I enthusiastically recommend Hooman Majd’s recent nonfiction book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. Majd is the grandson of an Iranian Ayatollah and the son of an exiled Iranian diplomat who is fluent in Farsi and English, who grew up in Britain and America and yet is familiar with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and a number of Iranian governmental and religious elites.
As someone who straddles the Iranian and Western worlds, Majd is well-placed to explain one to the other. That’s the task of his book. Majd identifies various aspects of Iranian cultural and political behavior that may seem incoherent or even ridiculous to those of us who live in the West, and on each point gives a bit of a history lesson to show the reader how such behavior fits within the Iranian or Persian) context. In turn, Majd identifies more than a few points of Western (especially American) behavior which baffle or anger Iranians and searches for the basis of this reaction.
As a gifted writer, Hooman Majd makes the task of understanding these differences an interesting an even entertaining one. He writes with a fine and subtle wit and has the ability to express the essential character of a circumstance with the introduction of small details, such as the cut of President Ahmedinijad’s suitcoat and hair or a senior Iranian minister’s reception of him in plastic flip-flops and tea service. Majd has somehow figured out how to insert himself and his personal history into the story without making the practice an exercise in egotism; his personal tales always are offered as a way of illuminating some broader point.
If you’re interested in understanding Iran and Iranians in more depth than George W. Bush can manage from his West Wing kiddie pool, read The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.