Married to an Iranian woman and fluent in Persian, John Newton moved to Iran in 1975 to work for an Iranian publishing company. There he saw the revolution unfold in the chaotic streets of Tehran. It was a time of tumult and uncertainty, wild rumors, food and fuel shortages, strikes, mass demonstrations, martial law, murders and summary executions. Like a moth drawn to a flame, Newton sought out every sight and sound of the revolution around him until, with safety an ever-growing concern, he planned his family's exit. Through these vignettes, Newton describes his life there both before the collapse of the shah and after Khomeini's triumphant return. These stories convey the deep humanity of the Iranian people and their legitimate resentment of foreign interference throughout their history.
John Newton grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He received a BA in English literature from Williams College and an MA in English literature from Indiana University. Between 1964 and 1979, he spent nearly a decade in Iran, first with the Peace Corps and later with Time Inc., before returning to the U.S. to begin a career as a writer and editor with Time-Life Books. Among his published translations is The School Principal by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, published by Bibliotheca Islamica, Inc., 1974. Newton lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
An American in Revolutionary Iran is not about just any American; it is about John Newton, a Peace Corps volunteer and later a field officer. He has advanced fluency in Persian and is culturally adept to the extent that he can negotiate the most bureaucratically challenging situations. Beginning with a succinct history of nineteenth and twentieth century Iran, Newton interweaves his personal experiences with the looming revolution. Another quality of the book is the photography. Many of the photos come from Newton's personal collection and have never before been published.
Who should read this book? Certainly, anyone with an interest in the Iranian revolution or wanting a firsthand account. It is also a book about the Peace Corps and the influence one well-prepared, sensitive, dedicated person, an outsider to the culture, can have on the people of a society. In this regard, it should be required reading for those in the diplomatic service as well as future Peace Corps volunteers. Finally, it is a chance to learn about an extraordinary individual, John Newton. I met John as a Peace Corps volunteer and can truly attest to his greatness.
Kerry Segal, Ph.D., professor emeritus of English, Saginaw Valley State University
Following a two-year Peace Corps assignment teaching English at the University of Mashhad, John Newton remained in Iran for another three years, driving a Jeep from the rice paddies, forests, and beaches along the Caspian Sea to the barren deserts of Khorasan, supporting volunteers in a variety of fields, including teaching English, aiding with municipal public works, and engaging in various agriculture activities. Fluent in Persian and married to an Iranian, he was recruited by Time Inc. in 1975 to help establish a Persian language publishing company in Tehran, sponsored by Queen Farah and financed by the Mining and Development Bank of Iran.
It is during this period that he observed firsthand the initial stirrings of the revolution, followed by the murders, killings, and massive street demonstrations with millions chanting “Death to the shah” and “Death to America.” During one of these marches, a man rushes up to him, begging him to “tell our story.” And, in this book, Newton does so in stunning detail. His vivid narrative draws the reader directly into the intense atmosphere of fear and terror, hope and elation, as the shah flees, and Khomeini makes his triumphant return.
Joan Gaughan, author of The Shuster Mission to Iran