Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter photo 2

A heartfelt look by Aaron B. Cohen at the great arc of life through the prism of its details.

Heart of the Matter

“Assassins” writer brings Iran’s dark side to life

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Reading "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran," right after its publication in 2004, I was introduced not only to a place and an event that always have intrigued me, but also to a writer at least as intriguing as the land of her birth and her mother culture.

Roya Hakakian, an Iranian Jew now living in Connecticut, where she pursues a courageous human rights agenda, has now published her second book, "Assassins of the Turquoise Palace." The new work explores a 1992 terror attack in Berlin, which targeted opponents of the Islamic regime.

A writer with a profound ear for the human condition and a keen eye for justice, Hakakian again shows her remarkable ability to transport, this time enabling the reader to witness a key battle in the fight of Iranian refugees against state oppression and European collusion.

It's a quick and gratifying read, but one that produced in me a range of emotions: First among them was rage. That the same ilk of killers and thugs who have comprised the Iranian regime since the 1990s actually have become more entrenched, ever escalating the scope of their crimes, astounds and infuriates. Reading this work, feelings about the post-election clamor for justice in Iran, so horribly crushed, washed over me again. How unimaginable, how devastating, that the decent people of Iran are so perpetually chained—and chased.

Another feeling was dread. Hakakian's guided tour of the landscape of the exile, the refugee, the deserter, even of the operative, sprouted an empathy that could not have arisen without her deft planting of the seed (and it is her deft hand that makes her intriguing not only as a memoirist, in "Journey from the Land of No," but also in this new work). I have visited refugee neighborhoods in Berlin, Paris, and Chicago, and have seen the cityscape of shops and restaurants, and subpar housing. This book showed the inner landscape of the people themselves, filled, like Hakakian herself, with struggle.

Another feeling was helplessness, like a witness to something inexplicable, something impossible to render (and which the book's protagonists were desperate to render in the German courtroom where the assassins employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran stood accused). Hakakian brings the reader into a circle of discordant yearning, and shows something that runs through it that is deep and painful, yet very rich—the river of exile that cannot be brooked.

I also felt ensnared in a human paradox, caught between hope and despair—hope that justice would be done, and despair that even that hearty meal of justice served in the case in question did not, in the end, sate the great hunger for a feast of justice.

If only the cause of the people of Iran desperate for democracy would capture the imagination and the heart of all those who claim to hate oppression. May this marvelous book help bring that day.

I'll keep you posted if Hakakian plans to visit Chicago.

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