May 18, 2009

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir - Marina Nemat

I don't know when I last had the luxury (and a good enough book) to read an entire book, cover-to-cover, in a single day!  And I swear that I did do stuff other than read today!

This book made an excellent companion book to Persepolis, which I read a couple of weeks ago. They are set in the same time frame - Iran in the late '70s and '80s - and both feature a strong young woman rebelling against The Authority.  I am glad though that Prisoner of Tehran was not a graphic novel, as it does go into some detail about the torture that Marina experienced in prison.

Marina Moradi-Bakht was born in 1965, and was brought up in a somewhat loveless home in Tehran.  The book does go into some details about her life before being arrested - her first boyfriend who died fighting in the revolution that overthrew the Shah; her deepening Christian faith (her grandparents were Russian); her love of reading; her growing rebellion as the Islamic Revolution took hold.  Then at age 16, she was arrested for "activities against the Islamic government" - activities which started when she led a walk-out of the students at her school insisting that the teachers teach the assigned subject, rather than re-enforcing government propaganda.  She was taken to Evin, the political prison in Tehran, where she was tortured, sentenced to execution (which was changed to life in prison at literally the last minute), then forced to convert to Islam and marry one of the prison's interrogators.  She was eventually released after just over 2 years (arranged by her husband's father, after her husband was assassinated), married for love, and later emigrated to Canada.  I think that what really sticks out in my mind was the willful non-acceptance of her family and friends to what she had been through.  Even husband #2 didn't realise what she had been through until reading the manuscript as she was writing this book.

It does make a good companion book to Persepolis, as it included more detail about what was happening politically, and why (which I guess you can do, if your book is made up mainly of words, rather than pictures!).  I am going to be lending Persepolis to my sister (who's husband is from Iran), and I will probably throw this one in for her to read as well.

I didn't realise it, but I had heard the author, Marina Nemat, telling part of her story on the CBC last year (I think that it was one of the Easter Monday specials), but I was working so only managed to catch the first 5 minutes of it or so.  It intrigued me, and I tried to find the podcast (unsuccessfully) so that I could hear the rest.  But as soon as I started reading this book, I recognised not only the story, but also the voice.  I'm glad that I finally know how her story ended.

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