Book: ‘City of Lies’ by Ramita Navai

When I first saw this book – City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai – in a shelf of an airport’s book-shop, I was intrigued by its title. My knowledge about Iran was very limited, but stories, collected from various Tehranis with characters from very different social classes in Iran, let me glimpse into Iranian society and its contradictions. By trying to tell the truth, also writer must lie – to protect the real people behind all these stories.

‘City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran’ by Ramita Navai

Lying in Tehran is about survival.
Welcome to Tehran, a city where survival depends on a network of subterfuge. Here is a place where mullahs visit prostitutes, drug kingpins run crystal meth kitchens, surgeons restore girls’ virginity and homemade porn is sold in the sprawling bazaars; a place where ordinary people are forced to lead extraordinary lives.
Based on extensive interviews, City of Lies chronicles the lives of eight men and women drawn from across the spectrum of Iranian society and reveals what it is to live, love and survive in one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

The book worked as an eye-opener for me, challenging and even mind-blowing. Stories are showing mostly negative reality of the country, revealing the darkest corners and places of Tehran. This book is like a teleport to another world – the world that is not pretty at all.
It is the world where people blindly follow the words of ‘higher forces’, where people are being brainwashed and brought into the death “willingly”…
It’s the world where people’s own life and destiny is dictated by someone else’s interpretation of Koran, and not of their own mind, thoughts and decisions.
It’s the world where Koran is saint and sex is immoral, but once people turn around the corner, they fuck all the prostitutes they find on the street. The more they deny and bann sex, the more they have it.
It’s the world where women are oppressed and discriminated by their husbands, families, friends and neighbors; where religion is highly respected above all only when it’s profitable.
It’s the world where people are dicky – they are saint in front of each other, in public, but at the same time, everyone knows that everyone does shit. And despite all that, they still love Iran and want to return…
So, I believe that it’s not only a bad side of this part of the world; I believe that there is also the beautiful side of Iran, it’s people and culture.

Here are some quotes from the book I found forceful and descriptive:

  • Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival. […] Some of the most pious, righteous Tehranis are the most gifted and cunning in the art of deception. We Tehranis are masters at manipulating the truth.
  • […] the way you clothed yourself was a litmus test for morality.
  • […] the voraciousness of a woman’s laugh was in direct proportion to her morals. The louder, the looser.
  • It was here [mosques] the gullible were fooled and power-crazed mullahs delivering tittle-tattle sermons manipulated the God-fearing. […] where beautiful verses from the Koran were corrupted.
  • But there were no rules in this game, when laws could be twisted and manipulated to whatever effect was needed.
  • In Tehran complaining is a way of life.
  • Another cleric had even proposed licensed brothels, with a mullah on hand to perform temporary marriage rites, so that transgressing Tehranis would be able to act out their lust in a religiously appropriate way.
  • [locked in a police cell] […] a thirty-two-year-old woman who had been seen kissing a man. It transpired the men was her husband, but they would not let her go until her parents turned up with her marriage certificate. Meanwhile her husband had also been thrown into a cell.
  • I marry you for a specific amount of time and for a specific mehrieh [Wikipedia: mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions paid by the groom, or by groom’s father, to the bride at the time of marriage, that legally becomes her property].
  • The children, who were all around the same age as Morteza [12], parroted back the rallying call, but only a few of them knew what Zionism was, or why Iran considered the West the enemy.
  • A drowning man is not troubled by rain.
  • We faced the same frustrations and limitations of life in the Islamic Republic: irrespective of class, wealth or profession, we were all required to hide aspects of our true selves.


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