In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran, Christopher de Bellaigue explores the consequences of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. An English journalist, he is married to an Iranian. To his friends and acquaintances he is known as “Reza Ingilisi” (nicknamed “Reza,” the only Muslim Iman buried in Iran, and Ingilisi, because he is English). In spite of living in Iran for several years, he remains an outsider, but a perceptive outsider.
Subtitled “A Memoir of Iran,” de Bellaigue's route through Iran takes him from intractable Tehran traffic jams to the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, the cemetery of those Iranians who lost their lives in the decade- long war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, to political and religious dissidents, and to those who still hold with the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution and the state it created. Its Shia Islam is radically different from Sunni Islam, harkening back to the martyrdom of Hossein at the Battle of Karbala in the seventh century, an event that still remains profoundly central to Shias, as the author notes.
De Bellaigue's Iran is seemingly a broken society. Many have lost the idealism, religious and otherwise, that came with the revolution. The Iraq war was a disaster, a war that some view as a tragic error by Khomeini. The opium use is widespread, and nothing much works, even the possibility of reform, as seen in the recent ineffective Khatami government, nor the Iranian-made Paykan automobile, where older models are more valuable because they contain more British parts than the newer models built in Iran. The author does not believe that the Ayatollah's brave new Islamic world has a future, predicting that within fifty years Iran will have rejected most of it, returning to its rich culture that go back over two millennia. In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs is a wonderfully written work, filled with insights into one of the world's inscrutable societies.