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City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the…
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City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran (2014)

by Ramita Navai

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I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Mostly, I fully expected an affirmation that, whether Persian, European, or American, we all have commonalities ... secrets ... and lies. The stories presented here have all these very human quantities (they're based on the stories of real people, but have been suitably modified to not compromise anyone's identity ... this becomes important as you read the stories). There's an appendix in the back which shows how each story has been amended.

The title suggests that deception is everywhere. What you find, instead, are everyday human situations driven by the unusual circumstances driving the Iranian economy and civic life. The stories are very relatable, and not at all preachy. Some situations from the stories will surprise you.

I found this a fascinating read and devoured it over the space of two commutes, and I do recommend it to people who want humanizing insight into contemporary Iranian culture. ( )
  henaresf | Jul 27, 2015 |
I didn't read the whole book, but still recommend it. A look at a city most of us know little about and the deceit and corruption that undermines all those living there. Trite but true that the read feels grateful. KH ( )
  splinfo | Dec 22, 2014 |
Seeing is believing

City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai (Public Affairs, $26.99).

British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai offers an insider’s glimpse into life in Tehran in this collection of profiles—some of them “composites”—of people who live and work in the capital city of Iran.

In City of Lies, she writes about the conflict between citizens who want art (a woman who teaches dancing, for example) and the institutionalized morality that shuts off anything resembling a normal life (the police shut her down).

As Navai notes early on, most Tehranis practice deception in order to go about their lives; the heavy hand of Sharia law is imposed from the top-down and the goal of most Iranians is to have as normal a life as possible without attracting the attention of authorities.

While it’s more creative nonfiction than journalism—and that’s understandable, given the risk for her subjects if any were to be identified—Navai’s style shows a journalist’s eye. Fascinating work, City of Lies combines that eye with a fiction writer’s art to tell the stories of metropolitan Iranians.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
1 vote KelMunger | Nov 8, 2014 |
Ramita Navi’s City of Lies is an interesting hybrid of a book—a sort of fictional nonfiction. In her forward, Navai tells readers that “I have changed all names and some details, time frames and locations to protect people, but everything here has happened or it still happening. These are all true stories from the city of lies.”

Navai explains that these lies are not the result of moral failings on the part of inviduals: “in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival. This need to dissimulate is surprisingly egalitarian—there are no class boundaries and there is no religious discrimination when it comes to the world of deceit.” The liars in this collection of related tales range from a homemade porn star to a would-be political assassin to a male-to-female transsexual.

I found the story of Amir particularly riveting. At age six Amir, the son of parents who will soon be executed because their personal lives challenge the regime, is “well versed in the art of lying. He has a ready stockpile of lies perched on the tip of his still-developing tongue, waiting for the cue for them to fall out of his baby mouth and into the ears of adults.” As an adult, Amir shares the secret of his parents’ fate with his girlfriend Bahar, who “read books; devoured them…. lived for the arts—theatre, film, and music…. loved Metallica, Radiohead, Zero and Zedbazi, an underground Iranian band that sang about drugs and sex (and who had all left the country).” Amir finds himself haunted by the judge who sentenced his parents to death, now seeking forgiveness as he prepares for his own death.

My primary complaint about this book pertains to its hybrid nature. While Navai assures us these stories are true, the lack of documentation makes them feel more like fiction than nonfiction—yet they aren’t effective as fiction, given Navai’s reportorial prose style. Nonetheless, for most U.S. readers, City of Lies will be a revelation, documenting a breadth and complexity that belie our more simplistic understanding of life in and the people of Tehran. ( )
1 vote Sarah-Hope | Sep 9, 2014 |
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"Rich, absorbing, and exotic, City of Lies travels up and down Vali Asr Street, Tehran's pulsing thoroughfare, from the lavish shopping malls of Tajrish through the smog that lingers over the alleyways and bazaars of the city's southern districts. Ramita Navai gives voice to ordinary Iranians forced to live extraordinary lives: the porn star, the aging socialite, the assassin and enemy of the state who ends up working for the Republic, the dutiful housewife who files for divorce, and the old-time thug running a gambling den."--… (more)

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