Blurb from Amazon: A wry and humorous account of the author’s quest to get her Iranian passport renewed. She embarks on a bizarre and circuitous journey, meeting a colourful cast of characters along the way: two photographers who specialise in Islamic portraits, a forensic surgeon who trades in human organs, a madam who wants to send prostitutes to Dubai and a grandmother who offers a live chicken to an implacable official. LIPSTICK AND LOOPHOLES IN TEHRAN is a fascinating look at the constraints and contradictions of contemporary life in Tehran from the author’s unique standpoint of being both a native of Iran and a foreigner.
The view this book gives us of Iran certainly isn’t the one we typically get in the news, but it does remind me of some of the more ludicrous parts of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series. It introduces us to the behind the scenes’ face of Iran so to speak; the story behind the islamically correct photo on the narrator’s passport for example: how the perfectly covering headscarf was adjusted by the male photographer she had met 5 minutes before, how that same photographer graciously offers makeup remover to his clients prior to the photo, and emergency mascara and lipstick afterwards… and how the final product goes through photoshop before being delivered. As we tag along on the author’s quest for a new passport we witness the absurdity of daily life under Iran’s Islamic regime. We also get a sense of the narrator’s difficult position, hiding her French passport and nationality from the authorities, leveraging her French connections to impress her interlocutors, and attempting to explain the Iranian system to her French husband, and ultimately feeling like a complete stranger in her native country, where her best friend acts as her guide.
So there is a lot to be learnt from this novel, but despite the above I found it very disappointing. For one thing, the passport quest is long winded and gets rather repetitive, as do the numerous descriptions of the tarof, the tradition by which Iranians will always refuse payment/ gifts/ invitations at first. But mostly I just couldn’t sympathise with the main character. She seemed to always be whining, fainting, acting against her better judgement and neglecting her daughter. Not that I expect or want book characters to be all nice and moral, but in this case she just got on my nerves.
I never thought that not ‘clicking’ with the main characters of a book could spoil it, but unfortunately it seems it does.
EDIT: This novel isn’t available in english yet (I read the original, french version) but according to Amazon it will be soon.