Americans, for their part, might take this moment to enjoy Secor’s book to gain a better understanding of Iran’s rich recent history. In it, they will find this lesson: the circle may tighten around intellectual life in Iran, around political progress, and around the complicated heroes who hold down, often unsuccessfully, those barricades—but the ideas that animate these figures and their impulses, the debates behind them, will live on underground, behind closed doors, until it’s time to bloom again.
...a deeply moving, intimate collection of personal stories that show the travails of the Islamic leftists who helped to oust the shah in 1979 and have since lost nearly everything ... a first-rate, highly readable intellectual history of those who loved the Islamic Revolution, but have been cruelly betrayed by it.
“'In Iran, the language of abstraction, whether poetic or philosophical, was a native one,' Secor writes. There is nothing truer about Persian culture. Few outsiders come to understand this, but Secor, with the utmost curiosity and patience, has managed it brilliantly ... a stellar example of investigative journalism and narrative nonfiction...
The problem with Children of Paradise is that it can feel haphazardly assembled, hopping and skipping around, and sometimes providing only a fuzzy sense of political context ... What Ms. Secor does do in this book — with intense emotion — is convey the often harrowing stories of her subjects’ lives: their hopes, their aspirations and the often terrible prices they paid for dissent.
Secor’s opposition’s-eye journalistic treatment makes for an engaging account of the reform movement in Iran: its ideals, its luminaries, its points of reference. But she might have made a greater attempt to tie the stories together as a way of assessing what the reform movement actually accomplished. The personal stories of Iranian reformists’ journeys are compelling. But readers must look elsewhere to judge whether their ideas really did make a difference.
Children of Paradise comes most alive when Secor chronicles the harrowing experiences of the Iranian reformists she interviewed extensively for the book ... Secor’s material, riveting to begin with, is elevated by her insightful and elegant writing.
Children of Paradise takes a historian's view of Iran, a nation that has long perplexed—even scared—Americans. But Secor is also an entrancing storyteller. In her hands, clerics, scholars, and others who helped Iran morph into a republic where mosque and state are inseparable are like larger-than-life characters from an epic novel, with thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Karl Marx playing supporting roles.