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Searching for Hassan: A Journey to the Heart of Iran

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The unique culture of Iran and the sweep of its history are revealed in this evocative travelogue of an American family searching for a lost friend in the country of their youth. Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the familys cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a The unique culture of Iran and the sweep of its history are revealed in this evocative travelogue of an American family searching for a lost friend in the country of their youth. Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the family’s cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a pilgrimage with his family in search of Hassan. Taking us across the landscape of Iran, he plumbs its unimaginably rich past, explores its deep conflicts with its Arab neighbors, and anticipates the new “Great Game” now being played out in central Asia. Insightful, informative, and moving, Searching for Hassan enhances our understanding of the Middle East with the story of a family who came to love and admire Iran through their deep affection for its people.


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The unique culture of Iran and the sweep of its history are revealed in this evocative travelogue of an American family searching for a lost friend in the country of their youth. Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the familys cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a The unique culture of Iran and the sweep of its history are revealed in this evocative travelogue of an American family searching for a lost friend in the country of their youth. Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the family’s cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a pilgrimage with his family in search of Hassan. Taking us across the landscape of Iran, he plumbs its unimaginably rich past, explores its deep conflicts with its Arab neighbors, and anticipates the new “Great Game” now being played out in central Asia. Insightful, informative, and moving, Searching for Hassan enhances our understanding of the Middle East with the story of a family who came to love and admire Iran through their deep affection for its people.

30 review for Searching for Hassan: A Journey to the Heart of Iran

  1. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

    When I was 3 1/2 my family moved to Iran. It is the first place that I have real memories of. I still remember the smell of the bazaar, the sound of the music and the feel of the heat. I remember jumping over fires on Nowruz, riding my bike to the main road to see the Shah drive by, and playing in the ruins of Persepolis. In 1979 we were evacuated, and my world changed. The dust and the heat of Iran worked their way into my heart and I will forever love the country and the people who live there. When I was 3 1/2 my family moved to Iran. It is the first place that I have real memories of. I still remember the smell of the bazaar, the sound of the music and the feel of the heat. I remember jumping over fires on Nowruz, riding my bike to the main road to see the Shah drive by, and playing in the ruins of Persepolis. In 1979 we were evacuated, and my world changed. The dust and the heat of Iran worked their way into my heart and I will forever love the country and the people who live there. Terence Ward was also raised in Iran. His family left long before the revolution but they never forgot Hassan, their cook. Decades later they decided to return to Iran to find Hassan and his family. Terry's memories of his happy childhood are sprinkled in among the family's recent experiences in post-revolution Iran. The result is part travel guide, part history book and part love letter to a beautiful and magical country. I could not put this book down. If you love Iran as I do, this is a must read. If you want to know more about the country and the Iranian people, this is a must read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Farr

    An American-centric account of a family holiday to Iran and the reunion between a former housekeeper and an expatriate family. The book wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for the excessive use of adjective-laden language and the author's continual self-praise of himself and family.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anne Slater

    Terence Ward is a magician: he combines family history, a family quest, political and religious history of Iran, deep look into Islam and its manifestations (with comments that really help me understand the difference between the Sunnis and the Shia), and a long look at Zoroastrianism and its role in Judaism and Christianity. It is all woven together with acute observations of how a family that spent many years in Iran, leaving in 1969, was received when they returned; their interactions with the Terence Ward is a magician: he combines family history, a family quest, political and religious history of Iran, deep look into Islam and its manifestations (with comments that really help me understand the difference between the Sunnis and the Shia), and a long look at Zoroastrianism and its role in Judaism and Christianity. It is all woven together with acute observations of how a family that spent many years in Iran, leaving in 1969, was received when they returned; their interactions with the Iranian (and other)people they encountered and were searching for. Ward also shows us the gentle, loving, open-hearted and morally upright philosophy with which his parents raised their children, and how that shaped the 4 brothers, and impacted (especially) the people they were searching for, but actually all the people they encountered in their travels in 1998. At the denouement, I cried, and turned the pages back so I could read it again. On a lighter note, I discovered the Hassan's recipe for tagid, the crusty bottom part of Iranian baked rice (it's super good).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    On the bright side, this book had moments that were engaging, insightful, or enlightening, but only moments. For example, I loved learning about the origin of the Sunni/Shia divide. I enjoyed the glimpses into Iranian history and culture and now have a better understanding of how much I *don't* know. However, in general, I found the story and history difficult to follow. All the places, names, and history were so unfamiliar that it was difficult to digest in this format (without maps, time On the bright side, this book had moments that were engaging, insightful, or enlightening, but only moments. For example, I loved learning about the origin of the Sunni/Shia divide. I enjoyed the glimpses into Iranian history and culture and now have a better understanding of how much I *don't* know. However, in general, I found the story and history difficult to follow. All the places, names, and history were so unfamiliar that it was difficult to digest in this format (without maps, time lines, photos, etc...). I also resented the generally anti-American sentiment throughout. It was often blatant, obnoxious and offensive. While Ward is entitled to his opinion, it made me wonder who his intended audience was. If he is writing to an American audience, his American readers might feel put off by his blanket statements describing them "arrogant, smug, narrow-minded, and naive." (pg 152) So, I didn't finish it. I read just past the photos in the middle. I'm sure there are plenty of better books to widen my understanding of Iran.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katerina

    A very romantic view on Iran. Author`s nostalgic memories of his childhood in Iran doesn`t let him describe Iran, its culture and people objectively. I would also say that his knowledge of Iran and Farsi (as far as I could see in the book) is quite shallow and based on what he heard from Iranians (which should never be considered as truth). Ward is trying to show that Iran is not so isolated from the rest of the world and its people know Western culture pretty well, but maybe he would change his A very romantic view on Iran. Author`s nostalgic memories of his childhood in Iran doesn`t let him describe Iran, its culture and people objectively. I would also say that his knowledge of Iran and Farsi (as far as I could see in the book) is quite shallow and based on what he heard from Iranians (which should never be considered as truth). Ward is trying to show that Iran is not so isolated from the rest of the world and its people know Western culture pretty well, but maybe he would change his mind if he talked not only to Majid Majidi and Tehran intellectuals, but also to ordinary people. What really surprised is he hates the Shah and speaks in favor of the Islamic revolution, which is very different from what foreigners usually think about Iran.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    This is not an easy read, another one that feels like a college reading assignment, my book club is getting a bit heavy lately. But I actually enjoyed it and learned so much. It was a big long tour of Iran with a rambling history lesson mixed in throughout. But the characters (real people) were great and what a place and history it is! I doubt I will remember many of the facts, but I caught a glimpse of the unique culture of Iran.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    So at first I thought this book was just going to a memoir/travel book documenting a families return to Iran after living there three decades before and the search for a family friend, but it has a bit of Near Eastern/Iranian history and religion in it as well. It is a fascinating read and I love learning about the history of a region that I'm traveling to, either in person or through a good book such as this one. Fabulous book, I highly recommend it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Assal

    Terence Ward is one of the many reasons why Iranians love Americans so much. Every Iranian family has had a "Hassan" to depend on, whose mere name invokes nostalgic feelings longsince passed. It was heartwarming to follow Mr. Ward on his journey to the country he had known as a child to find the friend he remembered. If only more stories like this about Iran could be written...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    A marvelous non-fiction book for those westerners (like me) who understand so little about Iran and its history. A wonderful exploration of the country, its people, and its pain. I particularly loved its discussion of Hafez and the great ancient city of Persepolis.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mostafa Rahbar

    This is a wonderful book that portrays Iranians in a true light.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mahsa Jahanbakhshpour

    This book gives a real prespective about Iran

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    Holy crap. While technically legible, this book isn't readable. It is not just the flowery language and over dramatic sentimentality that made me stop at page 60, although that didn't help. The author takes himself too seriously and glorifies Iran, while picking and choosing what history to criticize and what to skim over. He also makes you wonder if he wrote this entire book just so other people would have to hear how wonderful and smart his family members are. It's insufferable. While comparing Holy crap. While technically legible, this book isn't readable. It is not just the flowery language and over dramatic sentimentality that made me stop at page 60, although that didn't help. The author takes himself too seriously and glorifies Iran, while picking and choosing what history to criticize and what to skim over. He also makes you wonder if he wrote this entire book just so other people would have to hear how wonderful and smart his family members are. It's insufferable. While comparing cultures is necessary and interesting, the anti Western sentiment made me roll my eyes. It was nonstop and out of touch. My desire to learn about Iran was eventually superseded by my desire to not be reading this book anymore. Read Guests of the Sheik instead. You were learn about Iran from an unpretentious author.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mina

    I'd call the book a "hard" read for the average reader, not because the language is difficult, but because it is such a rich piece of work that you simply can not rush through it. So rich, in fact, that you have to absorb bits at a time and let it sink in. This is a gorgeous recollection by Terence Ward and is about him and his 3 brothers and parents, as they return to Iran during a time when it was not so safe for travelling foreigners, to rediscover a part of their childhood and past. The I'd call the book a "hard" read for the average reader, not because the language is difficult, but because it is such a rich piece of work that you simply can not rush through it. So rich, in fact, that you have to absorb bits at a time and let it sink in. This is a gorgeous recollection by Terence Ward and is about him and his 3 brothers and parents, as they return to Iran during a time when it was not so safe for travelling foreigners, to rediscover a part of their childhood and past. The Wards have not been back to Iran since the 1960's and this adventure takes place around about 1998. The Ward family travels to desinations near and far and the prose that Ward uses to describe the terrain and people, and to also weave their past back into the story is nothing short of breathtaking. He is truly a gifted writer with a special talent for capturing moments and people and experiences, managing to flawlessly translate them into colorful prose. Searching for Hassan comes to fruition towards the end of the book, and is a beautiful story in and of itself. But I highly reccommend this book as a informative source on culture and history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    James Klagge

    The story of a family's trip to Iran in 1998 to try to find a family who had worked for them for several years in the 1960s in Teheran. In the course of the story we learn a lot about Iranian geography, history and culture. Spoiler alert: they do find their family. The story is well-told and the Iranians are sympathetically presented. What resonated with me was the notion of searching out and reconnecting with a time/place from the past. After working and living in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky The story of a family's trip to Iran in 1998 to try to find a family who had worked for them for several years in the 1960s in Teheran. In the course of the story we learn a lot about Iranian geography, history and culture. Spoiler alert: they do find their family. The story is well-told and the Iranians are sympathetically presented. What resonated with me was the notion of searching out and reconnecting with a time/place from the past. After working and living in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky for 3 summers, I returned with my kids for a short visit 15 years later. After having studied at UCLA for 7 years and living nearby, I returned for a visit for the first time 17 years later. And with the assistance of friends in Brno, my kids and I searched out 3rd cousins in the Czech Republic who my parents and grandparents had last seen 23 years earlier. While each of these experiences were different in various ways from the book's story, they each had elements that were similar.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Niharika Rane

    Terence Ward does a wonderful job of telling the common man's story. He effectively combines pre-Islamic history, Islam history, and Revolutionary history with the story of his family and their quest for their close friend. Not only was I able to learn about religious and political conflicts, I was also introduced to many life lessons: such as the importance of friendship. Ward also brings a twist to the cliché, don't judge a book by its cove!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deana

    This is a beautiful story of an American man who travels back to Iran looking for his family friend. Hassan was a little bit of everything to their family, and through the years became a part of their family. When they moved away from Iran after the fall of the Shah, they always wondered what came of Hassan and his family, so in 1998 he and his family went back to find him.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I had a hard time getting through this book. Having said that, there are a few things that I liked about the book. I learned a lot about Iran that I didn't know before. I liked the insights into the history of Iran - why there are wars, why they believe what they do, etc. We got to see beautiful parts of Iran and it's people through the author's eyes - so different from the media.

  18. 5 out of 5

    karen

    I enjoyed this book a lot - I certainly learned a lot about Persian culture. Some of the history went a little over my head as the book was quite dense with it, but overall I enjoyed the book and the descriptions of Iran and the family life of the Wards and Ghasemis. Overall it was an enjoyable read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Damon

    The author does an excellent job of showing Iran for the people not the government. Iran has an amazing history and culture. These are brought to life through stories of his growing up there in the Shah years and his visit back in the 90's. A few parts may offend those who are proud to be American, but overall it is a great look at Iran for the people.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Better editing could have turned this enjoyable book into a best seller. I am going to Iran in October (and I met the author and his family in Berkeley in 1980). Not sure anyone without those interests/connections would enjoy it as much, although it does have a higher ranking than I gave it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This book has been highly recommended by Iranian friends as a very accurate account of Iranian life and culture in the period of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1960s-70s) through the eyes of an expatriate American growing up in the country

  22. 4 out of 5

    Constance Chevalier

    I got so much out of this book: history, Persion tales, recipes, explanations of islam, Iran, mystics, Zoroastrianism, the Revolution on the late 70s, Ancient Persia (Anatolia). I enjoyed the family travels and their background stories.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patric

    Terry (Terrence Ward), describe Iran -people, culture, government, education, etc.- from a different angle. Ones you have red this book, surely you perception of Iran will change. Eventually will say "Iran is a nice country".

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Phenomenal...This guy has the soul of a poet, and knows his Persian history. I got the other side of the Iranian revolution, which was fascinating. I LOVED this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    I loved this book -- I learned more about Iran (and Persia) than I have from any other book, both ancient and modern history wrapped up with current events and a travelogue. I really enjoyed it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Davehk

    Provided a very readable insight into how life was then; and has/hasn't changed.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mohammad Reza

    It says you how people think about their old home, country or city. how an american family think about evolution in iran. you can compare iran before and after evolution from point of viwe of them.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Celeste

    Enjoyable and educational, although a little dated now. Why do author's insist on using way too many adjectives? If I had to read "equiline (sp?) nose" one more time....

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    changed my opinion of Iran for the better! It's a people to people, poignant, heartwarming chronicle.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Although a bit dated with the political information, it is nevertheless a beautiful depiction of Iran and it's people. A must read for those interested in middle eastern cultures and their origins.

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