255 of 263 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2010
I'm a cynical guy. US politics teaches me that leaders are cowards and fakers who are really out for their own glory. Americans desperately need a hero, and this author is the real deal. He started as a religious idealist whose talents made him the ultimate insider. When he witnessed unspeakable tortures committed against the families of people suspected of betrayal, he betrayed his "brothers." He volunteered to spy for the CIA, loading us up with invaluable information about Khomeini's associates. Every day he had to stare into the faces of people who would torture his wife and baby if they found out, but he kept going. He never got any fame or credit, and he did it totally alone, on his own initiative.
I'm a hard-hearted guy. I don't cry at sappy movies. But Khalili's rendering of his two best friends and their youthful idealism, and the separate paths they chose in the Iranian Revolution, repeatedly got me choked up. The story is tragic and horrifying, the espionage is nail-biting, and as the risks get more intense, I kept saying, "I can't believe this guy is doing this!"
I stayed up all night reading this, surprised the author waited over two decades to tell his story-- why not cash in on his heroism back in 1988?-- until I realized he's driven by one mission, which can be summed up as: "The governing mullahs in Iran cannot be negotiated with, because they've been explicitly planning Armageddon all along." If we can't trust this insider, who can we trust?
I'm not an effusive guy, just groggy from lack of sleep after I stayed up all night with this book. I dare you to read page one. Get hooked by this story and remind yourself what courage is really all about. Our nation should work for a free Iran, if only because the culture produces sterling characters like this author and his childhood friends.
79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2010
A Time to Betray
This book wears a mask. Behind the mask there is neither Mister Phelps nor a tape that will self-destruct, but there is an almost unbelievable bundle of real flesh and blood courage and there is a real `Mission Impossible.' Without the mask there would be no book, or only a posthumous one.
So, for God's sake put aside reservations about filters and pseudonyms and fictionalized settings for this stunning first-hand account of a double agent living a double life one heartbeat away from certain death, deep inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran.
Read the book.
If it doesn't change your life, it will change your outlook.
It did mine. It changed my view of Iran, which I previously believed to be a nation of madmen. Now I know it is only ruled by madmen, but, just under the surface, it is the home of unmatched heroism.
Despite the vast gulf between our life histories, I feel a kinship with Reza, the man who lived this double life. He came to America as a young man when Shah Pahlavi was still in power and Iran lived in unbalanced prosperity without freedom. Reza drove around in a shiny red Mustang with mag wheels, enjoying his youth just like I did in my shiny red Oldsmobile 442. If we had passed each other on the highway, no doubt we would have waved.
While we were driving around in our shiny red muscle cars, Reza and I were similar in one other respect: we both had two close friends of the kind that might hand off a frog instead of shaking hands just to mock our superiors--or as easily die for each other. Like my friends, Reza's loved American Westerns and each had our favorite hero. Reza's, like mine, was Steve McQueen.
A three-legged stool is a very stable object, but a friendship composed of three souls is likely flawed by a weakness that we both experienced: At any given time, one of the three friends is a little on the outs with the other two.
My own triumvirate of friends morphed when one of us drifted off into a different life; Reza's ended suddenly and tragically. You will have to read the book to find out how.
Despite its title, "A Time to Betray" is a tale of courage and of love, not of treason. Love permeates. It is true love, a commitment that sustains Reza's relationship with his beautiful wife Somaya and their son Omid through stresses no one would willingly tolerate. Most of us would simply curl up and die, or, if we are more cowardly, walk away muttering "Who needs this?"
Aside from Somaya, my favorite character is Reza's Grandpa, Agha Joon, who admonished the young Reza to "Grow old, young man"--grow up, you child. Grandpa was a wise man, able to distinguish the similarities between the despot Shah Pahlavi, and Ayatolla Khomeini who succeeded him and mounted the infamous Iran Hostage Crisis that took Jimmy Carter's presidency down to defeat against Ronald Reagan.
Agha Joon, Grandpa, has more to tell. I know it.
I took four pages of notes as I read "A Time to Betray." The only time I take that kind of trouble is when I'm reading an extraordinarily important book, one that explains the present as well as the past by illuminating truth through veiled fictional devices.
"A Time to Betray" is such a book. It helped me to understand Iran, and villains, and heroes, and love. It changed me -- changed my outlook on Iran, the world, and the United States of America.
This book is not without flaws. It has a cliché or two, like `thugocracy', not that I could think of a better term to describe Iran's current regime. It has a few awkward sentences, the meaning of which is clear. Arranged differently, they would read easier.
These are the flaws of filters and pseudonyms and fictionalized settings, and accountants, and publishing realities - and spooks. I'm grateful that the CIA did not quash it altogether.
Get the book and read it. Then log on to Facebook and listen to some of the interviews where Reza's voice is masked to save his life and that of his family. This is not Mister Phelps' world, I assure you. Despite its flaws, this is Mission Impossible" made real.
80 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2010
I saw a review by Michael Totten who said this book is a real page turner - that he couldn't put it down. True words. It gripped me from the first page. I don't have enough words to describe all the emotions the writer evokes. It reads like a novel, but it's a true story, which the best spy book writers couldn't invent.
You are right there with him as he tries to carry on a normal life working for the Revolutionary Guards, all the while spying for the CIA. The events that turned him into a spy are heart wrenching. You get to know his family and friends as if they were sitting next to you. You feel the terror and sadness of the young people of Iran as they try to deal with a new Thugocracy that's taken over their country. You understand Reza's confusion and being torn, trying to find the right thing to do. You get anxious and feel the panic as he finds himself in situations that you know he can't get out, but he manages. He's still around.
This is the first book I've read about Iran (and I've read several) that paints an accurate picture of the Iranian culture, families, friendships, neighborhoods, home life, schooling, military and the government.
This book should be required reading for everyone in our government so they can understand what's really behind the intentions of the ruling clerics and Amahdinejad. This is an insider's front row view of what's really going on in Iran. Iran's ruling clerics are truly bad people who mean to do us harm and Kahlili clearly presents case after case testifying to it.
Reza Kahlili is an alias and after you read this book, you'll understand why he can't use his real name. I expect since radical Islamists won't know where to find him, they'll attack this book. After you read this book, you'll understand why they'll attack him. This is the most definitive indictment of the corruption and true intentions of some very nasty people.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2010
There are several books I wish Americans were reading today. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Nomad and Melanie Phillips's A World Turned Upside Down. But most of all I hope they would read this one, for it is time they begin to understand what is happening in Iran and the dangers of doing nothing. In 2005 Reza Kahlili's wife Somaya told him "Tell the world what you have witnessed and what these criminals have done to us." Thank you, Somaya.
It is almost impossible to explain to Americans what it is like to live in a totalitarian Islamic society, all the more so with journalists like Roger Cohen of the New York Times parachuting into Iran for a few weeks and thinking that by asking people in the street he would get a realistic picture. Yet Reza Kahlili has managed to do it. The book has a strange feel of Smiley's People by John le Carré mixed with Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. But of course, it is a unique book by a brave and honest man who has decided to speak up and warn the world of the imminent danger of Iranian apocalyptic jihadists, and of American stupidity in not recognizing the danger.
This is not a thriller, a spy novel, an autobiography, a historical account and psychological drama. It is a combination of all of the above by a man whose sole motive was to try and do something and reverse the descent into barbarity that the 1979 revolution had plunged Iran into. This something was not writing letters to the editor from California but working among the Revolutionary Guards in Teheran while being a spy for the CIA - an extremely dangerous endeavor. If found out his family would have been tortured and executed in front of him, not put on the first flight back home like the Russian spy Anna Chapman a few weeks ago. .
What motivates a man to take such enormous risks? The turning point in the book are the horrific events in Evin prison which are conveyed with such power that all his subsequent actions become understandable, yet only someone with exceptional courage and determination could have persevered for so long.
However, despite all his efforts American policy towards Iran had from the start been one of appeasement of the mullahs, from the time of President Reagan to this day with President Obama. It is as if the political elites never understood what he had been risking his life to tell them. What a shame!
The political elites also did not seem to understand that so many Persians were proud of their great history, expressed in the words of Reza's grandfather, Agha Joon: "This is the land were Cyrus the Great ruled one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. He brought dignity and respect for all to this great civilization: a land where the first charter of human rights was introduced, a land where women were respected, where slavery was abolished, and a land where Jews were free to return to their native land at the end of the Babylonian captivity. This was the Persia where poets, philosophers, and scientists were the bedrock of national pride, where religion was based on three simple premises: good thoughts, good words, and good deeds".
Reza Kahili has remained true to his conviction. After settling in the US he could have lived a quite and secluded life. But after 9/11 and the rise of Ahmadinejad on the urging of his wife he decided to speak up and write this book. How many Americans have heard of the Mahdi? Will they take notice when Kahlili writes: "The hadiths predict that `many will be killed and the rest will suffer hunger and lawlessness'. People like Ahmadinejad so completely believed that these conditions would hasten the return of the twelfth Imam that they were willing to foment universal war, chaos, and famine to bring it about".
Reza Kahlili risked his life to help his people and help the US. He was there. His words carry weight. The West should listen.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2010
This book is a life story of an Iranian, who like millions of his fellow compatriots, fell in love with a revolution that was supposed to bring political freedom and social justice to Iran but soon realized that the so-called "Islamic Republic" was designed to transform Iran to a brutal theocracy that isolated Iran from the rest of the free world and began to repress its citizens only a few hours after its inception on February 11, 1979. What makes this life story unique; however, is that the author is not contempt to close his eyes to all the atrocities committed by this repressive regime and decides to do something about it. It is with this intention that the author (a high ranking member of Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps - IRGC) decides to betray the Corps and becomes a spy for CIA in hopes that secret information he passes will enable the United States to help Iranian people overthrow their anti-Iranian regime.
A Time to Betray is a nail-biting thriller that captivates you from the instant you read the first page and takes you to a roller coaster of events that keep you on the edge of your seat to find out how events will finally unfold. It is an easy read that connects well with its reader and narrates the story so vividly to express the struggles, fears, raw emotions and conflicts the author experiences because of his double life he leads as a spy. It gives non-Iranians a candid view of Iranian's culture, customs, and their way of life, something that is seldom being ignored by the western media. The book is also very successful in telling the story of how most Iranians feel towards their undemocratic and oppressive regime. This too is seldom being ignored by the western media since they can only report on Iran from the lenses of Iranian regime's propaganda machine that has been in effect from the early days of the Islamic revolution in order to give a false view of what Iranians feel towards their government to achieve some level of legitimacy in the international arena.
This book paints a very accurate picture of how life under the Islamic Republic has become for Iranians, and how their attempts to fight the system is met by force and crushed systematically on daily basis from the first days of Ayatollah Khomeini until present. Although this book has revealed some of the untold secrets about the nature of the Islamic Republic regime, it is by no means a "tell-all" account of everything that has happened. As clearly mentioned by the author throughout the book, the information passed on is relayed to CIA, and it is obvious that many of the information are still classified by the US government that prevents the author from exposing to general public. However, one could get an accurate flavor of how the Islamic Republic works and operates both inside and outside of Iran and why terrorism will not be diminished substantially in the region until this brutal regime is dealt with by the international community and crumbles completely.
It is also very sad to see that despite all the valuable information that is being passed on to CIA, the United States has never had an effective strategy against Iran and couldn't foil the terrorist plots against Americans and other nationals that were warned well in advance by the author. Since the sham election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iranian people's uprising in form of the green movement, it is imperative for the international community to show effective support for the Iranian people and hold the Islamic Republic accountable for their massive human rights violations. After reading the book, it is my belief that the only way to bring peace and stability to Iran, and the region for that matter, and solve Iran's nuclear issue is to help Iranians in their quest against the military dictatorship of Khamenei & Co. (enabled by IRGC) and conduct free and fair election in Iran by the United Nations and/or other international bodies, so the Iranians could elect a democratic system they deserve.
I could not put down this book from the second I picked it up, and highly recommend it to both Iranians and non-Iranians alike.
39 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2011
Want to understand how the leaders in Iran rule from someone on the inside? Want to know what it's like to be a spy for the American government in the Middle East? Want to read how one man led a double life as a Revolutionary Guard for the Ayatollah Khomeini while secretly feeding information to the CIA?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then this is the book for you.
Reza Kahlili (not his real name) grew up in Tehran surrounded by friends and family. During that time, Reza was allowed to think and act freely and was even able to come to the U.S. to study computer science at the University of California in the 1970s.
But that freedom all disappeared with the Iranian revolution in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini imposed religious fundamentalism in Iran and systematically terrorized his own people. This is the story of one brave man who pretended to be a devout Muslim in his own country while leaking vital information to the United States about some of the most well-known events of that time: the Iran-Iraq War, Pan Am Flight 103, the Iran-Contra affair, and others.
For a better understanding of the current situation in the Middle East, read this insider account of a country that has turned its back on the world - and its own people.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2010
Absolutely the best book I've read in a long time. I don't say that lightly as I'm usually very critical of plots and writing styles. Mr. Kahlili has an amazing story to tell and it should be a must read for everyone.
I love the style because he makes it so easy to read even though the material is difficult to take at times. At first I couldn't put it down but then I didn't want it to end, so I slowed down my reading.
Iran is a very dangerous country being ruled by very dangerous people - the mullahs, and reading this book gave me a new understanding of just how bad they are.
Kahlili takes you on a heart-wrenching journey from an idealistic childhood with his 2 best friends to horrific personal events that caused him to seek out the help of the CIA that led to him betraying his country by becoming a spy. Along the way you learn about a beautiful culture that was ruined by radical religious zealots. You meet people whose bravery is only found in novels - not real life.
I was impressed with his sensitivity in dealing with very difficult situations. He brings you right into his life up close and personal. The constant fight he had with himself trying to do the right thing and meeting an unresponsive blank wall in dealing with the CIA breaks your heart. This is one very brave man.
I see that he is continuing his fight for a free Iran through a series of blogs on his website, which is the name of the book. He also has a series of interviews and appearances stored on the website. Of course, his voice is disguised as is his appearance.
Fascinating story - and it continues...
I can't help but think about what a great movie this would make.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2010
Reza Kahlili (whatever his real name might be) is no James Bond. Bond was equipped with an arsenal of clever weapons that could be depended upon to protect him from his country's enemies. Reza Kahlili had only a code book, coupled with a deep desire to overthrow the murderers that rule his country. Yes, Bond, if captured, might face torture and death. But Reza Kahlili, if recognized as an agent of the CIA, would be forced to watch the rape and torture of his wife before she and his young son would finally be allowed to die. Only then would Kahlili's interrogators turn to him. Yes, Reza Kahlili is no James Bond.
"A Time to Betray" is Kahlili's account of how he came to "betray" Iran in an attempt to save the country from its radical and murderous leadership. Because of his position as a computer expert for Iran's Revolutionary Guards and his childhood friendship with Kazem, one of those now in charge of security issues inside the Guards, Kahlili is able to gather and transmit details that are otherwise unavailable to U.S. intelligence agencies. He will finally come to realize that the cover provided by his well known connection to Kazem is almost certainly the only reason he was able to survive for so long as a CIA agent - and, by the time he realizes this, he will be searching frantically for a way to escape Iran for good.
As a child, Reza Kahlili had two close friends, Naser and Kazem. Naser and Reza lived in the same upscale neighborhood, each of them part of a family within which the requirements of Islam were not strictly followed. Their friend Kazem was their opposite in several ways. He lived in a poor neighborhood, had to make regular meat deliveries from his father's butcher shop, and, what would prove to be most important regarding the futures of the three boys, he came from a devout Muslim family.
As young men, the boys would take separate paths but they would remain close friends even during the years Reza studied computer science at the University of Southern California. Things would forever change, however, with the revolution of 1979 and the ascendance to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious fanatic who would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his people. One would wholeheartedly support Khomeini, one would march in protest of Khomeini's policies, and the other would choose a middle road from which he hoped to bring positive change.
"A Time to Betray" is a thrilling story, one filled with vivid images of the atrocities witnessed by Kahlili at the infamous Evin Prison and on the streets of the city. Readers will be horrified by Kahlili's description of what countless young women were forced to endure in Evin before being marched to the firing squad, a death many of them came to welcome. And they will find it difficult to forget the details of the stoning of a woman convicted of adultery, a "crime" she committed only because she had no other way to feed her children. They will be angered that the culture's built-in hypocrisy demands death for such women but seldom even punishes the men involved.
Reza Kahlili has told a dramatic story, one so dramatic that I have to question the timing of some of the events recounted in the book. On at least three occasions, timing is too convenient not to arouse suspicion that some events were placed in Kahlili's timeline at the most dramatic points possible in order to maximize their effect. I do not question that they happened, just when they happened. Despite this misgiving about "A Time to Betray," I believe the book is a worthy read, one to which Western readers would do well to allocate some reading time.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2010
Love this book...and I'm not a big fan of (for lack of a better term) "political" books, fictional or not.
First of all, it's an excellent read. REALLY makes you feel like you are in Reza's head and in his actual predicaments...there's some really 'edge of your seat' type moments here. And you absolutely feel the sustained discomfort of his situation...appearing to his family as part of the problem...but secretly, being a huge patriot for the preservation of their way of life. Like someone says here...this is the story of a true hero...risking everything for a cause..everything...with absolutely no foreseeable promise of personal gain or glory.
However, what is great about the book is the story it has to tell...it's hugely eye opening in a lot of ways... quite honestly, it helped me see Iran as a nation of people rather than a nation of religious zealotry. However, although it opened my mind in a lot of ways...it, confirmed my suspicions in others. It so very effectively articulates the age old lesson (often taught, seemingly never learned), that religious fanaticism MUST be keep in check...and the MOST despicable of deeds are usually carried out in the name of religion (one of the most brutal ironies of human existence!).
Any Westerner that thinks these zealots can be reasoned with...and that peace and love will win the day is profoundly delusional ...and should be required to read this book...especially the passages about Evin Prison, the systematic brutal raping of girls to prevent their entry into heaven, etc.....
Anyway...enough of that...this is an exceptional book and if this is an accurate account of what happened...this is one of the most remarkable men of our time.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2010
I'm not a typical spy novel reader, but the situation in Iran and the history of the Revolution and the horrible consequences that have occurred since are of interest to me.
This book does grip the reader. It gripped me. The story gives the sense of history and deep personal relationships that I need to feel connected. The family relationships, the long standing friendships, the marital relationship all added to create a true sense of a real person and a culture that I have had little exposure to. Yet, at the same time these all reminded me of the very human relationships that the majority of us have had in whatever culture we have been raised.
This is the story of a real person, not some fake spy. This story takes us through the exurberance of youth to reveal the courage of a deeply thoughful and caring man caught in the web of politics and religion. Hopefully, none of us in the West will ever be called upon to find out if we have the kind of courage that Reza Kahlili shows he had.
The book is filled with the kind of tension that does keep the reader going. It explains the Iranian culture, the old government and the horrifying new government (now 31 years old). If you are at all interested in a real story that is touching, sad, humorous, educational and terrifying, then I strongly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down.