Prisoner of Tehran


This book is the second of two books I’ve read recently dealing with Iran. I’m not sure where this interest sprung up from but it’s been a fascinating time of learning. The first was a biography of current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Kasra Naji, an Iranian journalist, and it was excellent. It really helped me understand the mindset of not only President Ahmadinejad but of that entire regime, not to mention other similarly minded religious regimes. The contrasts between the Western way of thinking about politics and life and the current Iranian way of thinking could not be sharper. But I digress, this post is about Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat.

Now a Canadian living in Toronto, Marina was born into a Russian Orthodox home in Iran. She was in high school when Iran experienced a cataclysmic revolution from a secular government to one under the Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini. She started to speak out at her high school, first complaining that one of her teachers, an Islamic fundamentalist herself, was teaching religion instead of the subject matter. That’s all it took for the Revolutionary Guard, the military police of the regime, to arrest her and other classmates at the age of 16. They were taken to the infamous Evin prison. At one point she was moments away from being executed but was saved because a high-ranking guard took a liking to her.

The rest of the story is similarly incredible. The book shines light into the darkness of Iran’s supposedly righteous religious state, and indeed into the pathos of any religious fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian, or otherwise. The same patterns of self-righteousness, hatred, and justification of evil are present here as in other instances of narrow-minded fundamentalism.

One of the encouraging aspects of the book was the surprisingly solid grasp that Marina had, even at that young age, about God’s character and God’s heart towards her. Although tortured, belittled, humiliated, rejected, and shamed, she somehow knew that God continued to love her. It wasn’t expounded on very much, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise for me.

This book is eye-opening and riveting. It’s an incredible story of one woman’s hellish trial, one that no teenager should have to experience, and the glimpses of hope and redemption that shine through. I am looking forward to reading her second book, After Tehran, which chronicles her attempt to put the pieces of her life back together after her release from prison.

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