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Some two millennia before George W. Bush enrolled Iran in his Axis of Evil, the country had already spawned one of the first major empires and one of the world’s great religions. (No, not Islam.) For Iranian-born American journalist Afshin Molavi, that history was as much his destination as the contemporary country that hides its pro-Western tendencies under the garb prescribed by the widely hated mullahs. Molavi’s Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran is not the sprightliest of recent travelogues about the former Persia, but the author does use his journalistic style to provide historical and political context for his encounters with Iranians both devout and discontented. Molavi finds himself entranced by his homeland’s rich culture, but the book ends at the Canadian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, where the best minds of Iran’s younger generation look for salvation in a visa that will allow them passage to Toronto or Vancouver. Molavi is in town at 6 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mark Jenkins)