Azedah Moaveni writes part memoir and part political discussion in her 2005 book, Lipstick Jihad: Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran. Although the events in this book are over 20 years old, as I read it in 2021 the topics and issues felt relevant. Moaveni talks about being an outsider in both countries and finding her identity as well as a group of friends who understand and appreciate her. She also explains the politics of revolution and post-revolutionary life in Iran, which are complicated and understandably disheartening.

Lipstick Jihad focuses primarily on the author’s life as a young twenty-something finding her way. At the same time, she talks about how people of all ages survive in a deeply authoritarian country. But particularly, how do young people pass through “typical” rites of passage with so many restrictions? How do they find their life partner? Express their creativity? The routines they endure for a night of coed fun are even surprising.

As the current conversation around the political expediency of liberalism vs. Christian democracy amps up in the US, Moaveni’s perspective on a government built around religion is especially interesting. She is quite clear that for her and in her circles of other Iranians, a government-run by clerics ruined what they considered the good things about Iran.

My conclusions

At first, settling into Moaveni’s writing style wasn’t easy. But the story ultimately is quite compelling. Once I had fifty pages or so under my belt, I felt invested in her life as an American expatriate and professional woman in Iran.

In addition to the political and personal discourse, this book is a window into the life of an international journalist. While she writes plenty about her fears and insecurities, Moaveni also evidences courage in the face of tremendous oppression. The government or mullahs regularly interrogate her, and she even experiences violence in the midst of a peaceful protest. Still, her writing style remains straightforward whereas another writer might sound fretful.

If the life of immigrants, expatriates, or journalists interests you, I recommend Lipstick Jihad. It’s also a meaningful inside look at post-revolutionary Iran of the late 20th century.

Pair with Mona Eltahaway’s Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, which addresses many similar themes in a completely different way. Or try Funny in Farsi: A Memoir About Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas.