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This text is a fusion of travelogue, historical inquiry, portraits of people and interviews with Iranians from all walks of life. Christiane Bird, who spent several years of her early childhood in Iran, sets out to write a safarnameh - the Persian word for travelogue or, literally, travel letter - but soon delivers more. In describing the sights, sounds and overall tenor of life in Iran today, she helps to break through the silence that has surrounded the country's culture. Bird's travels take her from the sacred pilgrimage site of Mashhad, visited by more than 12 million Shi'ites every year, to the haunting, isolated valley of Alamut, once home to the legendary cult of Assassins. She visits mosques, public baths, Khomeini's former home and a Caspian sea resort; she attends prayer meetings and a horse-racing meet. Along the way she talks to everyone from muleteers to ayatollahs, Kurds to Turkomans, Westernized Iranians to traditional Iranians - many of whom invite her home for dinner or a cup of tea. The result is an insightful look at a complex nation that has long been obscured by unfortunate stereotypes and misunderstandings.
Christiane Bird is the author of The Jazz and Blues Lover's Guide to the US and a co-author of Below the Line: Living Poor in America. She is a graduate of Yale University and a former travel writer for the Daily News.