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Tehran at Twilight

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Friendship, betrayal, and international intrigue populate this brilliant novel in the tradition of Graham Greene and John le Carré.

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Discussion Guide for Tehran at Twilight

1. The main character, Reza Malek, is faced with some tough choices  throughout the story. He must, for instance, choose between his loyalty to his adopted country, the United States, and the country of his birth, Iran. He is also eventually forced to choose between his oldest best friend, Sina, and his new best friend, the Marine captain James McGreivy. In the end, Malek appears to hedge his bets somewhat. There are no clear cut “good” decisions. There is no black and white. How do you think a person should act in a world where oftentimes good and evil can be seen as relative and contingent on the situation?

2. James McGreivy is also faced with divided loyalties. On the one hand, he is a decorated combat Marine. On the other, he feels that his country has let him down and the war in Iraq was executed with hubris and lack of understanding. McGreivy’s idealism forces him time and again to stand against authority and also anger the people who have helped his advancement. Do you think McGreivy is right in his absolute idealism, or are there times when one should settle for less than an ideal situation for the sake of the greater objective?

3. Fani, the shady middleman and former intelligence officer in Tehran, hints to Malek that when the Americans come to Iran, he would like to work for them. Fani is an example of a man who always sells his services to the highest bidder. He is, in other words, an opportunist. When faced with such people, should Americans deal with them and use these characters’ knowledge of the territory and the people? Or should Americans draw a red line when it comes to working with unsavory people, even if working with such people might bring advantage?

4. Clara Vikingstad is a capable, successful and courageous journalist and war correspondent who understands the Middle East better than most of her peers. But in pursuit of furthering her own career and winning journalism awards she resorts to some dishonest actions. If you found out that a journalist whose work you admire and read had not always followed a straight and upright path in their profession, would you still continue reading them? Why or why not?

5. In revolutions, including the Iranian revolution, there is a lot of radicalism at first. In the book there is an example of an Iranian politician who at one point was amongst extremist elements and probably killed people in the cause of the revolution. Yet with time he has tempered his attitude and joined the reformist elements in government who want to bring change and moderation to the Islamic Republic. Do you think such a person should be trusted? Should they be forgiven for their former ways because they were operating in times of upheaval? Or should they also be brought to justice for some of the actions they carried out in the past?

6. In the novel we find out that Sina Vafa has probably been targeting American private military contractors in Iraq. Private contractors in war zones earn quite a lot of money compared to what they might make back home. This is because of the risk they are taking to be where they are. Do you think that a government, such as the United States, is still obligated to its citizens to protect them when they knowingly enter into contracts which might cause their imprisonment, injury or death in a foreign country?

7. At some point in the story, James McGreivy, who is now a professor at the same college as Malek, begins dating and eventually living with Candace Vincent, a thirty year old student and mother of two who attends the same college. The college administration tries to bring pressure on McGreivy because of this relationship. Do you think a college has the right to do this? Why or why not? In what cases do you think a college should have the right and in what cases they shouldn’t?

8. In the novel we find out the historical fact that many Polish refugees ended up in Iran during WWII and were eventually saved from both the Nazi war machine and Stalin’s gulags. Amongst these refugees were many Polish Jews who went from Iran to what in a few short years became the state of Israel. In other words, a considerable number of Polish Jews, particularly some eight hundred children who later became known in Israel as the Tehran Children, would not have survived the Holocaust without the aid of the Iranian government and its people. What is your reaction to this information? Does it change or confirm previous views you may have had about Iran and Iranians?

9. The theme of forgiveness is apparent throughout the novel. Reza comes to forgive his mother for having ‘abandoned’ him years ago. Sina’s mother comes to forgive Sina for having been treacherous to her. Yet Reza’s mother does not appear to forgive the Poles for the destruction of the Jews of the Polish town her friend Anna came from. Nor is James McGreivy ultimately forgiving of Reza for not having told him the entire truth. When do you think forgiveness is warranted? When is it not warranted?



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