Lipstick Jihad is journalist Azadeh Moaveni’s memoir about growing up “Iranian in America and American in Iran.” As a child, Moaveni moved with her mother to southern California, then after college returned to Tehran to work as a journalist. While there, Moaveni discovers a country going through a sort of adolescent struggle to find itself in the face of an oppressive religious regime and a government that can’t seem to get going in the right direction. As Moaveni becomes more accustomed to Iran, she sees how fundamental changes are coming from the bottom up, rather than top down, and that Iran has some potential for change.
This is a book that I randomly found sitting on the used book table in our campus bookstore. When I saw the cover and read the description, I knew it was a book that I’d be interested in because it has so many of the themes I love in books: gender politics, journalism, and the ties between language, and identity, just to name a few. With that many things I love all in the same book, I had high expectations for Lipstick Jihad even though I knew nothing about the story before I picked it up. Happily, Lipstick Jihad exceeded my expectations, and I can enthusiastically recommend the book to just about anyone.
In addition to being well-written and interesting, this book also contains one of the best explanations of the Iranian Revolution and the changes in the country since 1979 that I’ve ever read. Iranian politics can be very confusing, in part because since the Revolution the players have drastically changed and don’t get referred to in the same way all the time. I’ve read a number of memoirs and books on similar topics, but none of them have as clearly articulate the conflict as Moaveni does in Lipstick Jihad. For that, I have to give the book high praise.
I also enjoyed Moaveni as a narrator because she is easy to relate to. She is not easy on herself as she tries to adjust to her new country, and she’s honest about her faults and struggles. One of my favorite passages is when she writes about how she uses work to avoid some of the things that scare her about Iran:
So often, my days off didn’t measure up to the lofty, soul-enriching life I had expected to live in Iran, and this was depressing enough that it made me stop taking days off altogether. If a story demanded four interviews, I did ten. I typed up my handwritten notes, printed them out, and filed them with pretty page markers. Then I made a thimble of Turkish coffee, sat down to read the papers, and made a list (typed with bullet points) of more story ideas. Work had no equal as a balm to anxiety. I even took my laptop to family lunches, where relatives looked at me pityingly and remarked that American journalism was really a form of indentured servitude. Then they asked for the hundredth time why I didn’t become a broadcast journalist (better for finding a husband), as though newspapers were pastures for unattractive reporters who didn’t make the grade aesthetically for television.
There are a ton of honest and funny moments like this in the book that make Moaveni an endearing narrator. As a young journalist, I especially related to sections like this where Moaveni wrote about her process and techniques as a reporter and how those needed to change once she moved to Iran.
I could include a ton of great passages where Moaveni writes just beautifully about the students and revolutionaries she meets during her time in Tehran, but I’m just going to cut myself off here and get to the point. Moaveni just published a second memoir, Honeymoon in Tehran, which I am definitely going to buy, probably even in hardcover, because I enjoyed Jipstick Jihad so much. Speaking as someone with limited funds, I’m not sure if there is a higher praise for a first book than that.