Wednesday 23 February 2022

Review Time! (Graphic Non-Fiction Edition!) - Iranian Love Stories

Warning: This post contains discussions of totalitarian regimes, so-called 'virginity tests', intimate anatomy, misogyny, general human rights abuses, and related topics.

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Iranian Love Stories

Iranian Love Stories book cover with an M/F couple kissing surrounded by traditionally-dressed men in clothes that are reminiscent of what mullahs wear
Title: Iranian Love Stories

Author: Jane Deuxard

Artist: Deloupy

Genres: Graphic Novel (Graphic Non-Fiction,) Non-Fiction

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A Few Starting Notes:

I received a free digital review copy of Iranian Love Stories from Edelweiss, as an opportunity to provide an honest and fair review.

Jane Deuxard is the pseudonym of a White French M/F couple who work as undercover journalists. 

This book is therefore written from the outsider, Western journalist, perspective, and that should be kept in mind.

I’m a White Western chick who’s never been to Iran. So that’s the perspective I’m writing from.
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If anyone knows of any #OwnVoices reviews from Iranian reviewers, Persian reviewers, Asian reviewers, or reviewers of colour, please let me know – I would love to link to some.
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This is one of those reviews where the ‘not-so great bits’ section is going to be a lot longer than the ‘best bits’ section

– so please remember that having more to explain on the ‘negative’ side does not necessarily mean this book is ‘bad.’

Please pay attention to the content in each section, rather than the length.

The Premise:

This is the graphic novel/graphic non-fiction depiction of interviews with regular Iranians – most of them younger people – about love and life in modern Iran.

A variety of people tell their stories of love, protest, and regime control, to the journalist couple, who are in Iran covertly and illegally.

The Best Bits:

The artwork is good. Which is kinda important for graphic novels/graphic non-fiction.

It’s attractive and more-or-less manages to keep the balance between Eastern and Western styles, allowing people and places to be depicted, for the most part, without turning into caricatures of what a Western person thinks Iran would look like.

The style is relatively ‘clean’ – no clutter in the panels, a focus on the general picture rather than the minutiae, etc. - but occasionally goes off on one with the artistic imagery. I’ll be talking about that in the next section.

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The fact/explanation boxes were handy for explaining elements of Iranian and Islamic culture which some people may not be so familiar with.

They were also designed in a way that was in-keeping with the page layouts etc., and not intrusive.

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This book presents us with voices that we in the West would not normally hear – the voices of normal Iranian people, with a variety of experiences and situations.

We also get some views which we wouldn’t expect, like Zeinab, who says in Iran women are treated better than they are Europe.

Zeinab says Iran is better for women because they don’t have to work, and men take care of them and compete for their affections.

To Zeinab, in Iran, women are queens – and they are the ones with the power. Although her friend Kimia says that it’s more like a 50/50 power-split, and only because women have figured out workarounds and loopholes.

The Not-So Great Bits:

This book was written by White French people, and, much as it tries, it can’t escape the Western perspective.

We all come with inherent biases, but dismissing the stories and experiences of anyone who supports the regime and the way of life it promotes feels… well it’s Western, through and through.

I in NO WAY support the Iranian regime, but surely people who live in Iran and are happy with the regime have the right to speak too? 

To tell their stories? Instead of being dismissed with a literal ‘blah-blah-blah’ and cut-short conversations?

And from the level of frustration that the book conveys, it doesn’t sound like there was a shortage of these people. Yet we never hear, fully, from anyone who supports the regime.

The closest we get are people like Zeinab, who I mentioned in the previous section, who are happy but who, ultimately, chafe against many of the restrictions put in place by the regime.

And yes, the stories of resistance, of unhappiness, of oppression, are super-important – they must be heard.

But… if you want to be honest about life in Iran for normal people, then it feels like maybe you shouldn’t just listen to the ones who agree with you?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, as with Nazi Germany, the importance lies with the minority, not with the majority who are scared of the government, but are largely content in everyday life.

But I’m not Iranian – I don’t know if this is an accurate conclusion to make.

And the creators of this book aren’t Iranian either – they see Iran through Western eyes because they have no others; which is the limit of books written from an outsider’s perspective.

That doesn’t mean their testimony is untrue – it simply means that Iranian people may or may not see these things in the same way. 

The level of accuracy, dearest nerdlets, is yours to judge.

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While this book explains that ‘virginity tests’ are humiliating, intrusive, a violation of human rights, and probably would constitute sexual assault in most countries

all of which is 100% true

- it doesn’t explain that they’re also utter b*llsh** from a biological and scientific perspective.

‘Virginity tests’ are not accurate – they only judge the state of the hymen.

The hymen is skin across the entrance of the vagina – and it varies from person to person.

Some people with vaginas are born with barely any hymen at all – certainly none that would pass any ‘virginity test’ – whereas others are born with hymens that have to be breached surgically.

The state of the hymen can also be altered easily by riding a bike or a horse, using a tampon, taking part in sport, or in some cases just turning funny.

Other hymens appear to be intact even when the woman is sexually active.

It would have been nice if that was made clear in this book, too – not only are ‘virginity tests’ a terrible breach of human rights, they’re also a total sham.

For more detail of the utter mythic b*llsh** that is virginity testing, and the realities of human anatomy, I highly recommend 
Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl's TedXOslo talk 'The virginity fraud':

(CW: discussions of intimate anatomy and sexual intercourse)

Run-time: 12.18

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The depictions of older women, especially mothers-in-law and conservative mothers, in this book are… uncomfortable.

Some of the visual metaphors verge on misogyny and stereotypes – the ones that come to mind are of a traditional mother drawn as the puppeteer of her family, and a mother-in-law drawn as a literal, grotesque, spider.

These are real people, right? 

Real family members of those who have agreed to speak to you? 

Maybe showing just a little more respect and courtesy is in order. #JustSaying.

Content Warnings:

- heart attack
- authoritarian state and living conditions
- police brutality
- violence
- persecution and imprisonment
- torture
- murder by regime (GRAPHIC)
- domestic violence

References to and discussions of:

- ‘virginity tests’
- rape
- attempted suicide
- suicide always, be aware that I might've forgotten or not thought to include something in this list.

The Verdict:

This one made me think.

And yes, I had some issues with it, but on the whole I'm glad I read it - and that's all I can ask from a book, really!

What do you think? Have you read this book?
Talk to me! 😊💬

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  1. This book does sound interesting. It's great to point out that Western authors can never get rid of their Western eyes because it's the only set of eyes they do have. I read a graphic novel recently called "Paying the Land" by Joe Sacco, which is from a non-Indigenous author writing about Indigenous people. While I personally think the book was done well, I would like to read more Indigenous reviews of it.

    This book does seem like it was informative, but lacking in some places, which is probably due to the authors' lack of personal connection with area? But then again, we do need more Western authors to contribute to removing ignorance about parts of the world that we may not know a lot about. I suppose it can never be "perfect," but then again, life rarely ever is.

    1. I think the problem is that we don't have enough #OwnVoices - either books or reviews - about Iran in particular. Which can make it difficult to make a judgement about the framing - I had nothing to compare it to in my head. So yeah, it's one of those books that need to be looked at as part of a wider range of media, which sadly we currently don't have a broad access to in the West


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