By Hannah Volmar & Shannon Kuehn
June 18, 2015, Washington DC – Searching for the truth behind allegations that his American father was a CIA spy in Iran, Cyrus Copeland has crafted a gripping memoir. Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, A Mother’s Heroism, and A Son’s Quest (Penguin/Blue Rider, 2015) takes readers through a dramatic, yet witty journey in understanding his dual Iranian and American identity.
Born in Washington DC, Copeland grew up in a bicultural household with an Iranian mother and American father. His father, Max Copeland, worked for Westinghouse Electric in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, when suspicion of Americans was rampant.
“In 1979, my American father was arrested in Tehran and was tried as a CIA spy,” said Copeland in an interview with PAAIA. “When my dad was imprisoned, my Iranian mother tried to find him a lawyer – but because of all the anti-American sentiment at the time, no lawyer would take his case. So she did something remarkable. She studied the Quran, which is the [source of Sharia law], and represented him in the revolutionary tribunals.”
Copeland’s father died many years ago. His memoir not only aims to uncover the truth about his father’s identity, but also bridge the gap between Iran and America which has been filled with diplomatic tension and misunderstanding for the past thirty-five years.
“It’s a lot like being the child of divorce on an international scale: For thirty-five long years, I’ve watched my homelands demonize each other,” Copeland told PAAIA. “Mom calls Dad the Great Satan; Dad says mom is the Axis of Evil. Like all Iranian-Americans, I’m strung between the two countries, each of which demands emotional allegiance.”
Copeland found solace in traveling to Iran to write the final chapter of Off the Radar. In doing so, he was able to sit inside his own past and begin to see the Iran of his childhood anew.
In an interview with PAAIA, Copeland suggested that other Iranian Americans who are struggling to understand their identity learn to be adaptable – which Copeland compares to the Persian symbol, the paisley.
“Being Iranian in America is a challenge, especially given the mutual animosity our governments entertain,” said Copeland. “But think about the paisley, an authentically Persian symbol. Think about its shape. It’s foundational and weighted at the bottom, and yielding and adaptable at the top. The paisley points us toward the answer. For thousands of years, Iranian culture has learned to bend to the prevailing winds of change from the east and west, but is still grounded. Solid but adaptable.”
Copeland points out that Iranians in America are a very successful, well-educated, and ambitious immigrant group because of their adaptability. He hopes that more Iranian-Americans will use their “greater sense of awareness” to become ambassadors that facilitate better relations between the peoples of their homelands.
“Be the paisley,” he advises. “Honor your culture and bloodlines and recognize they are breathing right under the surface of your vibrant American life.”
Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, A Mother’s Heroism, and A Son’s Quest is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, and BAM!
Click here to view the dates of Copeland’s national book tour.