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A Year Amongst the Persians

By: Edward Granville Browne

Edward Granville Browne travelled to Persia (Iran) as a young man who had already studied Farsi and Turkish, who was fascinated by the culture and literature of Persia. He spent a year living and travelling around the country back in 1888.

Browne, enthusiastic in the extreme, resembled more than a little the hippies of a century later---he lived with locals, he ate their food, dabbled in their religions, and experimented with their drugs. I was sorely disappointed to realize that, as Browne died in 1926, I would never be able to meet such a charming, intelligent, and (above all) kind and fair individual. These qualities shine out from the description of his travels in direct and glaring contrast to the writings of such people as Paul Theroux or V.S. Naipaul who find only crudity, stupidity, venality. Browne was fascinated by the then-new religion that is now known as Bahai. He mixed with Zoroastrians and various sects of Muslims too, constantly discussing philosophy and religion in Farsi with whomever he met. His text is full of quotations from Persian poetry, of interesting characters he met, and descriptions of the scenes he travelled through. In short, this is one of the best travel books I have ever read, by one of the most sympathetic, likeable authors I have ever come across. It's a long read-over 600 pages---but extremely rewarding. And if this is Orientalism, then so be it. The Persians put up a statue to Browne and named a street after him in Tehran. The cruder effects of Orientalism's mailed fist have probably guaranteed that neither still exists. Iran has a long tradition, not only of religious bigotry, but of openness, fondness for philosophy, rejection of narrow paths, and non-conformism. A YEAR AMONGST THE PERSIANS remains an important reminder of the varied nature of Iran and its people. We need that reminder more than ever.

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Edward Granville Browne was a British Iranologist. He published numerous articles and books, mainly in the areas of history and literature.   Browne was born in Stouts Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire...

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