City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran

Perhaps no country besides North Korea is as opaque to Americans as Iran. With our widespread embarrassing confusion about its history and religion, many would rather not even think about Iran. In City of Lies, British-Iranian journalist and former Tehran correspondent for Britain's Times Ramita Navai lifts the traditional Iranian chador to expose the diversity and chaos of Iran's capital. It is a city of smells ("mothballs, dried herbs, earth and petrol... ambergris and musk"), mourners ("we embrace sorrow like no one else, wailing on demand"), eroticism ("it is impossible to escape sex in Tehran") and, most of all, lies ("morals don't come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival").

After growing up in London, Navai returned to her homeland in 2004 to profile eight modern Tehranis plucked from points along the city's diverse main thoroughfare. Vali Asr Street connects the wealthy estates and high-end shops of Tehran's north with the poverty, drugs and rampant prostitution of its south. Navai's subjects are religious fanatics, prostitutes, drug dealers, political prisoners, transgender radicals and skinny-jeaned, Chuck-Taylored teens. Filled with verbatim dialogue, police violence, religious extremism, street hustling and a pulsing undercurrent of sexuality, City of Lies uncovers the story of modern Tehran with all the drama of a good novel. It's neither a pretty picture nor a strictly Iranian one, but rather a window into the tensions and challenges of urban life under authoritarian political leadership and intolerant religious hierarchy--wherever it may be. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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