Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Journey from the Land of No

A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran

by Roya Hakakian

Reviewed October 26, 2004.
Crown Publishers, New York, 2004.   245 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #8, Personal Stories and Reflections

In Journey from the Land of No, Roya Hakakian tells of her childhood as a Jew in Iran.  She shows us that politics in Iran wasn’t as simple as many Americans seem to think.  The Jews in her community loved Iran and saw it as their homeland.  Yet many of them supported the Ayatollah because he promised to bring freedom.

Roya Hakakian grew up learning that it wasn’t safe to express certain opinions.  She was happy, along with most Iranians, when the Shah was deposed.  Then came changes.  Her school was given an Islamic principal who explained to the girls why it was important that men should never see a strand of their hair.

This book is poetically told.  Roya Hakakian explains to us the valued place of poetry in Persian society, and we can see the poetry implicit in her prose.  My summary of the issues involved doesn’t do the book justice.  She presents the history in scenes from her life, as a little girl grew up and watched her country change.

She does leave us with a sadness for the Muslim women friends she left behind.  One such friend said good-by to her with the words:  “‘You’re lucky, Roya.  You’re a Jew.  Once you leave Iran, you’ll get a visa to any country in the world.  But where can I go?’

“‘But I don’t want to go anywhere else,’ I said, though I knew my objection made me no less lucky in her eyes.’

“‘You must go,’ she continued.  ‘Go soon!  Leave and never look back.’”

Roya did go to America with her family soon after that.  We are all richer now that she has chosen to look back.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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