Journey from the Land of No

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“Political upheavals like the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism may be analyzed endlessly by scholars, but eyewitness accounts like Hakakian’s help us understand what it was like to experience such a revolution firsthand.”

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • Elle Magazine’s Readers Choice Award Best Nonfiction Book of 2004
  • Winner of Best Memoir Connecticut Center for the Book 2005

“We stormed every classroom, inscribed our slogans on the blackboard . . . Never had mayhem brought more peace. All our lives we had been taught the virtues of behaving, and now we were discovering the importance of misbehaving. Too much fear had tainted our days. Too many afternoons had passed in silence, listening to a fanatic’s diatribes. We were rebelling because we were not evil, we had not sinned, and we knew nothing of the apocalypse. . . . This was 1979, the year that showed us we could make our own destinies. We were rebelling because rebelling was all we could do to quell the rage in our teenage veins. Together as girls we found the courage we had been told was not in us.”

In Journey from the Land of No Roya Hakakian recalls her childhood and adolescence in prerevolutionary Iran with candor and verve. The result is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about one deeply intelligent and perceptive girl’s attempt to find an authentic voice of her own at a time of cultural closing and repression. Remarkably, she manages to re-create a time and place dominated by religious fanaticism, violence, and fear with an open heart and often with great humor.

What critics say:

“Journey from the Land of No is an immensely moving, extraordinarily eloquent, and passionate memoir. Its author begins what one may prophesy as a major literary career.”

Harold Bloom


“Roya Hakakian[‘s] molten yet tender memoir of growing up Jewish in the years of revolution, Journey from the Land of No, is one of the jewels of the exile literary renaissance.”

Christopher Hitchens, the Atlantic Monthly


“[Hakakian is] a lyrical storyteller . . . Her moving narrative swings from funny to sad, capturing idyllic scenes of her parents, aunts, and uncles picnicking and interacting with Muslim friends.”

The Washington Post


“[A] spectacular debut memoir . . . Only a major writing talent like Hakakian can use the pointed words of the mature mind to give the perspective of the child . . . She tackles ideologies of assimilation and oppression with poetic aplomb and precision . . . Hakakian’s tale of passage into womanhood lacks nothing.”

Boston Globe


“That this was not an easy story to tell, the author makes clear. “When you have been a refugee,” she writes, “abandoned all your loves and belongings, your memories become your belongings. . when you have nothing left to guard, you guard your memories.”
The energy needed to start a new life means putting aside the still smoldering passions of the past. There is danger, too, of being turned into “a poster child for someone else’s crusade.” Finally, though, a colleague’s astute questions and her own instincts as a journalist prompted her to tell her story, to bear witness to what she experienced, and to do so, not in Persian, the language that “could summon the teenager at sea,” but in English, which had “sheltered the adult survivor, safely inside a lighthouse.”
Both the universal puzzlement of the transformation from childhood to adult life and highly specific and fascinating recent events are evoked here. This is a lovely book.”

The Washington Times


“Journey from the Land of No is an immensely moving, extraordinarily eloquent, and passionate memoir. Its author begins what one may prophesy as a major literary career.”

Harold Bloom


“Roya Hakakian[‘s] molten yet tender memoir of growing up Jewish in the years of revolution, Journey from the Land of No, is one of the jewels of the exile literary renaissance.”

Christopher Hitchens, the Atlantic Monthly


“[Hakakian is] a lyrical storyteller . . . Her moving narrative swings from funny to sad, capturing idyllic scenes of her parents, aunts, and uncles picnicking and interacting with Muslim friends.”

The Washington Post


“[A] spectacular debut memoir . . . Only a major writing talent like Hakakian can use the pointed words of the mature mind to give the perspective of the child . . . She tackles ideologies of assimilation and oppression with poetic aplomb and precision . . . Hakakian’s tale of passage into womanhood lacks nothing.”

Boston Globe


“That this was not an easy story to tell, the author makes clear. “When you have been a refugee,” she writes, “abandoned all your loves and belongings, your memories become your belongings. . when you have nothing left to guard, you guard your memories.”
The energy needed to start a new life means putting aside the still smoldering passions of the past. There is danger, too, of being turned into “a poster child for someone else’s crusade.” Finally, though, a colleague’s astute questions and her own instincts as a journalist prompted her to tell her story, to bear witness to what she experienced, and to do so, not in Persian, the language that “could summon the teenager at sea,” but in English, which had “sheltered the adult survivor, safely inside a lighthouse.”
Both the universal puzzlement of the transformation from childhood to adult life and highly specific and fascinating recent events are evoked here. This is a lovely book.”

The Washington Times


“An amazing, moving debut. Hakakian’s words of lost innocence and experience sing out from the pages. A heady mixture of Islamic fundamentalism, revolutionary politics and the pains of growing up in Tehran – perfectly, and lyrically expressed.”

Ahmed Rashid (author, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia)


“Hakakian’s intimate anthropology opens a window on one life during turbulent times in the Middle East, a region that remains mysterious and misunderstood by Westerners. ..Her entire family’s eventual journey from the land of no, “from the perpetual denials” of repressive government, is recounted in a way that shows American readers what it might be like to lose our liberties. This book does us the service of removing some of the region’s mythical stereotypes … and illuminating a real contemporary culture we would do well to know better.”

The Seattle Times


“This fascinating, intimate book written in Hakakian’s elegant words will move readers with an interest in this time and place. It is also an essential read for the younger generation of Iranian Jews who want to know what really happened from someone who lived it.”

The Jerusalem Post


“Roya Hakakian’s “Journey from the Land of No” manages to convey the best of memoir and the best of history. She poignantly describes the repression under the shah — her brother Albert had to flee Iran in 1975 when Roya was 9, because of his political cartoons — the euphoria when Reza Shah Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979, and the slow and horrifying realization that his replacement was worse than the shah ever was…. Her book is more a series of beautifully written vignettes that characterize each period described.”

The Jerusalem Report


“Hakakian’s memoir, woven with the rich stories of her eccentric extended family, beautifully tells how they lived through such dark times until they made their way to the United States. As an allegory for her life at this time, she threads through the book the Iranian children’s tale of The Little Black Fish , who defies all authorities and makes his way to freedom in the ocean. This book was banned by the Shah, and its author, Samad Behrangi, is said to have been murdered by the SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police… Journey from the Land of No offers a rare glimpse into a particular moment in history. The book’s poetic language is wonderful; Hakakian’s recollections evoke the full complexity of growing up amid the chaos that surrounded her.”

Globe and Mail


“Hakakian, irrepressible, brave, and strong-willed, watches in dismay as the country she loves disappears, to be replaced by one that views what Roya most values—an insatiable intellect—with profound contempt. Like Anne Frank, Roya Hakakian is a perceptive, idealistic, terribly sympathetic chronicler of the gathering repression.”

Baltimore Sun


“Political upheavals like the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism may be analyzed endlessly by scholars, but eyewitness accounts like Hakakian’s help us understand what it was like to experience such a revolution firsthand. … Her story is haunting.”
Publishers Weekly


“Hakakian debuts with an effulgent memoir of her girlhood in the shadow of the Iranian revolution … A moving recollection of lost innocence with vivid political reportage, a somber reminder from an accomplished writer of the unexpected consequences and costs of the revolution.”

Kirkus Review


“Roya Hakakian presents a lyrically poignant account of her coming-of-age years in revolution-beset Iran , … she is able to offer a unique perspective on the search for spiritual sustenance in a rapidly constricting society. It is both a joy and a privilege to bear witness to one young girl’s remarkable emotional and artistic metamorphosis within a stunningly repressive culture.”

Booklist, Margaret Flanagan


“In 1979, a bright-eyed Jewish girl looked out the window of her new home in Tehran and saw the words “Jews get lost!” graffitied on the wall across the way. Five years later, in the midst of the Islamic revolution, Hakakian and her family did indeed “get lost”–moving to America. Now the 60 Minutes producer-turned-documentary filmmaker liberates her past by poignantly and delicately recounting the harrowing moments of a childhood burdened by religious persecution, censorship, and political strife. (In particular, the final, gut-wrenching “It’s time we leave for America” scene illustrates the author’s graceful, poetic style.) Hakakian successfully blends an adult’s ripened awareness with a child’s naive optimism to make this Journey well worth taking. (A)”

Entertainment Weekly, Karyn L. Barr


“Roya Hakakian has written a stunning and courageous memoir of the Iranian Revolution.Her coming-of-age story conjures up pre-revolutionary Tehran with a Proustian dreaminess that gives way, inexorably, to the brutal nightmare of life under the ayatollahs whom she, along with others in her generation, had at first welcomed as liberators. With a lyrical intensity matched by her sharp command of detail, she gives us an indelible portrait of a time and place rich in personality, humor and tragedy, while offering at the same time a meditation on the unquenchable human desire for dignity and freedom.”

Elizabeth Frank (author, Louise Bogan: A Portrait)


“An adolescent memoir of remarkable vividness and narrative grace, Hakakian’s account of her life as a Jewish girl in revolutionary Iran sounds uncanny echoes from today’s headlines in the Middle East — and the prose is gorgeous to boot. A loud, long Yes for “Journey From The Land of No.”

Letty Cottin Pogrebin(author, Three Daughters)


“The fact that Roya escapes the veil—and decades later produces a book like this one—is the greatest triumph of all. Her tale is a metaphor for dreams, for hope, even beauty.”

The Advocate