Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir

Posted by nliakos on March 6, 2013

by Marina Nemat (Free Press, 2007)

In 1982, when Marina Moradi-Bakht was fourteen years old, she was arrested and imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison for having had the temerity to ask her calculus teacher to teach calculus; when the teacher ordered her to leave the classroom, her classmates followed her out, and soon her entire school was on strike. Imprisonment followed, and interrogations and beatings. She somehow found the strength to resist, and one of her interrogators, a man 14 years her senior named Ali, fell in love with her.  The other interrogator ordered her execution, but Ali was able to rescue her. Eventually, he proposed (although she was a devout Christian), and when she did not want to marry him, he persuaded her by promising to take revenge on her parents and on the young man she loved. She converted to Islam, and she married this man. But she was eventually able to return to her family, to marry her love Andre, and to emigrate to a “normal” life in Canada. She wrote this memoir to try and purge herself of the horrific memories of the two years of her imprisonment and forced marriage, and to bear witness to the things that happened to her and to the other people she knew and loved, many of whom did not survive.

It’s a pretty incredible story, but Marina Nemat tells it convincingly and honestly. She writes about her ambivalent feelings for Ali, her husband, and about the guilt she felt for having survived, and beyond that, for betraying herself and her friends by taking the ticket out of Evin that Ali was offering her.

It is awful to imagine that Evin is still probably filled, thirty years later. with innocent people. Many of the “political prisoners” Marina Nemat encountered during her incarceration there were just children. What kind of monsters believe that arresting, beating, and murdering children can ever be justified? And yet, strangely, Marina’s story of Ali reminds us that those we call monsters are sometimes just ordinary people like ourselves. While there are those who seek pleasure in overpowering and inflicting pain on those who are powerless against them (like Hamehd in this memoir), most are probably more like Ali, who despite his threats and his creepy obsession with Marina, really did treat her like a queen, even though she never hid the fact that she did not return his love.

An excellent book, short, which will expand a reader’s understanding of Iran both past and present.

 

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