Monday, December 16, 2013

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmine by Shohreh Aghdashloo

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmine by Shohreh Aghdashloo is a memoir by an actress who is perhaps most known for her role in 24 and being nominated for an Academy Award for The House of Sand and Fog.  The book begins in the present tense but shifts into the more traditional past tense form that memoirs typically use.  Her writing voice is precise, with spare use of metaphor, focusing on the broad details of her life experience.

Born in Tehran, Iran during the reign of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, into a middle class family.  She is loved and nurtured by her parents, has friends and brothers, while she matures into her own goals and desires.  When the Shah is deposed, life in Iran changes, forcing Aghdashloo to flee her homeland.  Before she leaves, however, she experiences the power of being on the stage, first as a runway model.  She is a successful actress in her own country and her move to London is only a temporary stall in her acting career.  While in England, she learns English and goes to college where she studies political science, to have a better understanding of the events that had occurred in her homeland.

Her main loves—acting and politics—play a major role throughout her life and inform much of her biography.  She never sinks into despairing stories of her hardships, leaving the reader to feel she’s led a somewhat charmed life.  But leaving behind her family can’t have been easy, starting over in a new country, eventually moving to yet another country, trying to start a business with other immigrants from Iran, etc.  Whatever stress or sorrow she may have experienced during these times is not her focus.  Instead, she reveals herself as a passionate and proactive individual who did not let her circumstances keep her from pursuing her dreams. 

Through her life’s journey, she realizes that she does not have to choose between her two loves but can fuse the two, taking on acting roles that address her political knowledge, using the stage to share her story, the more universal story of the immigrant trying to start over in a new country, to bring the story of her nation to an audience that may never realize that not all Iranians are the same, let alone not all Middle Easterners.  Her insistence not to accept a role as a stereotypical terrorist is understandable so, when she accepts the role on 24, it seems contraindicated and her reasoning is not well explained.  Nonetheless, if Aghdashloo isn’t fearlessly candid in her writing, she is candidly reserved and it is an interesting book to read for those unfamiliar with the Iranian political movements of the 60s and 70s. 

There is a reading group guide available.

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