In The Sky Detective, renowned scientist Azadeh Tabazadeh tells the story of her early life in Iran in the 1970s and 1980s. Tabazadeh, who has worked for NASA, taught at Stanford University, published dozens of scientific articles and received a number of prestigious awards, writes about her family, upbringing, education, and how the 1979 Revolution affected everything, including the treatment of women and girls.
Tabazadeh describes an idyllic early childhood. As the daughter of a wealthy engineer, she wanted for little. Her parents were both caring and encouraging to all of their children, although her older brother mocked her interest in typically unfeminine things and insisted girls aren’t as smart as boys.
One of the first events she describes, and attributes great importance to, is her uncle giving her a chemistry kit as a gift. Tabazadeh asserts that this is where her curiosity and lifelong passion for science began.
Another important early event for Tabazadeh was the introduction of Najmieh, a domestic servant, to their family. The two girls, close in age, formed a tight bond and became friends. Najmieh came from a poor rural family, and their relationship slowly awakened Tabazadeh to her own privilege – in Iran under the Shah, only the children of the wealthy could afford to be educated.
The narrative follows Tabazadeh through her childhood and teenage years, showing the growing unrest in Iran through young eyes. We see protests against the Shah, his downfall, and the rise of the Ayatollah and his regime. At first Tabazadeh did not realize what was happening and its implications for her and her family, but as her freedoms and those of all women were gradually restricted, she began to understand.
Eventually, her parents paid the astronomical sum of about $20,000 US dollars each to smuggle her, her brother, and their male cousin out of the country. Tabazadeh details their escape through Pakistan and harrowing journey to freedom.
With the help of family and friends, after a stay in Spain, they eventually found themselves arriving in the United States to start new lives. Tabazadeh went on to attend college, graduate school, and become the accomplished scientist she is today.
The Sky Detective is, overall, a good read. It’s heartfelt, thoughtful, and shows how the political can so easily become personal. There are helpful feminist messages in at as well: Tabazadeh emphasizes the importance of her uncle encouraging her in science, and the mentorship of an intelligent female teacher.
The Sky Detective lets us see the power of a supportive family and relationships between women. Role models, support and encouragement are all important in helping more women break into STEM fields.
But while Tabazadeh certainly had intelligence and drive, her education, comfortable life and escape from Iran would not have been possible without her parents’ wealth. Their economic privilege is briefly addressed in regards to Najmieh, but is not explored as well as it could be. The author does wonder about the fates of those women and girls who aren’t as lucky as she is, which does tie in a wider message on the treatment of women under the Ayatollah’s regime.
The book is relatively short, the prose is easy to read, and it’s well-written for someone who isn’t a professional writer. The dialogue can occasionally be clunky, but these are memories from decades past. Tabazadeh manages to set the scene and tone, even if there are some imperfections. This would be an excellent book to give the budding young feminist or scientist in your life, and is worth the time for anyone looking for some inspiration.
For more information about the book and author, visit her website at: http://azadehtabazadeh.com/.