Prisoner of Tehran

Prisoner of Tehran by Marina NematFull Title: Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
Author: Marina Nemat
Publisher: Penguin Canada (2007)
Number of Pages: 288
How long it took me to read: 1 week
Where I bought this book: I bought the book for my Kobo ereader from the comfort of my couch.
ISBN: 978-0-14-3052173

Like a Moth to a Flame

This memoir has been on my radar for a while. It’s now part of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) nationwide competition, Canada Reads, which for the first time is featuring non-fiction books by Canadian authors (usually, the competition for the book all Canadians should read focuses on fiction). I want to read all five of the competitor’s this year and I started with this one because the subject matter interested me. It’s among a handful of books I’ve now read on my Kobo, which I am trying to incorporate into my reading life.

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Marina, you live in your own idealistic world that has nothing to do with reality.” (p.226) (Kobo: Ch. 17, p. 26 of 74)

4. “I had come to appreciate the gift of having a chance to say goodbye.” (p.104) (Kobo: Ch. 9, p. 28 of 32)

3. “I was even going to have a new name. It was as if he was taking me apart, piece by piece; I was being dissected alive.” (p.174) (Kobo: Ch. 15, p. 47 of 60)

2. “Was it possible not to have any regrets at the moment of death? What would I regret the most if I died at that very moment?” (p.105) (Kobo: Ch. 9, p. 30 of 32)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “One dictator will go and a worse one will take its place, the same as in Russia, only this time with a different name and it will be more dangerous, because this revolution is hiding behind the name of God…Communism isn’t the answer to social problems, and neither is religion.” (p.78) (Kobo: Ch. 7, p. 47, 48 of 65)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“This story is almost fictional, it’s so brutal. Like in a made-up plot, things seem to happen to Nemat at just the right time, making the story almost surreal. It’s stark, then, to sit back and realize that it’s happened to a real person (a real teenager, no less).

“Which one of the characters would I be, if I was placed in a similar situation? Would I be the girl who goes mad alone in a corner, the one who is defiant despite the risks, or the turncoat that only thinks of saving my own skin? It’s one of those questions you can never answer without being placed in a situation that you’d never want to be placed in.”

“I wonder if the author’s mother is alive to read this memoir? Her portrayal is negative throughout, from the moment she locks her daughter out on the balcony to the scene when Nemat returns from her two-year ordeal in prison. It’s brutally honest, and I’m not sure if one can be that brutally honest about their relatives if they’re alive—at least not if they want to continue any kind of relationship. If I were to write a memoir, that would be a major stumbling block—I’d need people to be dead before I could be completely honest about them on the page. As I read Nemat’s words about her mom, the detachment and indifference coming through between the hurt and pain, I told myself the mother was dead when the book went to press, because if she wasn’t, she surely would have died of shame to read Nemat’s portrayal of her.

“In the end, her daughter comes to love her husband’s/rapist’s family more than her own. She felt loved and cared for by them like she hadn’t by her own family (and doesn’t, after her return from prison). It’s unflinchingly honest, yet difficult to understand. Is it Stockholm Syndrome? Is it a way to survive? Or is it just human nature to gravitate towards people who love you, no matter how that relationship comes to be?”

{SPOILER ALERT: “Unloved, she continues. Beaten, she continues. Raped, she continues. Forced to convert from Christianity to Islam, she continues. Watching her friends tortured and killed, she goes on. Watching her husband killed and made to go back to prison, she goes on. Released into sorrow and insensitivity, she continues. This woman has an incredible will to live. And she doesn’t just continue or “go on”; she actually flourishes, building new friendships, finding a great husband (eventually), leaving Tehran and writing a book. Wow.”}

“At what point do you know you’re living through a Revolution? Nowadays with social media, people are quick to point to events being revolutionary (the Orange Revolution in Ukraine comes to mind. Is the Occupy Movement a revolution?). At what point do you look around and think, ‘Holy Shit, my society has drastically changed from what it used to be’? And does it change for everyone? Nemat’s family is unperturbed by the supposed revolution going on around them, because they’ve been through small uprisings before. I think we think of Revolutions as these things with very distinct beginnings and endings but I doubt it’s that easy to pinpoint. Is the revolution in Egypt over? Who decides?

“I’ve always thought it was important to stand up for what you believe in at that moment in time, because you never know what part you’ll be playing in history. Years down the road, when everyone had condemned Iran, people who protested in Tehran against the Ayatollah could say, ‘I was against this revolution,’ but as it was happening they were just ordinary people speaking out for something they believed in. I admire that. Makes me happy that I attended political protests in my youth (though they definitely did not lead to a revolution).”

“Nemat turns 19 on her first birthday after her release. Wow. What a striking reminder of just how young she was when she was going through all the brutality we’ve just read about. Maybe youth is the secret to survival—when you get older, you spend more time reasoning your way out of dangerous situations. Nemat was a teenager and she just went head-first into whatever fight she was faced with with little regard for the consequences.”

Kate Dubinski

1 Comment

  1. Mariateresa Bombardieri says:

    So many brutalized people in many countries …. I wish I could do more than pray for them!

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