It’s impossible to live an ordinary life and be openly fulfilled in work, leisure or love. The simplest human desires, whether speaking one’s mind or seeking a companion, are fraught with danger, and fulfilment depends on a veil of dissembling.
Even if this is a not unknown truth, I’ve never seen it set out more powerfully than in Ramita Navai’s new book. Navai, a former Times journalist, constructs the narratives of eight characters in Tehran from more than ten years of experience there.
Each character reflects not only the need to dissemble, but the sheer complexity of Tehran society. The stories include the capture of a Mohajedin-e Khalq member in the midst of a botched assassination attempt; a judge who sentenced a husband and wife to death for political dissent in 1988 meeting their orphaned son years later; a prostitute who rises through Tehran society thanks to her talents as a porn actress; and a trans-sexual member of the Basij militia.
Everything takes place against the backdrop of Vali Asr Street, Tehran’s main north–south thoroughfare. Like the stories, the street itself is a slice of life, passing from the affluent north to the poorer but more pious south.
City of Lies is thoroughly researched and deeply evocative of place. Navai has a formidable talent as a storyteller. Her stories are by turns comical, intriguing and heart-wrenching. And although there’s a great deal of sadness in the stories she tells, she writes with obvious love for the wondrous variety of life in Tehran.
CITY OF LIES: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £18.99