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Crowning Anguish

The life of Taj al-Saltana, daughter of the ruler of Iran, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, epitomized the predicaments of her changing era. Overcoming her limited edu-cation within the harem walls, Taj chronicled a thirty-year span in the life of a generation that witnessed a shift from traditional order to revolutionary flux. It is as though she had chosen this moment to recall her personal history--a tale filled with "wonder and anguish"--in order to record a cultural and political leap, symbolic of her time, from the indulgent, sheltered, and often petty world of her father's harem to the puzzling and exposed, yet emotionally and intellectually challenging world of a new Iran. Now almost one hundred years later Taj's memoirs are relevant and qualify her not only as a feminist by her society's standards but also in comparison with feminists of her generation in Europe and America. Beyond her fascination for the material glamors of the West at the turn of the twentieth century--fashion, architecture, furniture, the motorcar--she was also influenced by Western cul-ture's painting, music, history, literature and language. And yet throughout this time she kept her bond with her own literary and cultural heritage and what she calls her "Persianness."
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The daughter of one of the last Qajar rulers of Iran, Taj al-Saltana penned a memoir in 1914 recounting her life and experiences in the royal harem. Inspired by Western writings and disillusioned by incidents in her own life, Taj attacked many traditions, including the segregation and inferior status of women in Persian society. Now the existing fragments of her writings have been compiled in a book designed to appeal to an audience intrigued by life ``behind the veil.'' While the feminist sentiments of the young woman appear modern, it is the simplicity and directness of Taj's personality that make the work memorable. The abrupt end of the memoirs during an account of her disintegrating marriage is a disappointment. An introduction precedes the text and a useful selection of historical biographies follows. Recommended for Middle Eastern collections.-- Rose Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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