101 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2007
You know, I read the other review of this book and it angered me a little. This book is a memoir written by a woman who was subjected to torture and treatment that nearly all reading this will never have to endure. Look at the title of the book, of course it is going to be depressing. She was the victim and this is HER memior, she never claimed to be a writer. It took her twenty years to write this book because of how difficult the whole ordeal was. In writing this book she became physically ill with all the same ailments that she suffered while imprisoned. Please do not let that review make your decision. I had the opportunity to hear her on NPR and I was very impressed with her.
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2007
Tied tightly to a pole, Marina Nemat, age 17, watched the firing squad level their rifles and prepare to end her life.
But they never fired at her.
Several fellow prisoners in Tehran's brutal Evin prison were executed that night, but Marina was spared, literally at the last minute. A pardon from Ayatollah Khomeini himself had commuted her sentence to life imprisonment. One of her prison guards had fallen in love with her and interceded on her behalf. But her salvation came at a heartwrenching price: Ali, her protector, wanted to marry her --- with the stipulation that if she refused him, her own family would be subject to arrest, torture, perhaps even execution.
Marina Nemat has no previous track record as a writer beyond articles in her high school newspaper in Tehran, but she tells this incredible story with grace and eloquence in this engrossing memoir. She offers no outright acknowledgement of ghostwriting help, so take her at her word --- this is her own account, subject to the usual reservations about fading memory and the need to protect the identities of others.
Marina, a member of Iran's tiny Christian minority, comes across in her own words as a spunky teenage political activist, but also as somewhat naïve. Born in 1965, she was dismayed by the excesses of the radical Islamist regime that had taken over Iran when the Shah was driven out. She attended anti-regime street demonstrations and wrote protest articles in her school newspaper, but seemed oblivious to the consequences of such actions. Like any teenager, she was more preoccupied with adolescent crushes and summer vacations on the shore of the Caspian Sea.
Her dream world collapsed in 1982 when she almost accidentally fomented a student strike against teachers who ignored classroom subjects in favor of nonstop Islamist and political indoctrination. She was sent to Evin, brutalized and hounded for the names of other student collaborators. Then came the night when she faced the firing squad. As she was being driven away she heard the gunfire that killed her fellow prisoners.
As dramatic as that episode becomes in her narrative, the extraordinary emotional tangle of her relations with Ali, with his family, and with her own boyfriend and parents is just as gripping a story. Almost against his will, the reader actually finds implacable Ali in many ways an attractive person, sincerely concerned for the welfare of the girl on whom he has visited such misery and fully understanding of her trauma. His family too welcomed her with evident good will, in sharp contrast to the coldness of her own parents, especially her unaffectionate and distant mother.
Marina told Ali plainly that she did not love him, but she went through a conversion ceremony and an Islamic wedding out of dread for what might happen to her own family. In an unskilled writer's hands all this could degenerate into macabre soap opera, but Marina Nemat writes with such conviction that the reader agonizes with her. I kept wishing she would rebel and denounce her tormentors to their faces. She seemed oddly complaisant to her smiling enemies --- until you remembered what rebellion surely would have meant for her and her family.
The layers of irony only get deeper as events unfold. Ali is suddenly assassinated by Islamic hardliners for his dalliance with an "infidel." Marina is finally freed from Evin after two years there, but only through the intervention of Ali's father, a seemingly decent man who risked his own life to restore Marina to her family in accordance with his dying son's last wish. Her savior was the same man who had insisted that Marina convert to Islam before he would allow the marriage.
Marina Nemat eventually married her faithful sweetheart Andre --- a risky move but one she took unflinchingly --- and was allowed to emigrate to Canada where she now lives.
This book is obviously a form of catharsis for her. That is a worthy aim, of course, but beyond that she has drawn for us some complex characters --- her unsympathetic parents, Ali's genuinely human family --- with a sure literary hand. If you read this book you will not forget them. What more could an author desire?
--- Reviewed by Robert Finn
40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2007
Marina Nemat's book is riveting - absolutely! Could not put it down - finished in one night. Her story is a tale of spiritual triumph -love over hate, freedom over opression.Marina's beautiful spirit emanates from pages of the book, instilling hope despite immesurable suffering.
Prisoner of Tehran is a vivid reminder to the world about how cruel and bigoted is Aytolla's regime in Iran.It is an alarming testimony, a wake up call to all.While reading, I wondered if Marina's book will ever be published in her birth country.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2009
The term good would not do justice to my opinions of this book. This is not to say that I agree with all of the author's opinions on all matters, but this well-written account of faith, suffering, and the price of totalitarianism is on the whole superb. Marina is thankfully a talented written and usully manages to keep even the more mundane aspects of growing up in Iran during the Shah's reign interesting. Essentially the story of her arrest, imprisonment, interrogation (with torture in at least one instance), near execution, and an essentially forced relationship with a guard is alternated with her childhood and experience of the 1979 Revolution. The interrogator Ali Moosavi is a fascinating character in the book. In some ways he is one of the most sinister characters but deep down he has numerous good qualities. Marina confesses that she very understandably still doesn't know how to feel for this man who combined ruthlessness with idealism. From one angle he cruelly convinced her to temporarily betray her Christian faith and slept with her against her will. On the other side he twice saved her life including the second time as his final actions on earth. He seemed to have the potential to change right at the moment when he himself became the victim of the regime he had once suffered and fought for
(he not only fought the Iraqis but had himself been tortured earlier by the Shah's men). Despite all the pain and suffering from totalitarianism and war, Nemat herself retains a dignified humility and care for other human beings and thankfully does have a relatively happy ending in the book by emmigrating to Canada with her husband and children. The book also features an interview with the author that is rather interesting. If there is one criticism of the book it is that I wish the author had focused more on the return to her Christian faith and how her experiences had worked to shape her beliefs. This is discussed some but I felt there may have been so much more which could have been contemplated here.
overall, i highly recommend the book.
This work does bring up a number of issues. First of all Marina Nemat was faced with criticism from a number of former political prisoners about some details of the book. I can't of course know every single detail in the work was accurate; the author herself admits that time has obscurred some details. It is also worth mentioning that other former iranian political prisoners responded to the attacks by supporting Nemat.
on a larger scale the book should bring to mind three important realities.
1. Political oppression and torture still occurs in Iran though argueably not to the level as under Khomenini (less mass executions anyway).
2. Christian minorities (and other religious minorities) suffer oppression and persecution in vast swathes of the Middle East. This often violent persecution in of course not limited to iran but also includes U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia which is in truth even worse than the Iranians in some respects.
3. There are a surprising number of torture victims living in the West from a whole range of countries. Before writing the book, Nemat worked at a Swiss Chalet restaurant and was living a middle class Canadian life with her husband and children. In short, this reality should give us some pause about the possible experiences of others we may run into. Sometimes it is the most seemingly normal of people who have lived through the nightmare of totalitarianism (whether religious or atheistic or neither).
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
There are many places on this planet that treat human beings in cruel ways. Man's inhumanity to man (and woman) is well known. I'm not excluding excesses and abuses in the United States (however rare), but reading Marina Nemat's memoir about her life from age 16 to 19 points vividly to why we need an international human rights police force. For want of a calculus lesson, Nemat came within minutes of execution. She does not escape torture, a marriage in a desperate attempt to escape a life prison term, and a drastically changed life. The other women and men imprisoned and tortured by the revolutionary guards lived, and died, because of absolute intolerance of anything other than the official state ideals.
I thought Marina wrote well, alternating chapters of life in prison with life before prison, until they merged together. Her first forced marriage with prison guard Ali until his murder, her forced conversion to Islam, the torture, the execution of her cell mates... Nemat's prose was engaging and compelling.
I hope this memoir provided some amount of healing for Marina. I hope it is embarrassing to the people of Iran. I hope life only gets better for Iran's political prisoners, her women, and her freedoms. And I hope those involved in state-sanctioned torture and murder will be called to the carpet as soon as possible. Alas, I have little hope my latter wish will happen anytime soon.
Marina, on behalf of humanity, I offer you my sincerest apologies for how you were treated.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2008
Marina Nemat's memoir of her experience inside Tehran's notorious Evin prison is a well written and riveting account of one woman's brutal treatment at the hands of a brutal regime. The work presents the reader with a number of moral quandaries when confronted with some decisions Marina made during her imprisonment. Were her choices truly good, evil or morally neutral? What else could she do given her dire circumstances? What would you do if you were in her place? To reveal them here would be to spoil a good read, so I will leave them for you to discover. What this work did for me was to humanize the people of Iran. Often enough, when Americans think of Iran and Iranians, we imagine a collective group of fanatics shouting, "Death to America! Death to Israel!" but Marina's book paints a different portrait. Yes, there are plenty of fanatics in Iran, but then there are mostly ordinary people, like Marina's father who ran his own dance studio before the Islamic Revolution ruled that dancing was forbidden. There is tender first love among Iranian teens; a passionate sense of justice by ordinary Iranian students, often with little regard for their own security. There is Marina's chain-smoking and impatient mother; the complex character of Ali, torn by his personal feelings for Marina and his sense of duty to Islamic justice; Andre, the church organist whose enduring love offers Marina hope in the midst of her despair. These are real people with the same aspirations to live their lives in peace and security, just like any human being. For Christians, one can discern the hand of God in Marina's life and throughout her imprisonment. The various events that lead her from the dark terror of Evin to freedom in the West is nothing less than providential. After reading Marina's story, I gained a fresh sense of appreciation and gratitude for the democratic freedoms Americans take for granted. When one considers that a man and woman may not even hold hands in public in Iran, it places many of our social problems in a stark perspective. This work is sure to move, inspire, anger, sadden, and outrage you, but it is also about the triumph of faith and the human spirit in the face of tyranny and intolerance.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This book was brought to my attention by a friend who had heard Ms. Nemat speak on the radio. He was moved by her experience in Iran as it so closely mirrored his own. Having listened to his stories of surviving the Revolution in Iran, I decided to read this book as well.
Ms. Nemat is a teen-aged girl living in Tehran when the Shah is deposed and the Islamic Revolution begins in full force. She is a Christian who has lived a normal life in Iran, up until turmoil brought on by the revolution skews what she knows. When she attempts to appeal that academic subjects be taught in school, she finds herself jailed in Evin, the notorious prison in Tehran. What follows is her story, as she remembers, of her 2 years in this prison, her release, and survival.
Ms. Nemat admits upfront this book is her story, remembered many years later. And, as many of us know, memories are what they are - but they are ours. This book reads very much like a conversation with the author, rather than straight factual account of events. This easy-going style makes the book easy to read and causes the reader to get caught up in the author's life tale.
I know that several reviewers here and other places over the internet have stated that Ms. Nemat's story is not "real." I simply can't speak to that. I was born and raised in the U.S., and Iran is a different country and a different culture from what I am used to. But I will state there were events in the book that I found difficult to believe had happened. If Ms. Nemat states she remembers these events, then I suppose they are true. But they do seem rather fantasical.
I would recommend this book. It is engaging, interesting, and allows the reader to view a different world than normally seen. However, I personally would like to read other stories from women with similar experiences to get a comparison. (Those that I have seen so far have been in languages other than English.) Yet, for an interesting read, I don't think too many will be disappointed with this book for one woman's view.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2007
It's not necessary to repeat the positive things already mentioned in the other reviews. I, too, heard Ms. Nemat speak on NPR and was motivated by her interview to buy her book. Her moving story kept me spellbound. Ms. Nemat writes with grace and courage. She is a role model for humanity.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2007
I heard the author on NPR today and came straignt to [...] to find her book! She sounded so poised and elegant and strong! I cannot believe someone said it was "depressing" of course it would be a depressing book but it also opens a window to what is going on in the world! and to compare it to Reading Lolita in Tehran? that book was such a dissapointment!!!! I cannot wait to read this memoir!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2009
This book was both gripping and informative. The book held my attention and I had a hard time doing anything else until I finished the book. It is a fascinating inside look at what the Islamic Revolution meant for those who dared to criticize the regime. The book chronicles the fate of a young Iranian, non-Muslim, women that dared to speak out at school. That the regime so brutally repressed the youthful speaking out of a young women that posed no real threat to the regime reveals just how despotic the regime is. For those who still indulge in the fantasy that the Islamic regime is less brutal than the Shah's security forces were, this book will dispel that fallacy. The book also offers a glimpse into the social life and upbringing of Tehran's pre-revolution middle class. While the book is informative and educational, make no mistake - it is also a very interesting read. Why anyone reads more novels than non-fiction when real life can be even more fascinating than even the most fervent imagination is beyond me. This book is a must read for anyone trying to comprehend the nature of life in Iran under the Mullahs.