I have a special guest post to share today by David Paul Collins. This tour is being hosted by the publisher.
A few years ago I met with friends whom I knew when I lived and worked in Iran. With customarily humble generosity they said how sad they were that I had lost my business during the Islamic Revolution. How could they say that? They lost their country.
Over glasses of red Château Ksara Reserve wine we spent soulful moments discussing old friends, restaurants we loved, ski trips to the mountains and summer weekends on the beaches of the Caspian Sea.
“You are a writer,” they said quite passionately. “Why don’t you do a book about how it was when the revolution occurred. Tell the story,” they urged. “Write a book about what happened to you, what happened to all of us and how improbable it is that forty years later we still don’t have our country back.” They were right, it was so improbable that a great country like Iran, an ally of the West, could have regressed to the arcane ways of the ancients, whipped into line by righteous aging Ayatollahs.
I’ll never forget how it escalated.
Cyril Motavi, the portly, mustachioed bartender at the Tehran Hilton, exploded at the TV like it was another drunken bar fly. He yelled in three languages, threw a bar towel toward the talking head, and spun around screaming, “We are all dead!” There was fear in his eyes and fire scorching his throat. That scene became seared into my brain, creating a permanent memory. The story by the raging newscaster shouting in Farci did not have to be translated. Radical Islamist students had just captured and occupied the not-so-sovereign embassy of the United States, taking the entire staff hostage, wrists bound behind them.
For years, that memory nagged. Friends who knew I’d spent many years in Iran always wanted details, they wanted to know how it happened, why it happened, how a great and powerful regime had so lost its way that radical Islamists could seize an opportunity to take over the entire country. Where did the idea come from to demonize the West, and in particular, the United States? Who came up with the worldwide-attention-getting move to raid the American embassy and capture every person there, including the military guards? Who came up with that idea? Why?
In the years following the 1979 revolution, in quaint coffee shops, or elegant restaurants and convivial bars, people often asked what I knew. Persian friends living in America would question me thoroughly about an aunt, a cousin, hoping I may have heard something. London had become home to scores of Persian victims whom I met with socially for many years, enjoying their company, marveling at their love for each other, saddened by the concern they had for family still trapped in their beloved country.
I loved the great people of Iran, especially those emigres living in New York or California or London whom I got to know well. Persians were scattered around the world, each longing for the old days. Every fourth of November, newspapers headlined the anniversary of the hostage crisis. That would trigger the same old questions. “We believe you know secrets from that time and you should tell us. If you can’t reveal things in person, write a book,” my Persian friends would say. “Tell our story.”
That wore on me until I decided to do it, to write a book about my life as an American businessman in Iran in the weeks and months before and during the occupation that began on November 4, 1979. I could, in an esoteric way, reveal what had happened, who was behind it and why. It was a major curiosity to me that, with few exceptions, none of my Iranian friends seemed to actually know how the revolution was incited or by whom. It should have been obvious. There were signs, overt as well as loosely covert. Modern history tells us what happens when governments ride merry-go-rounds of denial as their horses scoot off the carousel. They disappear into the tragedies of history. My memories were still vivid, and I had already begun to wonder why I was still keeping the answers quiet.
On that day so many years ago, Cyril had good reason for his unfiltered reaction to the bulletin on the news. He knew better than the assorted Western businessmen in the “Off Limits Club” in the back of the hotel that there would not be any chance of getting back to business, back to normal for generations. Everton, another Western businessman, and I, thought it would all blow over by the weekend. That was forty years ago. It still has not “blown over.”
It was not only the taking of Americans as hostages but also the botched attempt to rescue them four months later that constantly blinked like a neon marquis in my mind. The United States’ rescue mission was derailed by a desert sandstorm called a haboob. The ill-fated attempt ended when a helicopter collided with a transport plane in an explosion that killed eight servicemen and forced the Delta Force Team to retreat.
When we heard President Carter’s feeble response to the failed rescue: “Hope all the hostages will be home before the November elections.” My friend leaned in and said, “He just blew his chance for re-election.”
I will never forget a continuing empty feeling that the hostages might never be released but knew there was a chance. The Iranians hated Jimmy Carter who was in a tough fight to win a second term as president of the United States. Ronald Regan, his Republican opponent, was favored by most of the Western world. The Iranians announced, in diplomatic circles, that if Reagan became president, negotiations to release the hostages could begin.
What I noted at the time was that a foreign power, for the first time, was trying to influence our elections. The Iranian propaganda machine, which had been given strong support by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, began a campaign to discredit President Carter and elevate Ronald Regan. They enlisted the help of the USSR, Turkey, Afghanistan, and others, and it had an impact. On the day Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States, January 20, 1981, all 52 hostages were released and returned to the United States after 444 days in captivity. In the months following their release, the government of the Ayatollah realized that they had made a serious mistake, misjudging President Reagan. America remained, in the eyes of the Mullahs, The Great Satan.
The reason for the summary change in the Iranian government came from a not so surprising country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. The Russians had become clandestine advisors to the Ayatollahs on how to handle the hostages, promote their independence and perpetuate their hold on power. In return, Iran would grant the USSR access to a warm water port in southern Iran.
For the first time in centuries, Russia’s exports and imports would not be limited for a third of the year by a frozen sea. For the first time in centuries the great power and strength of Iran would be (and still is) controlled by the government of another country, Russia.
That story needed to be told so I wrote, An Improbable Spy, a fictional account based on real events and my personal experiences.
David Paul Collins travels the world as the CEO and managing director of Active Living International, an advisory firm finding “solutions for an ageing planet”. He has been in the business of senior living for more than 30 years and was a co-founder of ARV Assisted Living—at one time ranked among the five largest assisted living companies in the US. Prior to working in the industry of senior living David had a career in international merchant banking, centered in the turbulent middle east. That experience led to An Improbable Spy, his latest book.
An Improbable Spy draws on David’s adventures in the Middle East at the time of the Islamist Revolution in Iran. In the book, protagonist, Jack Devlin escapes the chaos in Tehran during the takeover of the US Embassy by radical Islamic students. Entering a devil’s bargain with the CIA to rescue his girlfriend, Farideh, he agrees to steal the ledger of buyers and sellers from the world’s most powerful arms dealer, Mustafa Khaki. He happens to be Farideh’s father.
David’s enjoyment of writing short stories and poetry expanded to a fictionalized memoir in his first book, Shanghaied, recently released in AudioBook with narration by Andrew Tell. It is a coming-of-age story based on his days as a young teenager sailing the world on a Liberian freighter, the S/S Iron Prince, the largest ship in the world. We meet the fictional protagonist, Jack Sligo, when he lands in Mobile, Alabama, looking for a summer job on a cruise ship and is shanghaied onto an African freighter. Unbeknownst to Jack, the ship’s bo’sun, Manor Nelson, a Cayman Islander, protects him from members of the crew who would have made Caribbean pirates seem like drawing room gentlemen.
When David isn’t traveling for business he is traveling for pleasure with his wife, Victoria, also an author. Whether in the air or at sea, they both enjoy writing, so … no downtime in their travels.