In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs


Christopher de Bellaigue’s In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran is one of those books that I had on my reading list for what seemed like ages, always meaning to read it but never quite getting around to it. That is, until I borrowed it from a friend who had asked me to let her know if it was any good before she gave it a go.

I’m glad I did, and while memoirs of Iran have been all the rage these past few years, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is one of the few to provide an account of life in Iran from a foreigner’s perspective. De Bellaigue is, after all, a British writer for the Economist, living in Tehran and married to an Iranian woman. The result of this perspective is a refreshing angle on Iran’s history and its social ramifications that steers clear of the romanticism that so easily befalls some Iranians when writing about their homeland.

In the Rose Garden is not a true memoir as its title may suggest; it is rather a blend of personal experience and history, sometimes reading as a travel journal and at times as journalistic report. It draws heavily from the personal wartime narratives of Iranians de Bellaigue comes across throughout the country, emphasizing primarily the gruesome Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and the subsequent changes in Iranian society, namely the loss of revolutionary zeal. In traveling the country, he listens to Iranians from all walks of life tell their story, be they war veterans, journalists, artists, clerics or bureaucrats. The general idea is to focus on a handful of experiences that reflect a bigger picture in the collective Iranian experience.

De Bellaigue’s writing carries with it a richness that stems from his opinion that history is indeed still alive for Iranians and it is precisely this history that has shaped Iran’s contemporary social paradoxes of old versus new, private versus public, and east versus west. Yet despite his sometimes opinionated commentary, he steers clear of overt political analysis and instead sticks to a narrative of Iran’s social complexities. While In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs may not be a memoir in the true sense of the word, it is certainly a revealing and realistic look into life in modern Iran.

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It’s “In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs”, not “In the Garden of the Rose Martyrs”.

Yikes, thanks for pointing that out – fixed.

Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention. It was a complete oversight on my part – I loved the book and it would have been a shame to have given it a favorable review with such a glaring mistake.

Thanks for the review!


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