Humanising Iran: Insights with Kamin Mohammadi

By Helena Williams

Iranian author and journalist Kamin Mohammadi explained her reasons for telling her family’s story without saturating her book The Cypress Tree in her homeland’s complex political history at the Frontline Club last night.

“The greater truth I want to communicate about my country is a human truth – it’s not about politics,” said Mohammadi, adding: “the more I understood about my family, the more I understood how we embodied the story of Iran.

Mohammadi, who was talking to BBC Persian TV’s Pooneh Ghoddoosi last night, came to London with her family in 1979, when she was just nine. It was 17 years before she was to return to rediscover her Iranian identity.

"I didn’t go back [to Iran] for ages and just fell in love with my family when I did. I thought they were great characters, and I thought a book was a great way to share them with the world.

"My book is about telling the story of my family and therefore my country. The best way I can think of to counter demonization is to humanise Iran."

The book focusses on memories and family portraits in order to give a sense of the country she loves. Despite her efforts as a child to turn her back on her Iranian heritage, she still struggled to fit in with British attitudes and habits. Never quite able to let Iran go, she returned when she was twenty-seven.

“For me it’s simply the country of my birth. Mine is a country so contradictory that even its children are divided as to what they call themselves,” she explains, referring to the use of "Persian" and "Iranian" by different groups.
Now a writer, broadcaster and journalist specialising in Iran, she divides her time between London and Florence and is grateful for the freedom she was able to embrace growing up in London.
“One of the things that struck [in Iran] is not just the women but the young people. They are so full of what they need to express and don’t have a voice. I have the absolute and utter good fortune of growing up [in England]. I was able to believe that I am equal, and have freedom of expression. It is an honour to be in this country where I can speak.
“To give a voice, and bear witness to them, is a compelling motive behind my whole career.”
The title of her book is an old family saying, which portrays the Iranian character – tenacious in the face of adversity.
“Such is the symbol of our land. It is in our art, on the walls of Persepolis, and indigenous to the region my family is from.”
“We Iranians are like the Cypress tree. We may bend, and bend, and bend in the wind, but we do not break. This is the true Iranian character.”