 2002).*