The Cypress Tree: A Love Letter to Iran
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Kamin Mohammadi was nine years old when her family fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution. Bewildered by the seismic changes in her homeland, she turned her back on the past and spent her teenage years trying to fit in with British attitudes to family, food and freedom. She was twenty-seven before she returned to Iran, drawn inexorably back by memories of her grandmother's house in Abadan, with its traditional inner courtyard, its noisy gatherings and its very wallssteeped in history.The Cypress Tree is Kamin's account of her journey home, to rediscover her Iranian self and to discover for the first time the story of her family: a sprawling clan that sprang from humble roots to bloom during the affluent, Biba-clad 1960s, only to be shaken by the horrors of the Iran-Iraq War and the heartbreak of exile, and toughened by the struggle for democracy that continues today.This moving and passionate memoir is a love letter both to Kamin's extraordinary family and toIran itself, an ancient country which has survived so much modern tumult but where joy and resilience will always triumph over despair.
seemed proof of evolution in action. These aunts and uncles, khalehs and daieys, are the characters whose presence coloured my early life and on that first trip back, the overpowering joy of rediscovering my family blew open my shutdown heart. In Shiraz – where the majority now lived, having fled Khuzestan during the Iraqi invasion – we gathered every night, and those who were not in Shiraz managed to take a few days to come and see us. Surrounded by such love, here within the throngs of aunts,
still grows a little dreamy. Bagher was handsome and mature, his black hair slicked back and a moustache framing his mouth. There was a whiff of a Kurdish accent as he spoke to her, the Raybans permanently fixed on his nose or carried in his hand marked his out as an inhabitant of Abadan – they were famed for compulsively wearing Ray-Bans. Bagher gave her the perfect courtship, one in keeping with her romantic ideas, and my mother was charmed. When eventually he suggested that she accompany him
the land, always bursting with the shah’s political prisoners, its walls thick with the cries of those tortured and killed by SAVAK’s agents, was stormed and its prisoners set free in the same way that the Bastille had been during that other revolution half a world away and two centuries before that had served as such inspiration to this revolution. Everyone was adopting an Islamic look now – clean-shaven faces were, along with ties and suits with collars, seen as symbols of Western decadence –
cousins and of how life had been for them, why they were so often in ghahr with one another and how the hardships of war had split them into factions. The Abbasian children were always close, even though that closeness and love was as often as not expressed by fighting, squabbling and bickering. It’s been a hard habit to shake, just as they can’t resist talking over each other, each raising their voices higher and higher to be heard without slowing down or missing a beat. They were all – with
and how little attention they attract, the casual individuality we take for granted in the West. When, in the streaming crowds of West End workers, lovers paused to fall into each other’s eyes and steal a kiss, I wanted to cheer for love and for freedom. Soon after my return, and throughout Ahmadinejad’s presidency, my flat in London became a refuge for Iranian friends on the move. My rickety sofa was pulled out time after time to provide a bed for those hyphenated Iranians like me who were