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  • Rea Keech wrote his first book, “A Hundred Veils,” based on his time in the Peace Corps in Tehran, Iran.
    Photo by Gracie Fairfax
    Rea Keech wrote his first book, “A Hundred Veils,” based on his time in the Peace Corps in Tehran, Iran.

Rea Keech Pens Novel Based On Peace Corps Experience

Gracie Fairfax
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September 6, 2017

When longtime Severna Park resident Rea Keech was a young adult who had just earned his master’s degree in comparative literature, he set off to Tehran, Iran, with the Peace Corps. Based on his personal experiences teaching English at the University of Tehran from 1967 to 1969, Keech penned a novel, “A Hundred Veils.” The story is told through the lens of Marco, a young American teaching at the University of Tehran at a time when underground forces opposing the Shah were growing stronger.

While Keech’s mother always encouraged him to write about his experiences in Iran, he didn’t write more than notes until his retirement after her passing. Rather than writing a straight telling of his stories, he decided to write a novel, partially because he didn’t know enough of the details about the history and characters from his personal story. However, the friendship between the two main characters in the book is loosely based on the friendship between the author and his roommate in Tehran.

Through the perspective of Marco and his Iranian roommate, Farhad, readers are able to see the warmth of the Iranian people. They will also witness the complexities of Marco’s cross-cultural relationship with his Iranian love interest, who often quotes mystical poetry such as that of Persian poet Rumi.

The title, “A Hundred Veils,” is based on a poem by Rumi titled “To Take A Step Without Feet.” In the piece, the poet writes “what ecstasy to fly through the sky, tearing a hundred veils with every breath.” Keech weaves classical Iranian poetry throughout the story.

“It does seem unbelievable that an American guy and an Iranian girl could have a love affair, but it’s explained partly that she has this mystical vision, which is an Iranian thing, pre-Islamic, that you’re not bound by any particular religious rules,” Keech said. “So that’s the meaning of a hundred veils – tearing through a hundred veils.”

Readers will experience an Iran before the Islamic Revolution – at a time when the revolution was an underground movement. Nationalists, socialists, Marxists and Islamic leftists and reformers all sought to have an influence.

“I never imagined that there would be an Islamic Revolution,” Keech said of himself during his time with the Peace Corps.

Once they absorb the offerings of his novel, Keech hopes readers take away that Iranians are people with a great sense of humor who are kind to foreigners and extremely hospitable.

“After the Islamic Revolution, in a way, America started to hate Iran, but I knew that the Iranian people were still the same,” Keech said. “Maybe the government changed but not the people, and I wanted to get that across in the book.”

A teacher all his life, Keech also taught in Japan and Greece before obtaining his Ph.D. in comparative literature. Once he earned his Ph.D., he taught at the college level in South Carolina and then spent most of his career at Anne Arundel Community College, where he taught from 1978 to 2013.

He was hired at Anne Arundel Community College to work with its English as a Second Language program since he spoke Farsi; this enabled him to work well with Iranian students who were coming to study there. While the Islamic Revolution halted the coming of many Iranian students shortly after, Keech had the opportunity to work with and hear the stories of students who came from Cambodia and other countries.

Some of his friends from the Peace Corps have been back to Iran in recent years and noticed that the country has grown more modernized than they recall from their Peace Corps days – Tehran even has a subway. The small towns his friends worked in are transitioning into cities and the economic situation has improved despite many in the population who are still in need.

“The big difference, though, they said, is they felt like they were welcomed certainly by the Iranian people and even the officials but there was a policy to keep track of them and watch them wherever they went,” Keech said of their recent visit. “That wasn’t what it was like when I was there. I was free to go wherever I wanted. They were too, but they had to get permission.”

“A Hundred Veils” can be purchased at online retailers including Barnes and Noble and www.amazon.com. There is also a copy available at the Severna Park Library and at some other libraries in Anne Arundel County.


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