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They Said They Wanted Revolution: A Memoir of My Parents
From a daughter of Iranian revolutionaries, activists, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers comes a gripping and emotional memoir of family and the tumultuous history of two nations.
In 1979, Neda Toloui-Semnani’s parents left the United States for Iran to join the revolution. But the promise of those early heady days in Tehran was warped by the rise of the Islamic Republic. With the new regime came international isolation, cultural devastation, and profound personal loss for Neda. Her father was arrested and her mother was forced to make a desperate escape, pregnant and with Neda in tow.
Conflicted about her parents’ choices for years, Neda realized that to move forward, she had to face the past head-on. Through extensive reporting, journals, and detailed interviews, Neda untangles decades of history in a search for answers.
Both an epic family drama and a timely true-life political thriller, They Said They Wanted Revolution illuminates the costs of righteous activism across generations.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Date Published: February 1, 2022
Subjects: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs / Women History / Middle East – Iran
About the Author: Neda Toloui-Semnani is an Emmy award–winning writer and producer. She is currently a senior writer at the television news magazine VICE News Tonight, and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Kinfolk, New York, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Baffler, The Week, BuzzFeed, and Roll Call among others. She’s been featured on The Rumpus and This American Life. She was named a 2018 fellow with the Logan Nonfiction Program and a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA fellow in Nonfiction Literature.
She holds a master of science in gender and social policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a master of fine arts in nonfiction from Goucher College.
She grew up in Washington, DC, and is based in Brooklyn where she lives with a small dog, a large cat, a fat baby, and a man she calls Stretch.
REVIEWS & PRAISE
“The book is both richly reflective, informative, and tender in its characterizations…a generous and heartfelt search for personal and familial identity.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[Neda] Toloui-Semnani movingly reflects on how disconnected she felt from her Iranian roots while growing up in Washington, D.C., and weaves in diary excerpts and correspondence from her first trip back to Iran, in 2003. The result is an intimate and vital study of the Iranian diaspora.” —Publishers Weekly
“Illuminating, poignant. An inspiring read.” —Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“A wonder of reporting and reflection. Neda Toloui-Semnani’s masterly, propulsive historical narrative leads the reader to an uncannily sharp view on the present. This is an essential book in the canon of stories that pursue a universal question: How can our parents know us so intimately and remain out of reach at the same time?” —Stephanie Gorton, author of Citizen Reporters
“Neda Toloui-Semnani gifts us a unique memoir—heartbreaking, poetic, and ultimately inspiring—of revolution and its effects, ones that haunt its children for decades. The old quote (turned old cliché) that a revolution devours its own (or its children) is not just a truism for Neda’s Persian family but a tragedy that came to define her. This history—of not just revolution but also dual identity—is seldom told with such raw emotion and devastating beauty.” —Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
“They Said They Wanted Revolution by Neda Toloui-Semnani belongs to a growing body of memoirs, like The Return by Hisham Matar and The Window Seat by Aminatta Forna, that illuminate the global world in which we all now live, with its violently crisscrossing perspectives. Toloui-Semnani’s parents, young Iranian Americans, were inspired by the Berkeley Free Speech Movement to promote revolution in Iran—and got Khomeini’s hell. When her father is executed, her pregnant mother flees with three-year-old Neda across the desert on horseback—back to California. The new way that the author sees the United States after her dive into this riveting story is a gift. Her complex, tragic understanding of political passion is gold.” —Suzannah Lessard, author of The Absent Hand
“Neda Toloui-Semnani delivers a deeply intimate look at the most critical years in contemporary Iranian history—the revolution—with a portrait of her family that will offer so many readers insights into Iran’s dilemmas today. The multigenerational experience of our culture often lives only in data and newsprint, almost always hinging on politics and theory, but Toloui-Semnani lets us join her in exploring personal, emotional, and even spiritual dimensions. The result is a book that is as hard to put down as it is to part with. In untangling the layers of her own personal history, Toloui-Semnani so generously writes us all into her powerful and beautiful debut.” —Porochista Khakpour, author of the acclaimed Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity
“A richly informative book that simultaneously informs, moves, inspires, and gracefully captures a difficult time in Iranian history with honesty and candor. Neda Toloui-Semnani’s intimate memoir artfully intertwines her parents’ coming-of-age against the backdrop of pre-revolutionary Tehran with her own journey of self-discovery as the child of two passionate, risk-taking political activists. From California to Iran to Turkey, this gripping, beautiful account of a woman’s reckoning with her parents’ history, of the treacherous path of being smuggled out of Iran, paints a vivid and haunting picture of the lives of those fighting for justice. An important, riveting page-turner filled with luminous prose.” —Natasha Scripture, author of Man Fast: A Memoir
“Exhilarating and contemplative in turns, Neda Toloui-Semnani’s family memoir is both history and her story. Part bildungsroman and part investigative journalism, she sets out on a journey to discover her past, looking for clues in places as diverse as Missouri and Berkeley, Yemen and Baghdad. She tells us not only about the entangled modern histories of Iran and the United States but also of the shifting meanings of morality and love, rebellion and justice. An outstanding read.” —Arash Azizi, author of The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the US, and Iran’s Global Ambitions
“Neda Toloui-Semnani has given us the most generous book. Like the hyphen in her storied family name, she sits in the liminal, holding two worlds, two nations, two generations together, and suturing with such a deft touch many sides of twin wounds: the loss of her progressive Iranian parents. Toloui-Semnani’s commitment to truth, art, and family is exemplary, showing us all what creative nonfiction can be: journalism as literature, family lore as history, and history as inheritance. This book goes beyond telling a story. It reclaims it, giving back to a brave, intelligent, and dutiful daughter all that she set out to find: revolutionary love that holds together tomorrow, today, and the ever-elusive details of yesterday. They Said They Wanted Revolution made me fall in love with the craft all over again.” —Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion and Malaya
“A daughter’s profoundly moving and meticulous quest to understand her father’s execution and her family’s expulsion from home, this book is brimming with lyrical beauty and cerebral brilliance. In precise, journalistic prose that erupts in a dazzling emotional crescendo, Toloui-Semnani captures the shape of loss and arc of resilience. An extraordinary meditation on love, loss, and the cost of redirecting history, They Said They Wanted Revolution is a vital story for our times.” —Jean Guerrero, author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda and Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
|Dimensions||13.97 × 2.54 × 20.96 cm|