Sharing time and space with authors
I figured that meeting the other authors today on the panel at our city’s library would be interesting. It was that and much more. It was a joy. Each author was uniquely intense in his/her reasons for writing. Each encouraged not only the audience, but each other, to write! I am renewed and more excited than ever to dive into writing my next story, which is set in the 11th century.
Of course, today I was speaking about “Shattered Peacock.” It made me sad to realize how very relevant the Shah’s ousting from Iran remains, especially in light of last night’s bombings in Syria. Sadly, one of the reasons Shah Pahlavi assumed continuing support from the U.S. and Great Britain was because his rule made Iran the only Western-friendly country in the region and provided a safe buffer between us and Russia/USSR. We could use it now.
That reality acknowledged, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about children’s books, mysteries, books about grammar, losing weight, and even a book written for those in hospice care. We have so much to share with each other via the written word. Let’s keep writing in complete sentences. Let’s go light on those emojis! Let’s consider what we write about and how it can uplift rather than hurt. Let’s educate each other and make each other laugh … or cry. What’s important is that as we touch each other’s hearts.
The Art of the Book
We are moving. Not by choice, but because of the needs of our landlady. Her chagrin was obvious, removing anger as a rational reaction to the news. We are simply moving. We don’t know where, yet – not the city and not even the state. I would even include country, if I could throw Italy into the hat as an option. Alas, I’m in a minority of one.
Moving presents the valuable but painful opportunity to sweep away the mounds of clutter that accumulate in our closets, garages and on bookcases. I began going through my books first without even thinking, probably because subconsciously I knew that they would be the second most difficult possessions to purge, the first being piles of memorabilia from school and career, items that make my life appear like an unbroken chain of successes, because why would I save reminders of the many failures? Those are seared into my brain’s hard drive – with charbroiled lines underscoring my mistakes. But the successes, which shouldn’t, but do have meaning for me, will carry less meaning for our son, even less for our grandson and little for the generations that follow. Still …
But books can be timeless, like the 1881 Little Flock Hymnal, the old Winnie the Pooh edition, the dictionary my father gave me when I left for college, and the art books – internet images be damned – those should hold their valuable for future generations possessing a modicum of sensitivity.
When I was young, I poured over my paternal grandmother’s slim art volume with the fleur-di-lis cardboard cover. I’m not sure if the “fleur” were French or Italian, because in those days I was unaware of the difference. But I was entranced by the European art inside and very curious about what held up those fig leaves. Fifteen years ago I asked my mother if I could please have the book. “Oh, we got rid of that a long time ago,” she said. How cavalier she was about it! Some people lack sentiment.
As an art museum rat, my whiskers twitch to visit the originals of paintings I’ve admired only in books and to marvel at the way the brush strokes and hues leap from the canvas in a manner impossible in print. The books refresh my memory of the paintings I’ve experienced in person. I’ve swooned in museums from the Louvre and the Uffizi to the Norton Simon and the Nelson Atkins.
As I lined some of them up for the photo above, I was struck by the varying manner in which women were portrayed. More about them soon.
Next – Hung Up: The Women Who Will Live Forever
Review of “A Dying King”
The untimely death of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1980 at the age of 60 caused a political tsunami: thirty-eight years later, the world still flounders, trying to control its political ramifications. Where Western countries once enjoyed a friendly ruler, today’s Iran has a nuclear program and is a known state sponsor of terrorism. The chain of events leading to the Iranian shah’s political fall and his death is examined in a moving documentary by first time filmmaker, Bobak Kalhor.
“A Dying King: How One Man’s Death Changed the Course of History,” directed, written and narrated in a straightforward and unadorned style by Kalhor, asks the viewer to pay attention while he considers his subject from political, social, economic, medical viewpoints. Meticulously researched, the documentary recently had truncated November runs in New York and Los Angeles and now heads to Europe. DVD’s are not far behind. The film is worth waiting for: spending seven years on the project, Kalhor has collated a wealth of archival footage as well as shooting fresh interviews in assembling never-before-told details of a medical travesty while documenting an important slice of history.
One can’t help but notice the absence of input from still-living Pahlavi family members, and while it’s a gaping hole, Kalhor notes that he approached the family three times, trying to earn their participation. In the end, their reticence to contribute likely results from decades of carrying the weight of unnecessary pain.
The documentary opens with a slightly dry recapping of the Peacock Throne’s origin in 1925, when Mohammed Reza’s father, Reza Shah, is placed on the throne with assists from the United States and Great Britain, whose support is influenced by their thirst for the country’s oil.
Kalhor then unspools Mohammed Reza Shah’s rise to the throne at the age of 21 – and his evolving relations to the West, his efforts to reposition Iran on the world stage, his successful bid to improve Iran’s literacy, his imperial-sized ego and his stubborn naiveté, which exposes him to manipulation by the very world leaders he’s certain are friends.
The film’s pacing surges after the shah falls ill and the fog of intrigue envelops his world. He struggles to hold onto the Peacock Throne amidst a blur of indecision, lies, false shows of support from the United States and Great Britain and the malpractice of his own doctors.
Concluding that the shah now has become a liability, President Jimmy Carter pulls the Persian rug out from under him, indirectly advising the king to take “a long vacation.” On January 16, 1979, Shah Pahlavi pilots his own plane out of Iran, to Egypt, where President Anwar Sadat welcomes him; however, not wanting to impose on the Egyptian leader, the shah and the queen stay but six days before departing for Morocco. President Carter privately considers a U.S. supported military coup to fill the vacuum that will be created by the shah’s departure. But Carter erroneously decides that the Ayatollah Khomeini will continue to protect American assets if he is returned from exile in Paris.
Even as the shah begins his 19-month-long circuitous journey toward death, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan secretly engages in negotiations with Khomeini’s representatives for the Ayatollah’s return. Thus the once powerful Mohammed Reza not only is a man without a country, he is the globe’s hot potato, politically toxic and with barely a friend, except for Sadat.
As the noose tightens around the shah’s life, “A Dying King” becomes as horrifying as it is lean-forward in-your-seat-fascinating. The shah and family members bounce from Morocco to the Bahamas; then to Mexico; finally to the United States, then to Panama and finally back to Egypt, where Shah Pahlavi dies.
This final section of the film is a well-woven tapestry of medical experts connecting the dots to draw a disturbing, ludicrous picture of the shah’s medical treatment. Pahlavi has endured disjointed treatment in several countries and is misdiagnosed more than once. Besides his cancer, he has gallstones and his spleen urgently needs to be removed.
“… Because there were too many doctors, too many interpretations, (the shah) endured much too much for too long,” states Leon Morgenstern, MD, Professor Emeritus and Chief of Surgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; Splenic Surgeon Specialist and author of “The Shah’s Spleen.”
While in Panama and again in Egypt, and despite highly qualified local splenic specialists, American Michael DeBakey, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon and physician to celebrities, is flown in to do the surgery.
Iraj Shaham, DeBakey’s assistant and anesthesiologist in Houston, Texas, shares his reaction to DeBakey’s selection: “The first thing I say, (sic) is ‘Why God they chose (sic) him? He’s not the man for this procedure.” Shaham is correct: DeBakey badly botches the surgery and the shah becomes desperately ill. As his health deteriorates, so too, do relations between Revolutionary Iran and the U.S., with the hostage taking of the American embassy’s staff.
Jorge Cervantes, MD, a General Surgeon at American-British Cowdray Hospital in Mexico and a U.S. State Department Medical Advisor, who treated the shah in Mexico, sums it up: “The whole thing is a book of malpractice, from the point of view of Hemotology, Oncology, surgery, handling the complications …”
Politically, the world is still very much “handling the complications …”
Artwork and poster – RealEye Design Studio
Lisa Di Vita: Historical Fiction
"Shattered Peacock" follows the story of Iran's Persian citizens after Shah Pahlavi's downfall and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini's theocratic government. Remnants of 1979's cataclysmic event continue to make Iran dangerous even today. Writing "Peacock" was an opportunity to step into a foreign culture, an ancient culture in a dire crisis. Consider that true Persian dynastic rule began with King Cyrus, known as Cyrus the Great, who was born between 590-580 BC. This wise man can be found in the book of Ezra in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), where he is lauded as a just ruler.
It wasn't that Cyrus didn't conquer cultures and peoples, but that he did allow them to keep their land, their customs and religions, which restored hope to the Jews who were living under oppression. Many rulers came and went for more than 2000 years. Persia's fortunes waxed and waned. Then in 1979, a great upheaval swept Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi from the Peacock throne. The Islamic Republic was born beneath the thumb of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, and the world was unalterably changed. Throughout history, it's usually the poorest citizens or specific ethnic groups who are forced to flee the persecution they face in their countries. However, in 1979, it was the educated, the pro-Western and the wealthy people who had to run for their lives. The greatest minds of Iran emigrated to the United States and Europe, leaving behind a vacuum in what was a storied civilization. "Shattered Peacock" explores this phenomenon. If you enjoy history, you'll savor the accuracy of "Shattered Peacock." If you enjoy a personal, exciting and thought-provoking book, you'll discover one that's ripe for discussion in a book club.