From Tehran to Twin Lakes, by Firooz Eftekhar Zadeh

Review by Abby Quillen

Local biography – November 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

From Tehran to Twin Lakes: An Uplifting True Story of Escaping Repression to Find the American Dream
by Firooz Eftekhar Zadeh
Published in 2000 by Twin Lakes Publishing, Inc.
ISBN 096744800X

AS AMERICA grapples with the _events of September 11, many of us are anxious to learn more about the Middle East, its relations to the U.S., and the Islamic faith. From Tehran to Twin Lakes, a first-person account of an Iranian Moslem’s immigration to Colorado, addresses some of these salient issues.

Even though it was written two years ago, this book offers some insight into a question that a lot of us are asking right now: Why do so many people in the Middle East seem to hate America? Author Zadeh points to the U.S.’s support of Mohammed Reza Pahlevi as Shah of Iran from 1941 to 1978 as one source of Middle Eastern contempt for the U.S.

Zadeh is critical of America’s actions in Iran during that period. He writes that the Shah was “in the same league as Milosevic, Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein,” and that “the entire nation was held hostage, with every citizen being his victim.” During the Shah’s reign, “large families lived in a dirt hole dug in the ground with a bamboo roof over it.” And even worse, “the Royal Family, top associates, even their workers had the power to kidnap, rape, or kill people without a legal system interfering.”

The U.S. supported the Shah because Iran served as a strategic vantage point for the American military to spy on Russian activities. Zadeh points out that while his Majesty’s army was carrying out outrageous human rights violations — including the murder of 15,000 protesters, mostly women and children on what became known as Black Friday — the United States looked the other way. Zadeh quips that President Jimmy Carter’s motto was “Human Rights,” but by supporting the shah it was clear that he meant human rights for some nations, not for the world.

Zadeh is also critical about George Bush the elder’s military campaign in Iraq, and he points to conditions in Afghanistan as an example of how U.S. supported takeovers can ultimately lead to unstable and dangerous situations.

He also offers some personal insight into another issue recently brought to the forefront of public consciousness: Arab American discrimination in the United States. According to Zadeh, “Politicians and the news media for the past 20 years have misled the American public into having a negative attitude toward Moslems.” And “this stigma has affected the lives of the immigrants who live in this great country.”

Long before September 11, Zadeh wrote that “the stigma of ‘terrorist’ given to Arabs by the media and cheap, sensational tabloids” was one of the hardest parts of immigrating to the United States. Though enthusiastic about life in this country, the author does talk about first-hand discrimination. The narrator had a difficult time finding a teaching position when he first arrived despite his qualifications, and when his second wife, an American, told her family and friends that she was going to marry a Middle Easterner, their mouths fell open in disbelief.

ALTHOUGH THE AUTHOR offers insight into some of today’s most pertinent issues, From Tehran to Twin Lakes is an irritating book.

Although not exactly a flaw, it should be pointed out that despite the title, the book is not about Twin Lakes, Colorado. Most of it takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, and in Greeley and Longmont, Colorado. The author mentions Twin Lakes only briefly at the end and offers little insight into what it’s like to be a Moslem or a Middle Easterner in this region.

While it was disappointing that Twin Lakes was mentioned so little, the way the book was narrated was far more aggravating. Although Firooz Zadeh writes in the first person and seems to be telling his own story, he says the book is about Parviz Emamian, a friend of his. Assuming that’s true, it’s unclear whose opinions are being recounted, or what’s about Emamian, and what’s about Zadeh. The autobiographical information on the back of the book makes author Zadeh sound a lot like the character in the book, so perhaps there’s really only one person. It’s impossible to tell. But whatever the case is, this odd first-person narration confuses the reader.

In addition, much of From Tehran to Twin Lakes deals with how difficult it is for foreigners to understand English, which leads to another annoying aspect of the book. In the latter half, Zadeh underlines every word or saying that he (or Emamian?) initially had a hard time understanding. And in an effort to make his point stronger, he peppers his language with so much slang and so many trite sayings, that his prose quickly grows tiresome. His repeated use of cliches like “the going was tough,” “saved by the bell,” “shoot the breeze,” “hit the hay,” and “icing on the cake” draws away from his story — yet he attracts the reader’s attention to each and every hackneyed phrase.

PERHAPS SOME OF THESE technical flaws could be overlooked, however, if the narrator didn’t display a cocky tendency to boast about how wonderful he is. Of his childhood he says, “I was strong and muscular, with beautiful blue eyes…This made me very handsome. I was the athlete, entertainer, comedian, singer, and the investor of the family.” The bragging continues throughout the book. For example, later he says, “as an athlete, I had an incredible body: flat stomach, muscular legs and arms, a broad chest, piercing blue eyes, curly black hair, and enough charm and good manners to win most American housewives’ hearts.”

But the narrator’s critical harangues against friends and family members provide the barbs that really skewer his story. He complains so much about his ex-wife Hava that the book starts to read like a personal vendetta against her. He writes that he was Hava’s “chauffeur, handyman, and grocery deliverer,” and that although he “worked four jobs and she sat at home all day watching soap operas, (he) was expected to cook, clean, wash dishes, and do laundry when he came home exhausted.”

And he blames Hava for the dissolution of their marriage, writing that she had a “closed and suspicious mind,” and that she was “a reserved, jealous Moslem woman,” who repeatedly wrongfully accused him of having affairs. However, because the narrator admits to almost sleeping with his study partner and to letting strange women at a Christmas party stick “their tongues down (his) throat,” it’s hard to believe that Hava’s jealousy was without cause.

It begins to feel like this book was written to vindicate the main character in every argument he ever had. He writes about how his terrible graduate advisor tried to sabotage him, how his brother Ray cheated him, and the ways in which his daughter Sima disappointed him, all the while maintaining that he was right in every case.

If the narrator wants the reader to see his side of things, his tirades don’t work. Instead his lengthy descriptions of those who did him wrong leave the reader feeling that this is the “true story” of a bitter vengeful man, and unfortunately, this draws away from all of the book’s earlier insights. By the end, the narrator’s anger toward his ex-wife, his daughter, his brother, and some of his friends eclipses his more interesting stories about the Middle East.

–Abby Quillen