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Challenging The Stereotypes Of Modern Iran

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

It's a relief, at a moment like this, to be able to learn about Iran by someone who belongs completely both to that country and to the United States, and who can speak to the cultures of both with unimpeachable authority. Hooman Majd is a Tehran-born New Yorker and the grandson of an ayatollah, whose fascinating career includes a glamorous stint in the entertainment industry (as an executive at Island Records, Majd worked with U2 and Melissa Etheridge) and a regular gig translating for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visits to the United States.

In his new book, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, Majd has no problem sharply criticizing Ahmadinejad, who may be most infamous in this country for his statements denying the Holocaust. The contrarian wit suggested in his book's title comes into constant play in Majd's nuanced demystification of modern Iran, its history and politics. And it's his most effective weapon against the confusion, oversimplifications and stereotypes that tend to define American understanding of Iran. (Recently, in the Huffington Post, Majd called out New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for an approving quote that described the Iranian government as having a "carpet bazaar" mentality.)

Majd has written for GQ, the New York Times, The New Yorker, the New York Observer and Salon. He's also published short fiction. In a recent interview, Majd wryly acknowledged that he strongly doubts The Ayatollah Begs To Differ will be published in Iran. Still, he added, "it will find its way privately into people's homes."

This reading of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ took place in September 2008 at the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.