Prisoner of Tehran is a memoir written by Marina Nemat about her time in Tehran’s notoriously rough Evin prison during the Iranian revolution of 1979. Marina, who was age 16 at the time, was initially sentenced to death for her involvement with radical activities following Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution against the secularizing monarchy of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi including writing anti-revolutionary articles in the school newspaper and attending rallies. Following the revolution Sharia (Islamic Law) was enforced in Iran which meant strict dress codes requiring women to cover their hair and that banned men from wearing shorts. Also banned in the country were Western films and alcoholic drinks among other things including men and women swimming or going to the beach together. During this time in Iran a group calling themselves the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line (students that supported the Islamic Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini) stormed the American embassy in protest of the ex-Shah being admitted to the USA for cancer treatment rather than being returned to Iran for trial and execution, and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days – this went on to be called the Iranian Hostage Crisis which was the basis of the recent Ben Affleck movie Argo (Argo was actually not totally accurate in it’s retelling of the Canadian Caper that rescued 6 American diplomats – it was Canada that saved the day because we are awesome but he put a seriously American spin on it. But I digress.)
ANYWAYS. Marina was sent to Evin where she was tortured for the names of other students involved in anti-revolutionary organizations. She was sentenced to death, but moments away from execution she was rescued by a man name Ali who told her he could reduce her sentence in Evin if she married him. This is truly an extraordinary story of one woman’s fight to survive a horrible and deeply traumatic time in both her life and in the country of Iran. I am in awe of her strength. I am also in awe, as I often am, at her bravery in telling her story on such a public platform and educating the public about the events that took place in Iran during the revolution (if you want to learn more about this period you could also check out Reading Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis). Like many other memoirs, the story is strong and the message is necessary, however the writing was lacking in a few small ways. Perhaps it is due to the trauma suffered by Marina during her time imprisoned, but there is a bit of an emotional disconnect between Marina’s words and the story that she tells. This is understandable, but it also makes the reading experience a little more difficult. I felt it was hard to get a real solid sense of how she was feeling throughout her marriage; she seemed to paint a picture of Ali that was kind, sensitive and caring, but then go on about how she hated him so much. I realize emotions are more complicated than just love/hate, and what happened to her was seriously messed up, but I felt this aspect in particular could have been better developed. In general though it was just such a sad and terrible thing that Marina was forced to endure. It’s awful that things like this are happening around the world but tremendously inspiring to read about the women that overcame immense hurdles and triumphed in the end.