[amazon template=image&asin=0312263449]Last month when I was putting together the post about books and articles by and about traveling women, I came across the review I’d written for Honeymoon in Purdah: an Iranian Journey by Alison Wearing. The review was a bit long to go into an already long post, so I decided to save it for another day. That day has come!
Honeymoon in Purdah is the true story of a young Canadian woman traveling in Iran in the 1990’s. (I don’t believe the exact year of her travels is mentioned, but I vaguely remember a reference to Clinton as the US President, and the book’s copyright is 2000.)
The back of my copy of the book includes the huge spoiler of how this woman is able to travel extensively in Iran. (I HATE it when the back of a book tells me something I would rather not know before I start reading.)
I appreciate how Wearing manages to be funny without making fun of the folks she encounters. I was able to smile along with her because her writing shows a great love for most of the people she met. The majority of Iranians (and expats who stayed after the country’s Islamic Revolution) are portrayed as warm, affectionate, generous, caring, curious, concerned human beings. Wearing shows Iranians as a people who will go above and beyond, who will inconvenience themselves and their families, to make Canadian tourists comfortable .
I also appreciate that Wearing lets the Iranian people speak for themselves. Some folks she meets think life was better before the Islamic Revolution, when the Shah was in power. Others (of course) think life is better since the Shah was overthrown. Wearing allows both sides to have their say in her book.
However, I wish the author had woven historical facts in with her travel stories and character sketches. More facts about both the Shah’s reign and the Islamic Revolution would have put the people she met and the adventures she had in a historical context. Of course, maybe she expects me to do my own research. In that case, a bibliography would be nice, as I’m assuming she had some ideas about helpful references when she started writing.
Very interesting to me was Wearing’s experience of proper dress for traveling in Iran. Even as a Western tourist, she was expected to dress modestly, which really meant staying covered up, even in the desert heat. In many situations, she was dressed appropriately when wearing long pants; a long coat that came nearly to her ankles; and a scarf covering every bit of her hair, but in some situations (such as visiting Islamic holy sites), she was expected to further cover up by wearing a chaador on top of the whole outfit. While she writes extensively about feeling hot and confined by all of the black polyester fabric, about the sweat constantly rolling over her skin during the day and having to wash the salt deposits from the fabric at night, after months of dressing this way, she is uncomfortable in Iran when any stray bit of hair or skin shows.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I will probably never travel in Iran, so I was glad to live vicariously through Wearing. This is a book that I want to loan to friends, then read again when it finally makes its way back to me.