I have a confession. I only borrowed this book from the library because it was endorsed by Dr Charlie Teo whose words grace the cover: “Every politician, every soldier, every doctor, every social worker, every refugeee, every school child … actually, every Australian needs to read this book.”
I’m not a politician, nor am I a solder or a doctor or social worker. I am also no longer a school child. I am, however, an Australian who has enormous respect for Dr Charlie Teo. So, I read this book. I read it over the course of a day and it is still unfolding in my mind in the aftermath of this reading.
There is no doubt in my mind that Saeed Fassaie is a great man. He is eloquent, educated, tenacious and ambitious. His story exposes him as brave and stubborn and righteous. He has staunch morals and isn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs. In short, he is the type of person of whom we should all be in awe.
On the surface, Fassaie’s story is fascinating – his involvement in Iranian politics, his relationship with the youth around him and his time spent serving in the military fighting a war that he perceived as futile, led by a government who stood for nothing that had any value for Fassaie. However, what is far more striking are the philosophical insights that he provides throughout his memoir, insights that are explored through conversations he has with various people like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or a woman he encounters in Hungary. It is these insights and observations, this questioning, which allow readers to truly appreciate the complexity and sensitivity of this man who is so torn by his country and his need to be true to himself.
I found this book valuable for so many different reasons. In some ways it reminded me of Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Teheran’ while in other ways the male narrative voice provided a totally alternate view of life in Iran. I found myself intrigued by Fassaie’s military service set against the background of his pacificism and his questioning of the value of religion, his desire to know and appreciate all that lay beyond the borders of Iran, and his willingness to embrace different social systems and then abandon the once he understood their flaws.
So much of Iran’s history has happened behind closed doors and both Nafisi and now Fassaie have provided valuable explorations of all that often remains hidden.
Where Fassaie’s book diverges is in his personal experience of mental illness and how that experience colours his emigration to Australia. For me this provided another dimension to this memoir, making it more personal and less political. I found myself developing a greater sense of empathy with Fassaie as a narrator and this allowed me to reconsider some of his earlier descriptions of experiences while he lived in Iran.
I commend Saeed Fassaie on his courage in writing this memoir. It can’t have been an easy task and it is well worth reading – both to appreciate the beauty of Iran and its people and to listen to a great man tell his story.