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Book Review

An Enduring Love: My Life With the Shah
by Empress Farah Pahlavi


Miramax Books (2004), 447 pages
ISBN: 1-4013-5209-X

I don’t feel I have strength in me to go on fighting. I would prefer to die for my country with honor rather than be dragged toward death by the depression that is overtaking me. Dear God, if you are there, give me the strength to go on.”

[Farah Pahlavi’s diary entry from February, 1979 in Marrakesh, Morocco]

During my exile of a quarter of a century, I have not stopped thinking for one minute of Iran, the people and the land that I love above all. . . . I know that light will triumph over darkness and Iran will rise from her ashes.

[Farah Pahlavi, 2004]


            As it has throughout time, Iran has re-emerged once more as a pivotal center in world and political significance. The escalating war of words between Washington and Tel Aviv on the one hand and Tehran on the other over the budding Iranian nuclear power program, now involves the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and Vladimir Putin’s Russia among other players. Countless lives may hang in the balance depending on the outcome.

            Only the passage of additional time will determine whether or not the United States and Mr. Sharon decide that the Bushehr, Natanz, Arak, and Isfahan nuclear centers and Iranian uranium enrichment experiments mandate a preemptive military attack on the same. No one yet knows what the final verdict of the IAEA and the UN Security Council will be on this entire state of affairs. Perhaps someone will encourage Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry to jettison discussion of Vietnam between 1964 and 1973 long enough to explain what they believe the future will hold in this current regard. But don’t bet on it.

            Among the dwindling number of Americans who are literate, informed, and concerned about American Middle Eastern and Central Asian policy, one book which should be listed as must reading is the poignant memoir of Empress Farah Pahlavi, the wife of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran. Her analysis of her husband’s reign and accomplishments is both predictable and understandable, both for the Pahlavi throne’s adherents and detractors. The book is especially valuable for the personal biographical data on the life of the Shahbanou, and the love story she unveils involving her husband, her family, and the nation of Iran. It is virtually impossible to remain indifferent to the poignancy of the narrative, or unsympathetic to Mrs. Pahlavi personally, regardless of political perspective. The basic reason lies in the amazing resilience she demonstrates in the midst of a milieu of personal traumas and tragedies which began in the earliest stages of life and culminated in the death of her beloved husband, the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79, and the loss of her daughter Leila in June of 2001 in London. The heights and the depths of her personal and political life become eerily reminiscent of the collective linear history of her people and nation in an eternally alternating ascent and descent. The reader will stay with the narrative to its conclusion without difficulty, both because of the fascinating character of the Shahbanou’s life and testimony, and the relevance to the world of an unfolding story whose conclusion may not occur until the dawning of a new heaven and a new earth.

            Rise, fall, and renewed ascendancy may be the pivotal theme of this entire memoir. Mrs. Pahlavi describes the impact of the death of her father as a child and the decades-long effect the family’s disinformation on the truth of the matter at the time had upon her own processing of grief and melancholy over a 40 year period. Her subsequent discussion of adolescence at the French Ecole Jeanne d’Arc in Tehran; the collegiate years at the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris; her 21st birthday in 1959 in Tehran which celebrated her engagement to the Monarch; the storybook Royal Wedding of December 21, 1959; the coronation ceremony of October, 1967; and the October 1971 celebration in Persepolis of the founding of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenids and Cyrus, are salient highlights accentuated by tidbits of data on Iranian/Persian history and culture unfamiliar to most American readers. These various episodes on the mountaintop of youthful joy, good fortune, and exuberant optimism are subsequently punctuated and interrupted through a journey of 447 pages by sadness and overwhelming misfortune.

            Specifically significant on the treacherously steep downside are the Shahbanou’s account of distress at encountering protesters in Washington during the Royal Family’s visit to John Kennedy’s Washington in 1962 (an ominous precursor to the events of 16 years later); the various assassination attempts against her husband; the Razmara assassination in 1951; the three year lapse between the first diagnosis of her husband’s cancer in 1974 and the first notification of Mrs. Pahlavi of the gravity of the health crisis by the Shah’s doctors in June of 1977; the wave of anti-Pahlavi discontent which accelerated in earnest in 1975-76; the betrayal of the Pahlavis by Jimmy Carter in early 1979 with the mission of General Robert E. Huyser to Tehran and the President’s Guadeloupe conclave to support “regime change” in Iran; the subsequently brutal murders of Amir Abbas Hoveyda, National Education Minister Farrokhrou Parsa, General Ali Neshat of the Imperial Guard, and a host of others at the hands of IRI revolutionaries; and the tortuous nomadic wanderings in exile from Morocco to Nassau, Cuernavaca, New York, San Antonio, Contadora, and finally, Cairo. The death of the Shah in July of 1980 in Cairo would be followed by the assassination of Anwar Sadat in October of 1981 and the death of Princess Leila in London in 2001. The context and backdrop of this accumulative pathos is summarized neatly by the Shahbanou on page 175, chapter 12, where she observes that “. . .every day in exile some aspect of daily life brings a painful reminder that I am not among my own and that my roots have remained in Iran.”

            Mrs. Pahlavi’s view of her husband’s reign is a predictable one, ranging from her analysis of the goals of the White Revolution of 1962 to what she perceives of the country’s progress under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi by 1974. It will provoke strenuous disagreement or wholehearted support depending on the identity and political persuasion of those analyzing the Pahlavi years. This is particularly true of the role of the dreaded SAVAK secret service organization and Mrs. Pahlavi’s discussion of this most controversial subject on pages 235-238. Most notably absent is discussion of the role of the American Central Intelligence Agency and the Israeli Mossad in the creation and training of the infamous agency. She insists in the last sentence of this section that, “If the king had been given enough time, SAVAK would have slowly become the equivalent of the American CIA or the British intelligence service (238).” On page 351, the reader is reminded of the defense of SAVAK proffered by the Shah to British interviewer David Frost: “They could enforce what they thought was good for the country, and they may have been wrong.” Mrs. Pahlavi leaves this aspect of the Pahlavi years at that.

            There is also no serious discussion or mention of the circumstances of the 1953 CIA-backed coup that led to the deposing of Mossadegh and the American-British re-establishment of the supremacy of the Peacock Throne. Readers interested in the subject will be better served by Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men. The Shahbanou concludes reference to this political and historical minefield by simply stating that, “My wish today is that all Iranians put an end to this fifty-year-old quarrel. It has no place in the Iran of tomorrow, which all of us should build together (51).” Nonetheless, in any post-IRI Iran the subject of Monarchy and/or Republic (and any possible future role for Reza Pahlavi in either), will necessitate critical re-examination and provocative debate over the circumstances of the 1953 revolution. It cannot and will not be avoided. Cynics will insist that the Pahlavi regime’s opposition to Russian and British machinations in Iran simply substituted the United States and Zionist Israel in their place.

            The Shahbanou’s own idyllic view of her husband’s motives, goals, and results is shaped in particular by her strongly anti-Communist views shaped by Soviet machinations in Iran, including the Red occupation of Azerbaijan for four years beginning in August of 1941; the brief Communist takeover in Gilan Province; and Soviet involvement in covert action plots against the Pahlavi regime, including the Red-Marxist component of a much wider and more amazingly diverse coalition against the Peacock Throne which included National Front liberals, bazaar merchants, and the ultimate winners of the 1978-79 revolution--the Islamic mullahs and fundamentalists. The second window of insight into the Shahbanou’s political understanding is provided by her love of the 11th century poet, Ferdowsi, whose Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”) circa 1010 A. D. is understood by the Queen on pages 33-34 of the narrative: 

I was only eleven or twelve, but I understood that my country was much more than Tehran and its population and, like so many generations before me, I learned what it was to be Iranian. Schoolchildren in our country discover this feeling of belonging through the wonderful pages of the Shahnameh–The Book of Kings–by one of our greatest poets, Ferdowsi. For us children he was the incarnation of Iranian identity and pride. I had learned to love Ferdowsi at school and I used to read him with my cousin Reza. The Book of Kings relates the epic tales of the founders of Iran and the first four dynasties. After the passage of ten centuries the force and beauty of Ferdowsi’s poetry brings to life the depiction of the struggle to retain the national identity of Iran. 

Through these epic tales, in which courage and strength vie with morality, The Book of Kings gives young Iranians respect for their 2,500-year-old identity. Such was one of the poet’s intentions, and in the Iran of my childhood, storytellers still went around the country from village to village, as they had always done, reciting and singing Ferdowsi’s work. The other purpose of The Book of Kings was to contribute to the political and moral education of monarchs themselves. “When you have written this book,” writes Ferdowsi, “give it to the kings.” For Ferdowsi believed that the greatness of Iran is closely linked to the permanence of the monarchy, and to the monarchy’s renaissance should it decline or disappear [reviewer’s emphasis].

            An Enduring Love is a memoir of the past and a claimed, hopeful stake by Farah Pahlavi on the future of Iran and a repristinated Peacock Throne in its midst. How this stake fares in the midst of the political storms on the post-911 horizon remains to be seen. But the compelling poignancy of the story and its ongoing relevance should be indisputable for all of the protagonists involved--past, present, and future.


(Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor and free-lance journalist, occasionally contributing to Iran Dokht, Al Bawaba, Nile Media, CASCFEN, PersianMirror, DixieInternet.com, and other Internet news sites. Once a 3rd party candidate for the United States Senate in Delaware [2000], he maintains the web-site Mark Dankof’s America while pursuing post-graduate theological education at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.)  His commentary may be found regularly on SARTRE's Old American Right and Republic news site, Breaking All the Rules His interview with 3rd party American Presidential candidate Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party is widely available on various sites on the World Wide Web.)  



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