An interview with Roxane Farmanfarmaian, co-author of “Blood & Oil: Memoirs of a Persian prince” (Randon House, 1997, 514 pages. $35) with Manucher Farmanfarmaian. Ms. Farmanfarmaian is currently the U.S. West Coast editor of Publishers Weekly. She founded the Iranian, an independent weekly newsmagazine in Iran before the revolution. She has written for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Interview and McCall’s. (See excerpt from “Blood & Oil” and reviews.)
Q: When did the idea of the book come about?
Roxane Farmanfarmaian: My father had been thinking about writing a book ever since his college days. He was struck by how many books had been written by British travelers and how few by Iranians. As a student he started collecting documents until the revolution but they were lost in the chaos. Then he started working on his diaries and paid lots of money to people to type it for him. But they were not at all in publishable shape. Finally in 1991 I talked him into helping him because I was a professional journalist. I did extensive research at the Library of Congress and the British Foreign Office, etc.
Q: How much of the book is your work?
RF: The writing is all mine but it’s really his story. There were some things I didn’t agree with. He was very black and white about things, like the Shah, for instance, but I wanted to bring in a broader perspective and show that he was human and more complex than what has so far been written about him. My father and I had lots of discussions about this.
Writing the book was a great opportunity to tap into the memory of my father and learn about Iran and its history. I think our generation, the ones who did not live in Iran for a long time, can learn from the older generation who lived in Iran for all these years and were in a position to tell us what happened.
It was a great experience working with my father. We were not very close at all when we started this project. We had a complete falling out in different directions during the revolution. It took a year for us to become friends and have a working relationship. So it wasn’t just a book, but we got a friendship out of it too.
Q: What is the book’s message?
RF: For the American audience we wanted to put a human face on Iran instead of what is generally seen as a country of Ayatollahs and angry fanatics. And for Iranians we wanted to chroncile the history of oil in a way that is less rose colored, namely in relation to Dr. Mossadeq. We wanted to take the veil away.
Also, we were not looking to write a purely academic book. We wanted it to be a fun read from a personal perspective without losing its historical value.
Q: What is your reaction to criticism, especialyy among some Iranians, that you are glorifying your family rather than describing history?
RF: That’s an interesting question because I haven’t noticed it in the reactions to the book. One of the things we tried to do is to present a much larger picture of Iran rather than talk about our family. The family connection is that they happened to figure in so many events that had an impact that it was only natural that they would be mentioned. For instance, talk around the dinner table often turned into policy.
Of course my father did want to include more things about the family — “my wonderful sister this and my great brother that” — but I convinced him to keep it to a minimum. I certainly did not want it to be nepotistic or narcissitic.
I hadn’t realized that some think that there is too much emphasis on our family. The great majority of the reviews have been absolutely wonderful, except the one by Abbas Milani in the San Francisco Chronicle (see reviews). He seemed to have had the dagger out from the beginning. In his eyes we represented the establishment and he was against it and he went to prison for it during the Shah.
There is a tendency to blame us for all the corruption. They say if you are part of the system you buy into the system. And also we do have a tribal mentality; it’s us against them. But generally, and I’m thilled, that most of the Iranians who have read the book have told us that they loved it.