Professor Evaluates Israel’s Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

What Obama Can Learn from FDR

The Feb. 12 issue of The New York Review of Books highlights a selection of new works about Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, including “Traitor to His Class” by UT Historian H.W. Brands.

In the story “A Revolutionary President,” Russell Baker suggests the blooming of FDR books “…probably has a lot to do with Barack Obama’s assuming the presidency at a moment of economic breakdown just as Roosevelt did seventy-six years ago.”

The New York Review of Books isn’t the only media outlet to take note of the Obama-FDR connection. Brands has spoken about the lessons FDR’s presidency holds for the Obama administration in a number of commentaries and interviews.

Check some of the stories:
• CNN: “When a black man was invited to the White House,” Nov. 6.
• NPR: “What Obama Can Learn from FDR and Reagan,” Nov. 20.
• PBS NewsHour: “Lincoln, Roosevelt Presidencies Offer Lessons for Obama,” Nov. 27.
• MarketWatch: “In Obama’s inaugural speech, crisis is opportunity,” Jan. 16.
• Detroit Free Press: “Nation has high expectations for Obama,” Jan. 17.

PBS Airs “The Polio Crusade” Based on Professor’s Book

Tune in to your local PBS station next Monday for an in-depth look at one of the biggest public health crises of the 20th century.

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will air “The Polio Crusade,” a one-hour television documentary based in part on History Professor David Oshinsky’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, at 8 p.m. (CST) Feb. 2.

Oshinsky won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in history for “Polio: An American Story” (Oxford University Press, 2005) which details America’s obsession with the disease.

“The Polio Crusade,” produced by the PBS history series “American Experience,” chronicles the 20th-century effort to eradicate polio and includes interviews with historians, scientists, polio survivors and Julius Youngner, the only surviving scientist from the research team that developed the Salk vaccine.

Learn more about Oshinsky’s book in the feature “More Than a March of Dimes.”

Book Chronicles Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

Sixty-four years ago today, Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz, one of the largest concentration camps established by the Germans during World War II. The United Nations now recognizes January 27 as an International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust.

Allied forces would liberate many other camps that spring, revealing photos and stories of atrocity that stunned the world.

Historian Robert H. Abzug chronicles American soldiers’ eye-witness accounts in the seminal work “Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps” (Oxford University Press, 1987).

The book combines historical analysis with personal testimonies, and includes many of the photos of unimaginable suffering that later appeared in magazines and newsreels. As the last World War II veterans pass away in the coming years, the significance of books that preserve their experiences, like “Inside the Vicious Heart,” will only continue to grow.

At the time of its publication, the book earned numerous accolades. Newsday proclaimed it “forceful and riveting,” and The New York Times praised Abzug’s “excellent job sifting both the testimony itself and the reactions of Americans back home.”

Abzug directs the university’s Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies. Learn more about his research on the Holocaust, antebellum America, and religion and psychology in American culture.

Professor Translates Novel about Iran-Iraq War

In the United States, translations make up only a small percentage of books published each year, and very few of them are from the Middle East. But translators have been working steadily over the years to alter this picture.

Among them is UT Professor of Persian and Comparative Literature Mohammad Ghanoonparvar, translator of “Fortune Told in Blood,” a novel about the Iran-Iraq War by Iranian author David Ghaffarzadegan.

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, in partnership with University of Texas Press, published the translation last year.

Though Ghanoonparvar has translated numerous novels, short story collections and plays during his 30 years of experience, he finds the process of translation is always fraught with tough decisions.

There are several schools of thought about the best way to translate, the scholar says.

Professor Ghanoonparvar

Professor Ghanoonparvar

Some argue a translation should reflect the original language as literally as possible, while others believe it should read as though it had originally been written in the target language. Ghanoonparvar has found that striking a happy medium between these two extremes has served his projects well.

While translation is no easy feat, finding a publisher presents an even greater challenge. However, Ghanoonparvar has seen improvement in recent years and says continuing political focus on the Middle East has spurred interest in literature from the region.

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin has published literature in translation from the Middle East for more than 20 years. Find more books from the series at

This post was adapted from the story “The Art of Translation” by Wendy Moore, which appeared in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies’ 2008-09 Newsletter. Moore is the editor of the Middle Eastern Studies publication series.

Celebrate 400 Years of Eyes on the Skies

It was 1609 when Galileo first turned a telescope on the heavens and made some startling discoveries: there are many more stars than we can actually see, and the planet Jupiter has moons that orbit it.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical use of the telescope, the United Nations has named 2009 the International Year of Astronomy (IYA).

You can participate by going outside to marvel at the stars, by looking up your local astronomy club and going to a star party, or, by reading books such as “Cosmic Catastrophes” (Cambridge University Press, 2007), by UT Astronomy Professor J. Craig Wheeler.

In “Cosmic Catastrophes,” Wheeler details the inner working of some of the heavens’ most violent explosions, including the exploding stars known as supernovae and the gamma-ray bursts. He also details how cosmologists are studying supernovae to better understand the expansion of the universe and its ultimate fate. The book includes illustrations by Tim Jones, art director for the university’s StarDate magazine.

If you’d like to see some of the books that forged the history of astronomy, check out the Ransom Center’s upcoming exhibit “Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works,” opening Sept. 2009.

The exhibit will feature one of the most important books in the history of science: “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolas Copernicus, which controversially argued that the Earth and the planets orbit the sun. Also on display will be first editions by Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton.

The university also will celebrate the International Year of Astronomy with a state-wide speaker series. The McDonald Observatory is partnering with Texas A&M to bring astronomers from UT and A&M to venues across the state, including Austin, Amarillo, Brownsville, College Station, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Davis, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, Midland and San Antonio.

Find out more about IYA celebrations at

By Rebecca Johnson

ShelfLife guest blogger Rebecca Johnson is the editor of StarDate magazine and leads media relations for McDonald Observatory at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston

Renowned as FDR’s favorite warship, the cruiser USS Houston faced a bitter battle in the far Pacific after Pearl Harbor. With no hope for reinforcement, its crew saw a deadly rain of fire from Japanese bombers.

James D. Hornfischer (MBA ’98; JD ’01) brings to life the terror of nighttime naval battles and the valiant effort of the crew as they miraculously escaped disaster—until their luck ran out in the Sunda Strait. The Houston was finally sunk and its survivors taken prisoner.

Hornfischer’s account doesn’t stop there. Through journals, testimony, and historical documents, he recounts the more than three years the crew spent in the brutal jungle POW camps.

Hornsfischer lives with his family in Austin. His first book, “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” won the 2004 Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature.

“Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors” was published by Bantam in 2007.

Reprinted with permission from the January/February 2009 issue of The Alcalde.

Grad Student Publishes Memoir of Growing Up in Iran

After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s secret police executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents in a sweeping attempt to destroy all opposition to the regime.

UT doctoral student Nastaran Kherad was one of many who were imprisoned after the revolution.

More than 20 years after her brutal incarceration and flight from Iran, she has decided to share her story in the memoir “In the House of My Bibi: Growing Up in Revolutionary Iran” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008).

Born in Abadan, Iran, Kherad was raised by her maternal grandmother, Bibi, a gifted storyteller and wise woman of the local community. But as she grows up, Kherad feels the pull of the modern world, represented in the ideals of her brother Mohammad, a political activist.

After her brother is imprisoned and placed on death row by the Ayatollah’s government, the secret police mount a search Kherad, accusing her of sympathizing with the anti-revolutionary movement.

At the age of 18, Kherad makes the choice to turn herself in, believing it will help reduce her brother’s sentence to life in prison.

Nastaran Kherad

Nastaran Kherad

Instead, Kherad was tortured and imprisoned for a year in the women’s cellblock of Adelabad Prison. Her brother Mohammad was eventually executed for his political beliefs.

“In the House of My Bibi” offers a powerful account of Kherad’s imprisonment, juxtaposed with the peaceful memories of her childhood that sustained her during her ordeal.

In the following interview, she reveals why she decided to tell her story, what it means to live in exile, and her hopes for the future of Iran.

Q: Why did you decide to write “In the House of My Bibi”?

A: “In the House of My Bibi” is a tribute to my maternal grandmother, and to my older brother, Mohammad, who was arrested for his liberal ideals, tortured and executed after 28 months of brutal imprisonment, at age 24.

All I left Iran with was my memories, which haunted me quietly wherever I went. When my grandmother died in 1996 and I wasn’t able to return to Iran and say my farewell, it seemed that suddenly the old wounds opened and the pain gushed through me all over again.

The only way I could cope was through writing, seeking, perhaps, solace and reconciliation. Writing, at that stage, was a form of mourning in ink. I had to write and tell my story on paper to keep my brother’s memory alive, and many people like him whose only crime was demanding the basic human right: freedom.

Q: What do you hope readers will learn from your story?

A: Today Iran is considered an Islamic country in the Middle East, a much controversial and misunderstood country in the West, yet one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. My hope is that “In the House of My Bibi” will help many curious readers who wish to explore Iran and to understand its recent history, its people, its culture, and its politics.

By telling my story of struggle and survival, I also hope to depict Iranians’ struggle for justice and democracy, especially women’s resistance against an oppressive regime, with the hope of furthering justice and liberty for those still suppressed and subjugated.

Q: What helped you get through your imprisonment? Did you always have hope you would be released?

A: Being imprisoned as a political prisoner who has no rights whatsoever, and under such tentative, horrifying conditions, one does not know what will happen next. With the thought of death hanging over your head at all times, one does not have much choice but to live life day-by-day and even hour-to-hour. Your verdict could change and be increased, for instance, from one year to 10 years if the prison guards were displeased with your attitude.

What kept me sane was seeing many others in prison who had to suffer much worse than I, and it seemed that my sufferings were nothing in comparison to theirs. By the time I was released from prison, in addition to my brother, six of my cousins and relatives, all under age 25, were already executed. So, maybe that had an effect on the prison official’s decision in letting me go. I guess God had mercy on my mother who had already buried her young son.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your grandmother?

A: What I cherished the most was our time spent over the rooftop under the stars on the summer nights. I loved and value so much her sense of compassion and respect for others regardless of what social class and background or ethnic group they belonged to. My grandmother was a natural storyteller who had a wealth of oral history, which she shared generously with so many around her.

There are so many beautiful memories, but what I always love to remember is her easy laughter and her chubby, high cheekbones and the way she always reminded me in her beautiful idiom: “babam, it doesn’t matter what others decide to do, you choose to be good!”

Q: You had a special relationship with your brother Mohammad—what do you cherish the most about his life and memory?

A: I don’t even know who I would have been without my brother Mohammad. I look back and feel so blessed to have known someone like him. He was very protective of me, kind to everyone, and compassionate and sensitive towards the deprived and the oppressed. He opened a new world of ideas to me and introduced me to literature and art.

He had such great sense of justice from early on. If my grandmother taught me to see the world with an intelligent eye, Mohammad taught me to stand up for justice and what is righteous. I am not nearly as brave as he was, and I always think of him when I find myself helpless in a situation and seek his strength.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be living in exile? If so, what does it mean to be an exile?

A: Since I cannot go to my native country, Iran, for fear of the government, I feel very much in exile. But even before leaving Iran, I felt marginalized and exiled in my own home country. Because of my political beliefs, and the fact that I was imprisoned, I was banned from attending the university or working in public businesses.

After my release, I felt the watchful eyes of Revolutionary guards everywhere. Before long, I among thousands and thousands of other dissidents, were forced to seek exile. Torn apart from my own culture and language, I began a new life in the West.

Since leaving Iran in 1986, I have experienced an unremitting life of migration and at times a sense of loss and displacement. But, I believe that living in exile has its advantages, it offers the individual a profound sense of growth, compassion for all, and a worldly outlook.

Q: What do you think is the future of Iran under the current regime?

A: I must have asked myself this question a thousand times. In the past 30 years the government has managed to eradicate the entire opposition groups, imprison and execute thousands of young people, and brutally crush the student movement. The Iranian people have become impoverished, and the Iranian government continues to violate human rights.

My only hope is that there would be concrete and constructive changes within the country through the young people, intellectuals, and academics. I also hope that Western nations will help the Iranian people achieve freedom and democracy, and hold the Iranian government accountable for violating human rights. The Iranian people deserve to live a peaceful, democratic life.

After fleeing to the United States in 1990, Nastaran Kherad earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at California State University. She is now a doctoral student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Persian studies and exile literature.

Kherad will discuss and sign copies of “In the House of My Bibi” at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at BookPeople. Visit for more details.

Alum’s Comic Book Illustrates Iraq War Experiences

Texas Ex Richard C. Meyer (B.A. History, ’07) offers a novel spin on the war memoir genre with “No Enemy, But Peace,” a comic book that draws upon his experiences in the Iraq war.

Meyer served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004 and was a squad leader during the invasion of Iraq. He’s now an Army sergeant serving in Afghanistan.

“No Enemy, But Peace” has earned positive attention from Ain’t It Cool News, which proclaimed it “a damn fine comic book… Meyer’s passion to tell this story exudes from every thought bubble.”

For more background on Meyer’s journey, check out Jeff Salamon’s in-depth profile of the writer/illustrator in the Jan. 4 issue of the Austin American-Statesman.

What’s on Your Nightstand, Tom Zigal?

To kick off the new year, ShelfLife asked Tom Zigal, mystery author and chief speechwriter for UT President William Powers, to share a few reading recommendations.

Zigal is the author of the critically acclaimed Kurt Muller detective series set in Aspen, Colorado. His latest book “The White League” (Toby Press, 2005), explores a coffee magnate’s descent into the political underworld of New Orleans.

Zigal earned a bachelor’s degree in English from The University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in creative writing from Stanford University.

Keep reading to find out what books have recently spent some time on his nightstand.

“The Film Club” (Twelve Books, 2008) by David Gilmour

This is a delightful memoir by a father who allows his sweet but unhappy son to drop out of high school if he agrees to watch three movies a week (of his father’s choosing) and discuss them.

My son is in college now, but there were times when I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to do something alternative to make his high school education more meaningful and rich. We watched movies, too, read books, and went on a trip to Cuba, just like Gilmour and his son.

As his son struggles with adolescence, the middle-aged Gilmour loses his job and also struggles with his own career in broadcasting and film criticism. Movies keep them talking to each other in hard times. This book is one of the nicest surprises of 2008. I liked it so much I’m going to write a fan letter to the author.

“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” (Riverhead, 2003) by ZZ Packer

When ZZ Packer was teaching at the university last fall, I met her at Julio’s, her favorite café, right before the presidential election and found her to be incredibly charming, funny, and fluent in all things political. So I bought her debut collection of short stories, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” and was delighted by her vivid language and the illuminating sensibility she brings to the African American experience in post-civil rights America.

Packer is in her mid 30s and grew up in a vastly different world than her literary predecessors, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. She is concerned with racism and sexism, of course, but as they are manifested in a more evolved society in which black women attend Yale (the title story), teach in inner city schools, and struggle to live penniless in another country; and young men are sometimes not as “politically committed” as the older civil rights generation expects them to be. Everyone who voted for Barack Obama—and everyone who didn’t—should read these engaging stories.

“Out Stealing Horses” (Picador, 2007) by Per Petterson

This novel, translated from Norwegian and the winner of numerous accolades, came highly recommended by two of my writer friends who rarely steer me astray. I was not as dazzled as they were.

“Out Stealing Horses” is the story of a man in his late 60s who returns to live in an isolated cabin in the deep woods near the Swedish border in order to spend his final years pondering his boyhood there. He ponders a lot. And walks his dog in the snow. Makes breakfast, chops wood. Ponders more, usually with a dose of self-pity and longing to understand his father.

To be fair, Petterson’s technique of weaving three different time periods (1945, 1948, and the present) is quite effective. I just wished I cared more about this solitary man and his gloomy ruminations. By the end of the book I wished I knew exactly what had happened to his father and the married World War II resistance woman who loved him. In all the Nordic darkness and wintry claustrophobia, a ray of clear narrative light would have helped.

“City of Refuge” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Tom Piazza

There have been numerous excellent nonfiction books and survival memoirs about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but few novels (James Lee Burke’s “The Tin Roof Blowdown” comes to mind), perhaps because the unbelievable incidents that actually took place do not require fanciful acts of the imagination to explain them.

In “City of Refuge,” Piazza does an excellent job of capturing the sights and sounds of the hurricane winds and massive flooding, especially as it destroyed the Lower 9th Ward. He follows two families through their travails and subsequent relocations to Houston and Chicago.

I found the Williams family (a black family who moved to Houston), far more compelling and sympathetic than the Donadlsons (a white couple who moved to Chicago), as they bicker about whether to return and raise their children in New Orleans. The Donaldsons’ struggle comes from a place of comfort and privilege, with fallback options, whereas the dispersed Williams family members struggle to find each other and stay together, make a living, and keep the faith in a difficult new environment. Kudos to Piazza for his thoughtful depiction of one of the greatest tragedies of our time.