Our Man in Iran

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During a lull in the tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Matthew Stevenson set out from his home in Geneva, Switzerland, to ride a series of trains around the contours of Iran.

With a Kindle and a stack of railway maps and timetables in his backpack, he travels on a series of overnight trains to Mashhad, Esfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz, before flying home from Tehran.

In Tehran he visits the grounds where in 1979 American diplomats were held hostage, and in Mashhad he goes to the Imam Reza Holy Shrine and many of its mosques. To get around Esfahan he hires a bicycle.

His travel companions are a collection of histories, novels, and films about Persia and the Islamic Republic. Of Robert Byron, the English author of The Road to Oxiana (published in 1937), Stevenson writes: He had gone to all the places I was to see in Iran. In the end, I left behind my guidebook (even in print, I find guide-speak oppressive) and chose Byron as my in-print travel companion.

One of the few Western travelers to reach Iran in recent years, Stevenson, himself, is a delightful guide endlessly curious about the country that has dominated so many headlines in recent years.

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