City Of Lies: Love, Sex, Death & The Search For Truth In Tehran – Ramita Navai – Non Fiction

Ramita Navai-City Of Lies280City Of Lies is the fantastic debut by British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai. An exceptionally engrossing book that I scoffed back in a few days due to the massively captivating content and excellently evocative writing ornamentation/style of the author. The enigma that is contemporary Iran (Tehran specifically in this case) has been a focal fascination for me for some time as one of the most intriguing, ornate, tragic, exotic, and contradictory nations/cultures on earth, where essentially a draconian theocracy adnates with the madness of modernity amongst the vestiges of an early empire commingled with trace relics of a mysticism/religion (Zoroastrianism). There’s some excellent literature on the region, but this book blasted the shit out of my previous readings with it’s scope, immaculate intimacy & trenchant disclosure and exposure, all wonderfully rendered by Navai’s brashly frank, superbly eloquent documentation of details. The book rotates around the experiences of eight protagonists, each with their own chapter, of which lifestyles and professions include drug-dealers, prostitutes, freedom fighters, gangsters, insurgents, demonstrators and the many facets of Iranian life they interact with. same old shit, but the degree of distinction inculcated by Iran’s completely unique circumstances and civilization/cultural dynamic make for exceptional personalization, style and complex social divergence & singularity. From moralistic gangsters (Jahel’s) with the somewhat paradoxical proclivity for simultaneous devotion to god and an avarice for “cheap alcohol and prostitutes”, to the gauche hyper glamour of “pralangs” – overtly sexual, cosmetic surgery ridden tawdry temptresses somehow managing to outmanoeuvre the Basij (voluntary regime militia/morality police) who are largely responsible for harassment and persecution from those eschewing Iran’s austere social decrees (modest attire & sartorial subtlety included). From pious conformists practicing subservient acquiescence to subversives & recusant die-hards, the pool of characters and those they come into contact with is an incredible account & formidable insight into this amazing city. For a regime so intent on repressing sex & sexuality, or at least outside marriage or religiously vetted scenarios, there’s certainly a whole lotta’ coitus goin’ on. And although this may manifest itself in more atypical methods such as “la-paee” (thigh-sex, like’ lunging the gap between a dames clenched legs) to conserve honour/modesty/virginity or whatever the excuse is this time for the amelioration of female venereal vivacity & pleasure, the practice is a central subject in the books pages. Despite the severe restrictions, colossal sanctimony and corruption is exposed, along with many sub-economies for circumventing a criminal charge, from having an affair with a judge to escape prosecution, or getting “estekhareh” (Islamic divination/advice) as an approbation to smooth out a potential anomaly or infraction of conduct or decorum. Some of the malpractice is very extreme, with one account of a prestigious cleric molesting kids repeatedly but being exempt from arrest because he was deemed “untouchable”. The tolerance, exception and impunity for these flagrant breeches based on status, wealth and manipulation of the apparatus are starkly egregious examples of unmitigated hypocrisy and corruption, made all the more odious by the aggression and extremism the regime is willing to inflict on those that fall-foul of it’s puritanical follies. When juxtaposed to the absurd pervasive perversions of the West and it’s equally corrupt mannerisms and falsities, one can’t help but be struck by a different gun delivering the same bullet. Amongst faux freedom or fallacious theocracy, the equipment for malfeasance, deception, control and exploitation are free to be utilized by virulent bastards for their own ill-conceived enrichment as Navai’s incredible collection of testimonies and their supporting cast so vividly demonstrate. Among the other oxymoron’s & antimony (did you know that “The Islamic Republic” has the world’s highest consumption rate of Crystal Meth (Sheeshe) in the world?) is further perspiration into one of the last few decades most intriguing cultural exchanges (Iran-Japan during the 80’s, a subject/era that needs a whole book of it’s own). My only criticism of this brilliant book is in some of deeply detailed descriptions Navai writes of her subjects that I feel are a little too first perspective to be literally verbatim recounting. Although I am in no way contesting the veracity of her or her sources, there are sentences like – “the chief was waiting for him under the white sky that had been streaked pale yellow by December’s low, watery sun. his smile was so broad his lips looked like they might crack” “it was dark by the time Amir got home. Without turning on the lights, he slumped on the sofa and stared at the shadows flickering on the wall” etc’ etc. These minor dramatizations to detail are surely the author’s embellishments? Unless her sources really relayed in such poignant descriptivism? Which I doubt is the case. Whatever the issue, this paltry gripe barely register’s in this thoroughly excellent book, perhaps the best I read in 2014. Vertiginously recommended, even if you have no interest in Iran.

Orion Books
Ramita Navai