... a compelling story that will leave the reader in tears one moment and laughter the next ... an easy read that is poignant and at times provocative, humorous, at other times sad, and yet always informative and filled with hope ... I encourage you to join Ahdieh and Chapman for a surprising and powerful journey in which laughter mingles with tears and sorrow turns to joy. — Eric S. Mondschein
Hussein Ahdieh’s remarkable journey from a rural village in Iran to director of a university in New York is not just another feel-good story about the American Dream at its best. Told with humor, Ahdieh gives us an intimate history of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran from the point of view of a family that helped shape that history. He also shares his personal account of the turbulent 1960s as he helped educate some of the ‘tired, poor, and huddled masses’ of Americans forgotten in the country of their birth. Buy one copy of Foreigner for yourself, and a dozen more for family and friends who could use an uplifting story and a good laugh. — Peter Murphy
To all peoples who have come from immigrant parents and grandparents ... to all those interested in resilience and what inspires that resilience ... to all children of immigrants who now wonder but never asked what their parents’ or grandparent’s life was really like ... to all struggling peoples still on their migration path who could use, now and then, a little laughter laced with hope to ease the way ... to all who find inspiration from the long-suffering and patient men and women who somehow pushed through their moment in history and made it better ... to all restless young adults and elder sages alike who honor those who have met violent oppression with courage, community building based on trustworthiness, skills and character ... this story is meant for you. For all of us. — Mara Khavari
Foreigner by Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman is a personal and intriguing story about the life of Hussein Ahdieh who grew up in the small Iranian town of Nayriz before eventually moving and settling in New York City. It is also a story many who have experienced being an "other" will relate to and find inspiring. This is particularly relevant today in a world where tens of millions are displaced from their native lands and categorized as immigrants, refugees and other terms of exclusion. Foreigner humanizes the immigrant experience by showing the difficulties often faced in one's homeland that compel people to take the risk and leave in search of a better future.
Hussein Ahdieh's life began in an environment of hostility and intimidation as a member of the despised Bahá'í religious minority in a small conservative Shi'a Islamic town in Iran in the 1940s. The first chapter offers a rich description of life in Nayriz during this time and the central role of religion in society, highlighted by the daily calls to prayer over loudspeakers that reverberated throughout the town's streets and alleys. This society was one in which women played a subservient role, where power was concentrated with men and mullahs and where education was sorely lacking.
Throughout the early chapters, the book blends childhood stories with historical narratives of the struggles of the Babi (predecessors to Bahá'í) community in Nayriz, highlighted by a historic uprising and massacre of many community members in 1850 and the prominent Babi leader Vahid Akbar (the peerless one). As the author states, in childhood "the past was always present in my daily life" as stories of these early persecutions were interwoven with those of atrocities from 1909 experienced by living family elders and the author's own experiences of being attacked by other children on the streets and the kidnapping of his own father, which convinced the family to leave Nayriz.
The next major chapter in Hussein's life was primarily spent in oil-rich Abadan as a teenager, where his father found work after a period of transition and economic difficulty for the family. Like many urban centers in Iran in the 1950s, Abadan was modernizing and the oil industry drew foreign expatriates and various Western influences. These proved to be very attractive to an Iranian teenager who now often spent his days watching Western movies and even found his way into the British Officer's Club library and swimming pool where he could show off his diving skills.
Over his teenage years, Hussein also became more involved in the activities of his Bahá'í Faith, going to Bahá'í summer schools and meeting prominent Bahá'í leaders in Iran. Through descriptions of Hussein's life, readers learn about important milestones in the history of the Faith, such as the the Ten Year Crusade, which encouraged followers to spread the Faith across the world. Through Hussein's own travels to other parts of Iran, we learn about the history of the Faith in Iran and its early heroes. The book does a brilliant job of keeping the reader interested in the life of one individual while also sharing important moments from Bahá'í history, which are seamlessly interwoven throughout. Beyond Bahá'í history, we also learn about Iran's history, its diverse cultures, and its leading cultural figures such as the poets Hafez and Saadi.
The big shift in Hussein's life, of course, takes place when he finally has the chance to leave for his "Promised Land", the United States, at the age of 19 in 1961. Like many immigrants, much of what he thought he knew about America came from watching movies. Such mediated ideals, however, soon met the reality of a new struggle to survive and keep a student visa, which involved long days at odd and often menial jobs to raise enough money to pay for studies and basic needs. Like many immigrants, much of his first decade in the USA was one characterized by downsized dreams.
These difficulties, including a new sense of exclusion as a "foreigner", made Hussein empathize with other marginalized communities in his adopted land who were also treated with suspicion like him. With hard work and perseverance, Hussein gradually improved his economic condition and started a family, while becoming an active member of the New York Bahá'í Community and completing a PhD in Education. Hussein's experiences in his new homeland and the calling of his Faith, however, not only motivated him to improve his own economic condition, but to also look to use his career as a way to make a positive difference in this new dynamic society. This came to fruition through a key role in the innovative Harlem Prep School, which was a college preparatory school for at-risk youth. Here, along with a dedicated team, Hussein helped students get a second chance to succeed by gaining acceptance to a range of reputable universities across the country. Readers will find Foreigner to be educational, touching and sometimes very funny. It tells the story of a boy who flees a difficult life surrounded by prejudice in his native Iran only to enter a new set of challenging as an immigrant in America. He overcomes these challenges, however, and achieves his dream of a beautiful life in his new homeland. — Babak Bahador