American Wings/Iranian Roots
Written by Kristin Orloff
Book Review by Dennis Moore
Kristin Orloff, a professional educator, has written a coming of age story, the journey of gold medalist Reza Abedi, that mirrors the classic hero's arc, "American Wings/Iranian Roots." This is a book that needed to be told, for so many reasons. The author met Reza Abedi when they were colleagues at a high school in Southern California. Over a period of several years, Reza shared vignettes of life. She recognized not only his authentic hero's journey, but his steadfast loyalty to core human values. By incorporating the author's expressed life changing moments in her dedication to this literary project, she creates a universal experience for all readers.
A gold medal wrestler, Reza's inspiring life celebrates honor, family and freedom. After he leads bloody battles in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and serves in the Air Force, Reza desires a fate beyond the suffocating suppression of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. On the last night of the 1982 Military World Wrestling Championships, he grips his gold medal, knowing American wrestlers wait minutes away to help him defect. He must choose between his own freedom and the possible revenge killing of his thirteen-year-old brother locked in Ayatollah Khomeini's prison.
Although the sport of wrestling is a central theme in this book, it is what emanates as a result of the sport, that makes this such an intriguing book. The book resonates with me particularly, for I feel the pride and dedication that Reza's father, Abbas, demonstrated with him when he was perfecting this sport and craft. Just as I encouraged and cajoled my own son, Damien, when he was wrestling in high school in a suburb of Chicago, I can relate to the pride that Abbas felt when Reza made major achievements in wrestling. When a picture and plaque of my son was prominently displayed at Hoffman Estates High School, after pinning four wrestlers and being named "Wrestler of the Month," my chest expanded with pride, as I am sure, Abbas' did. Similarly to the obstacles in life that my son had to overcome, with the loss of a spleen resulting from a gunshot injury in Chicago, Reza had his own obstacles to overcome to achieve his success in the sport.
Against the dramatic landscape of world altering events, Reza's heroic journey unfolds. Beyond the images of the blindfolded American hostages, the bearded cleric Ayatollah Khomeini and the controversial President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, there are millions of men, women and children who desire to live with freedom and dignity. This story is their voice.
Similarly to my review of Zohreh Ghahremani's "Sky of Red Poppies," which is also set in a society where the Chador and Savak are commonplace, those reading Orloff's book will not only have a better understanding of international relations, but a deep seeded respect for Middle Eastern society. Moreover, this inspiring story of courage and hope will redefine stereotypes.
A poignant part of the book that capsulizes the overall theme, is stated in a note from Reza's oldest son: "The first stories I can remember hearing about my dad were from the high school wrestlers who he coached when I was very young. They would tell me crazy stories about his life, like he had killed people with his bare hands. Even though I have learned that this is not true, he has done some pretty amazing things. When I heard that this book was going to be written, I was really happy because I would finally get to know everything about his past. He has been very reserved about his hard times, but I think it was his strategy of raising me. We have always had a good relationship and the life lessons he has taught me are extremely valuable. Having my dad as my wrestling coach has brought us closer together then I ever could have imagined. He has taught me more about becoming a man and an overall good person than anybody else will in my life. Lastly, I would like to thank Kristin for writing this whole story into a book because I know it has been my dad's dream." Out of the mouths of babes!
In between the many pages of this book, you will read of tyranny, human suffering, and the joy of freedom. You will read of how a wrestler used his God-given talent and ability to be a beacon of hope for his entire family. This is a book that I recommend to others, to feel and sense what we as Americans, sometimes take for granted.