Saturday, December 5, 2009


ISBN 978-0-385-52334-9
Doubleday New York 2008
paperback 978-0767928014
From the jacket notes: “The grandson of an eminent Ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, now an American citizen, Hooman Majd, in a way, is both 100 percent Iranian and 100 percent American, combining an insider’s knowledge of how Iran works with a remarkable ability to explain its history and its quirks to western readers.” That said, Majd is also a widely published author of social commentary featured frequently in GQ, The New York Times, Interview Magazine, as well as having served as executive vice president of Island Records. He is also the official translator for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Khatami at UN proceedings and press engagements. None of which alone are remarkably impressive or authoritative, but together they speak of a man of diverse experience and insights who can hardly be called an apologist or cheerleader for any nation or political model.The Ayatollah Begs to Differ is a hip and savvy trip. We accompany Majd through the back streets of small villages and gatherings in glamorous high rise apartment buildings, through difficult to navigate civic offices and noisy bazaars of a very culturally and politically diverse Iran as the author incites candid and often unexpected responses from a broad range of people from all classes of society. The book, however, is not for everyone. Majd is a man who decidedly chooses to taste every possibility that life offers. If one isn’t comfortable with his visit to a small household where the patriarchal resident is an unapologetic opium addict, and Majd samples all of his host’s hospitality and reflects on the tragic role of opium in village life, then this isn’t the right book. All too often in today’s commentary however, the reader is subjected to unassailably impassioned screeds by the aforementioned apologists and cheerleaders who rant in one dimensional prose from monolithic and reductionist platforms. Majd introduces us to real people who think, and reason, and occupy complex places in the world of ideas, culture, politics and religion. His family connections and his familiarity with important people in the Iranian government gain him entrée into places otherwise closed to western journalists. But that entrée is not always a seamless affair, and the author injects many delicious moments of his own pithy wit and humor into the mix of the narrative, ensuring that The Ayatollah Begs to Differ is never a dry or academic read. As such, both Majd and his rapid fire bolt through Iran in which he talks to cab drivers and fashion mavens, civic workers in out of the way office buildings, religious clerics of all persuasions and very high ranking global personalities in the Iranian government is a dazzling trip, rich with historical context and back-story, and one that leaves the thinking reader, the questioning reader, hungry for more. Hooman Majd is a rare and important creature these days: a writer who makes you think, rather than merely respond.

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