Couchsurfing in Iran by Stephan Orth
PUBLISHED BY BLACK INK PUBLISHING
REVIEW BY ALLY M
This book is already an international bestseller and has recently been translated from German to English. Sometimes translations can be a bit clunky and the magic of a book is lost. Not so in this case: the first person monologue by Stephan is personable, insightful and funny.
Stephan arrives in Iran in 2014 and initially stays with a friend from a previous trip, before connecting with people on couchsurfing.com and seeing where his eight-week travels take him. There are a couple of set places he wants to go but the rest is at the will of whoever volunteers to host him.
It’s an insightful and readable look into the ‘hidden lives’ of Iranian people. The extreme friendliness of total strangers is offset with the restrictions set on them by the ruling regime and ever-present Ayatollah.
My friend campaigns for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British charity worker who was imprisoned in Iran in 2016, and I was really keen to learn more about Iran and try to understand why. Nazanin visited her family in Tehran for the new year with her new baby and was not allowed to leave the country and return to the UK. Instead she was charged as a spy and her daughter is still in Iran staying with relatives.
With this in the back of my mind throughout the book, an extra edge was lent to Stephan's entanglement with the police and visa office. It’s hard to reconcile a story with such a positive message about the people of Iran with the unfair treatment of so many.
The book will live in the travel section of Planet, I’m sure – but I really feel it’s more than just a travel blog. It is something I’ll reflect on and will influence any future opinions I make on Iran and its incredible people.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.