Worth Your Time: "The Ayatollah Begs To Differ"

"A friend once told me that I was the only person he knew who was both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian," writes Hooman Majd in his engaging book, "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" (published stateside this fall). The grandson of an ayatollah, and the son of a diplomat for the last shah of Iran, Majd grows up in America and comes of age during the Iranian revolution. To his own surprise, he finds himself bristling as Americans criticize his homeland. He becomes a cultural chameleon, equally at ease in the United States and in Iran, which he visits often and which he sees with American eyes and Persian sympathies. It's a viewpoint that may challenge Western readers' assumptions: Majd's Iran is a land where ayatollahs criticize each other and young people flout rules about wearing chadors. It's a land where Majd—who makes no secret of his admiration for the reformist President Mohammad Khatami—could go on to serve as the official translator for Khatami's successor and archrival, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when the latter visited New York in September. But Majd is no Iran apologist: he ridicules Ahmadinejad's officials for their Holocaust deniers' conference in 2006. Majd's subtle central point is that "the lack of meaningful relations between Iran and the United States … has brought little advantage to either nation." With a new U.S. president who may be willing to talk, and Iranian leaders who have tentatively welcomed that proposition, Majd's timing is as impeccable as both his Farsi and his English.