“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.”
Searing words form a harrowing reality, giving the reader an excellent basis to start an exceptional book. British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai tells the real-life stories of eight protagonists in City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran. The sycamore-lined Vali Asr Street is the central setting, while the stories span over years.
Navai has created a remarkable non-fiction book. Her choice of stories may make the reader think they’re reading a collection of fiction short stories. Every now and then I remembered that these were true stories, throwing me in to disbelief and I found myself researching the author and book to ensure that these weren’t made up.
The Tehran in City of Lies is one made of gangsters, housewives, terrorists, and schoolgirls. Following extensive research and interviews, Navai has been able to bring the reader in to the world of an Iranian-American terrorist who has been given an important task, a schoolgirl finding love in an unexpected place, and a basiji making a life-changing decision.
The stories reveal a Tehran riddled with political, religious, social, and sexual contradictions. In one story, following her first encounter as a prostitute “she did not feel dirty or degraded. Just scared of God”. Navai doesn’t shy away from any topic throughout the book, and an open-mind from the reader is required. The ending of at least one story left me shocked, a ringing in my ears. Just be prepared. “This was the new Tehran, where tradition and class are blended together and trumped by money.”
Navai provides a short autobiography at the end of the book, which sheds further light on her relationship with Tehran. A glossary appears also, and is accompanied by her sources divided by chapter. The sources provide excellent information for the reader, but I suggest waiting until you complete all the stories before reading them.
With an excellent mixture of stories, characters, and settings that Navai has managed to track down and document, City of Lies is a must-read for any person interested in astonishing stories of human survival.
Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh
City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran
Written by Ramita Navai
Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson