The Nazarian family is a unique entity in today's world. Wikipedia states that this prominent family living in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv is considered to be the richest Jewish-Iranian family in the world, worth in excess of $2 billion. They are active in technology, entertainment and philanthropy. As a restaurant critic and social writer blogging at the Huffington Post, I have had random contacts with SBE Entertainment, the restaurant, nightclub and hotel conglomerate which is headed by CEO Sam Nazarian. I know that one family member founded Omninet and another was co-founder of Qualcomm.
So when I received an invitation to attend the book party for Angella Nazarian's new book, Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World (Assouline, $45), I attended it out of intense curiosity as to whom these women would be. The fact that the event would be held at the wonderful, madcap SLS Hotel (465 La Cienega Blvd.) owned by the Nazarian family, indicated that it would be 'first-cabin,' as the saying goes. Lots of champagne, hors d'oevres, and an amazing paella. I had actually read Angella's previous best-seller, Life as a Visitor, which detailed her move to the United States at age 11. The book told how she, her mother and older sister, came here in 1979 for two weeks to visit her brothers. Unrest broke out in Iran (where 52 American hostages were being held) and her parents decided it was too dangerous for the two sisters to return. "That two-week visit became a 32-year stay for me," she told me. She has never returned to the country of her birth. She became a professor of psychology, a writer, an avid photographer and a world traveler. She is married to David Nazarian, a philanthropist, and they have two children. (She also occasionally contributes to the Huffington Post.) I commented to her at the party that recent headlines confirm that women are not very secure in many parts of the world in their right to live their lives as they choose. She smiled and said, "Read about these 20 women I have selected for the book, and you will see how some handle it." As she writes in the book:
Today, perhaps more than any other time in modern history, women feel empowered to follow their true callings. No matter where we are headed, learning about the lives of pioneering women is an inspiring way to honor whom we are and to encourage each other toward greater possibilities and deeper lives.
To illustrate her point, in our conversation she told me that she selected 20 stirring success stories of women, some living and some deceased, who have made a difference in our world. The list includes writers, artists, politicians, performers, spiritual leaders, business moguls, architects, athletes and activists. She said that each is offered as a role model for women who want to make a difference. She later emailed me: "Each one has her own special way of expressing her spirit -- whether through painting, politics, environmentalism, architecture or aesthetics. Every one imagined what did not yet exist -- but might someday."
Chicken paella was served at her book party... by a woman, of course.
So I got into bed the other night and read through the book 'til way past midnight. The first woman she wrote about was Mata Amritanandamayi, the "Hugging Saint of India," a remarkable woman who has inspired tens of thousands of people to put their resources at the disposal of the world's neediest. Amma, as she is known (the word means 'mother'), is said to have hugged 25 million people, one at a time. Angella points out that she embodies "one of the most numinous and primal of relationships, a mother's love." A note: Because of Amma, more than two million poor people are fed each year, and more than 40,000 homes have been built for the homeless across India -- and nearly $46 million has been donated for tsunami relief.
The book goes on to relate about women who are notable because they broke through ancient and seemingly permanent barriers. I was fascinated by the chapter about the late Conchita Cintron, the world's first celebrity matador, who first entered the bullring at age 13. And is credited with more than 750 kills in her groundbreaking career. Some of the women are famous... Ella Fitzgerald (whom I actually met late in her life at the Newport Jazz Festival), Golda Meir, Martha Graham, Frida Kahlo, Simone de Beauvoir, Estee Lauder, Anais Nin, Zaha Hadid (my architectural idol!), and my distant aunt, Gertrude Berg (Molly, the first media mogul!). Many were women I had never heard of... an Iranian lyric poet, a Cambodian anti-human slavery fighter, a Guatamalian human rights advocate, and a Moroccan runner.
Arianna Huffington, our fearless leader, is quoted about the book:
I've always believed every woman needs a network of supportive women friends -- what I call your fearless tribe. And Pioneers of the Possible, with its intimate portraits of acccomplished women, is like a fearless tribe between covers. I came away inspired and emboldened by their amazing life stories.
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Editor's Note: This post has been updated since its original publication.