A DOOR BETWEEN US: A love letter to Tehran

Why did I move to Tehran in 1996? I’m still not sure. I hadn’t set foot in the country since we’d left in ‘81 leaving memories of Iraqi bombs and traumatic family imprisonments behind us. I suppose I was young and wanted adventure. I wanted to reconnect with my father’s family and homeland. And I had romantic notions of being of service in some way. 

The first days, weeks, and months were a blur of meeting family, settling in, and learning how to navigate a big city. Hopping shared taxis was an art form of its own as you had to figure out where to stand to catch a ride in the right direction, where to get out to catch a new taxi for the next leg of the journey, and how to avoid the young men who posed as cab drivers as a way of luring women into their cars for conversation.

But it wasn’t long before the new-ness and strangeness wore away and I was just living and working and making friends and falling in love alongside millions of Tehranis doing the same. 

I worked at the Ministry of Reconstruction Jihad close to Laleh Park with colleagues dedicated to expanding access and economic opportunity for Iranian villagers. I lived in northwest Tehran not far from the Kaj round-about where I’d meet up with friends to go shopping or stop in at one of the assortment of cafes and restaurants. And my soon-to-be husband and I would walk along gorgeous ValiAsr boulevard making hopeful plans under the canopy of old plane trees whose roots drank from the joob waters flowing on either side.

All of these places and more appear in A Door Between Us. One of the great joys of writing is getting to spend time in a city I love but in which I no longer reside and haven’t gotten to visit for four years.

Oh, Tehran, I miss you! I miss the crowded bookstores of Enghelab, the ruby-colored heaps of zereshk in the Tajrish bazaar, and the pickled walnuts we’d peel during hikes at Darband. May we be reunited again soon and until then, I’ll think of you often and fondly at my keyboard.

Reader, what places do you enjoy visiting through your writing?

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Ehsaneh Sadr is an Iranian-American novelist and activist with a PhD in International Relations. She has worked, in various capacities, on campaigns related to Palestinian human rights, Iranian sanctions, access to credit for rural villagers, and safe spaces for children in crisis. She currently works with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to create the cultural and infrastructure changes needed to support a shift away from carbon-based modes of transportation. Ehsaneh currently lives in Northern California with her husband and two children but also considers Washington DC, Salt Lake City, and Tehran to be home.

This article has 4 Comments

  1. I enjoy traveling via any book that describers the area so well that I can see, hear, smell and taste it through the words. I definitely had that experience with, “A Door Between Us” so thank you for taking me well beyond the limits I can physically go to during this pandemic!

  2. I’ve never been to Tehran but the book really felt like a love letter to a city in its intimacy and sensitivity. And what made this a fun and unique tale is that it was also slyly funny.

    There was a certain perfect blend of irreverence and respect that felt genuine and could only come from someone steeped in the world of their story and very skilled at telling the tale. Navigating this kind of cultural interpretation is not easy or for the faint of heart or mind. Translating the feel of a place and language is really hard, layering the story, somehow not being reductionist even though the very nature of writing is to reduce—it’s a herculean task. Also, if I may say so, it takes courage … because those of us from multiple cultures are rich in influences but subject to at least double the criticism.

    From a pure enjoyability entertainment perspective—literary takes aside—reading this book was a great time. I just read it straight through in a day, which is a sure sign it’s a very good book.

    1. Thank you so much for these lovely comments! I love your statement about “those of us from multiple cultures are rich in influences but subject to at least double the criticism.” So true! And definitely creates some anxiety now that the book is out in the world and open to those criticisms.

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