STARRED REVIEW
September 2014

Lying to survive

By Ramita Navai
Review by
Ramita Navai sets it straight from the beginning: “In order to live in Tehran, you have to lie,” she writes in City of Lies, a gripping portrait of life inside Iran. “Lying in Tehran is about survival.”
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Ramita Navai sets it straight from the beginning: “In order to live in Tehran, you have to lie,” she writes in City of Lies, a gripping portrait of life inside Iran. “Lying in Tehran is about survival.”

The country’s oppressive religious and political atmosphere forces its citizens to lie about issues large and small, lest they face prison or death. Iranians are accustomed to lying about using alcohol and drugs, having sex outside of marriage and about their devotion to God. “The lies,” Navai writes, “are a consequence of . . . being ruled by a government that believes it should be able to interfere in even the most intimate affairs of its citizens.”

Navai spent her childhood in Tehran, but her family left for London when the Shah of Iran was overthrown during the Islamic Revolution. She returns 26 years later to reconnect with her homeland and launch her career as a journalist.

The book is not one of broad brushstrokes. It is a collection of smaller stories of individuals struggling with their lies while trying to discover the truth about themselves. There is Dariush, a revolutionary bent on assassinating a government official, only to encounter disastrous results. There is Somayeh, a young girl who must remain religiously devout, subservient and cloaked in hijab, while her newlywed husband drinks and carouses. Or Leyla, who bucks convention and becomes a prostitute and porn star, resulting in a death sentence.

The stories are real. But they are written in a lively style that reads like a novel. Navai is impressive as a reporter, finding these characters and convincing them to share their stories. She also is an eloquent writer who uses her subjects to tell the larger tale of the degradation of the Iranian culture.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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City of Lies

City of Lies

By Ramita Navai
PublicAffairs
ISBN 9781610395199

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