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My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir
     

My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir

4.8 5
by Ghahramani, Robert Hillman (With)
 

At the age of twenty, an Iranian student named Zarah Ghahramani was swept off the streets of Tehran and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side in conditions of legendary brutality. Her crime, she asserts, was in wanting to slide back her headscarf to feel the sun on a few inches of her hair.

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Overview

At the age of twenty, an Iranian student named Zarah Ghahramani was swept off the streets of Tehran and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side in conditions of legendary brutality. Her crime, she asserts, was in wanting to slide back her headscarf to feel the sun on a few inches of her hair.

That modest desire led her to a political activism fueled by the fearless idealism of the young. Her parents begged her to be prudent, but even they could not have imagined the horrors she faced in prison. She underwent psychological and physical torture, hanging on to sanity by scratching messages to fellow prisoners on the latrine door. She fought despair by recalling her idyllic childhood in a sprawling and affectionate family that prized tolerance and freedom of thought. After a show trial, Ghahramani was driven deep into the desert outside Tehran, uncertain if she was to be executed or freed. There she was abandoned to begin the long walk back to reclaim herself. In prose of astonishing dignity and force, Ghahramani recounts the ways in which power seduces and deforms.

A richly textured memoir that celebrates a triumph of the individual over the state, My Life as a Traitor is an affecting addition to the literature of struggle and dissent.

Zarah Ghahramani was born in Tehran in 1981. After her release from prison, she moved to Australia. My Life as a Traitor is her first book.

Robert Hillman is a journalist and novelist who has traveled widely in the Middle East.

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

At the age of twenty, an Iranian student named Zarah Ghahramani was taken from the streets of Tehran to the notoriously brutal Evin Prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side. A desire for freedom as modest as sliding back her headscarf to feel the sun on her hair had compelled her to join a group of university students covertly organizing peaceful campus protests. Ghahramani was fueled by youthful idealism, and though her parents encouraged her to be prudent, she underestimated the severity of the penalties imposed by the fundamentalist regime running her country.

She underwent psychological and physical torture, hanging on to sanity by scratching messages to fellow prisoners on the latrine door. She fought despair by recalling her idyllic childhood in a sprawling and affectionate family that prized tolerance and freedom of thought. After a show trial, Ghahramani was driven deep into the desert outside Tehran, uncertain if she was to be executed or freed. There she was abandoned to begin the long walk back to rebuild herself in a world in which she had no trust in her country's goverment and where she would continue to challenge fundamentalist injustice as she sought to reclaim her own liberty.

"A testimony of surviving senseless persecution, imprisonment, torture, and the loss of years of one’s youth with one’s spirits intact. With deep insights into the meaning of suffering and the futility of hate and thoughts of revenge, the young author, just out of her teens, withstands all psychological and physical abuse and comes out, despite the loss of her faith in authority figures and her country, wise and mature. Her defiance served her well. Read with this in mind, the book is truly an inspiration."—Erika Loeffler Friedl, author of Women of Deh Koh: Lives in an Iranian Village

"A celebration of human courage under duress and a savage indictment of the oppressive regime of Iran. It shocks, angers, saddens, and inspires."—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

"My Life as a Traitor is an important and revealing book about a culture and a country that figures hugely in modern geopolitics. It is the inner journey of one young woman, of her fear, pride, courage, and ultimate survival in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison. But it is also a coming-of-age story that haunts and provokes; beautifully written and disturbingly unforgettable. It will stand beside Solzhenitysn and Primo Levi as a book that shows exactly how human beings survive in the face of true evil."—Janine di Giovanni, author of Madness Visible: A Memoir of War

"A must read for anyone interested in understanding the complex nation that is Iran."—Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

"My Life as a Traitor is both shocking and inspiring: a graphic portrayal of the horrors that are unleashed when the idealism of youth challenges the dogmatism of zealots. Zarah Ghahramani has written a very human story of bravery and fear in the face of violence; her story is one of longing for beauty and freedom. Zarah's memoir of her time in Iran's infamous Evin prison is unforgettable in its portrayal of brutality, but it sings with a young woman's love of life and liberty."—Louise Brown, author of The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan’s Ancient Pleasure District

"The second-year Iranian college student in 2001 knew that making that speech meant trouble, but she had no real expectation of being kidnapped in the heart of Tehran and hustled off to the notorious Evin Prison. Eventually, the 20-year-old Ghahramani is sentenced to 30 days and a few days—and several beatings—later is dumped in a vacant countryside to make her way home. Scenes from a happy family life (crippled by the Iran-Iraq war) and a spirited adolescence (cut short by a repressive regime) alternate with the prison experiences in this multilayered account. Ghahramani, daughter of a Muslim father and Zoroastrian mother, both Kurdish, dips with brevity and grace into personal family history and public political history. Graphic and powerful as her treatment of torturous imprisonment is, Ghahramani retains an irrepressible lightness, perhaps born of knowing that [a] sense of justice can always benefit from a complementary sense of the ridiculous. Her painfully acquired knowledge of how easy it is to reduce a human being to the level of animal does not keep her from wondering if I'll ever be pretty again. Nothing, however, dilutes the bare bones prison experience. Her straightforward style, elegant in its simplicity, has resonance and appeal beyond a mere record."—Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
With her collaborator, the Australian novelist Robert Hillman, Ms. Ghahramani writes in a spare, eloquent prose style that reflects both her child's view of the world before arriving at Evin and the pared-down perceptions of her prison experience.
—The New York Times
Sarah Wildman
The details here are sharp, evocative—and angry…Ghahramani's descriptions of torture are described unsparingly.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

The second-year Iranian college student in 2001 knew "that making that speech meant trouble," but she "had no real expectation of being kidnapped in the heart of Tehran and hustled off" to the notorious Evin Prison. Eventually, the 20-year-old Ghahramani is sentenced to 30 days and a few days-and several beatings-later is dumped in a vacant countryside to make her way home. Scenes from a happy family life (crippled by the Iran-Iraq war) and a spirited adolescence (cut short by a repressive regime) alternate with the prison experiences in this multilayered account. Ghahramani, daughter of a Muslim father and Zoroastrian mother, both Kurdish, dips with brevity and grace into personal family history and public political history. Graphic and powerful as her treatment of torturous imprisonment is, Ghahramani retains an irrepressible lightness, perhaps born of knowing that "[a] sense of justice can always benefit from a complementary sense of the ridiculous." Her painfully acquired knowledge of "how easy it is to reduce a human being to the level of animal" does not keep her from "wondering if I'll ever be pretty again." Nothing, however, dilutes the bare bones prison experience. Her straightforward style, elegant in its simplicity, has resonance and appeal beyond a mere record. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

The second-year Iranian college student in 2001 knew "that making that speech meant trouble," but she "had no real expectation of being kidnapped in the heart of Tehran and hustled off" to the notorious Evin Prison. Eventually, the 20-year-old Ghahramani is sentenced to 30 days and a few days-and several beatings-later is dumped in a vacant countryside to make her way home. Scenes from a happy family life (crippled by the Iran-Iraq war) and a spirited adolescence (cut short by a repressive regime) alternate with the prison experiences in this multilayered account. Ghahramani, daughter of a Muslim father and Zoroastrian mother, both Kurdish, dips with brevity and grace into personal family history and public political history. Graphic and powerful as her treatment of torturous imprisonment is, Ghahramani retains an irrepressible lightness, perhaps born of knowing that "[a] sense of justice can always benefit from a complementary sense of the ridiculous." Her painfully acquired knowledge of "how easy it is to reduce a human being to the level of animal" does not keep her from "wondering if I'll ever be pretty again." Nothing, however, dilutes the bare bones prison experience. Her straightforward style, elegant in its simplicity, has resonance and appeal beyond a mere record. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Determinedly self-critical memoir of an Iranian student's incarceration and torture in Evin Prison. Born in 1981, two years after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, Ghahramani grew up fairly privileged in a fashionable Tehran neighborhood. Her father, a well-educated Kurdish Muslim, had been a high-ranking military officer under the shah. Her mother still practiced Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion suppressed with varying degrees of severity ever since invading Arabs imposed Islam on Persia in the seventh century. The author lived in two worlds, publicly demonstrating loyalty to the state and dutifully wearing "basic black from the head downward" in school, while at home she could wear what she liked and freely inquire into any subject. In 2001, she was seized off a street in Tehran, blindfolded and driven to the dreaded Evin Prison. Writing in English with the help of journalist Hillman, Ghahramani alternates a grim portrait of her incarceration with happy memories of her youth. She avidly read Garc'a Lorca, embraced Persian culture and the Farsi language and broke up with a young businessman who insisted she wear a chador to a friend's wedding. In jail, interrogated by a series of odious tormentors whose identity she could only guess by the sound of their voice and their smell, she was beaten with a studded belt, her hair brutally shaved off. The terrified young woman wasn't heroic enough to withstand torture; she identified her friends in photos taken by the police. Conversations through a fan grille with a crazy prisoner in the cell above her somewhat assuaged her grief and guilt at having become "a trained rat" for her jailers. Eventually, the author was dumped in a Tehransuburb and returned to her family. She now lives in Australia, but her burning passion for her language and culture remain. Ghahramani's shockingly honest recollections grimly complement Marina Nemat's account of her ordeal at Evin in the early 1980s (Prisoner of Tehran, 2007), reminding us how little has changed for women in Iran.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374217303
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
12/26/2007
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
8.48(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.86(d)

Meet the Author

Zarah Ghahramani was born in Tehran in 1981. After her release from prison, she moved to Australia. My Life as a Traitor is her first book. Robert Hillman is a journalist and novelist who has traveled widely in the Middle East.

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My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
sassypickle More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful, moving and emotional memoir! Ms. Ghahramani writes in detail about her days spent at Evin Prison. She shares with her readers her honest thoughts and feelings - she holds nothing back. How wonderfully Ms. Ghahramani intertwined her chapters - those about her horrifying days as a prisoner with those about her childhood and even some history of Iran. Well written, interesting and a page-turner. After holding my breath throughout the book, I finally let my emotions go at the very end and cried uncontrollably. I would love to find out more about what Ms. Ghahramani's life was like after she went home - about her healing process and when/how did she leave Iran.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The title is provocative but it is not a gimmick. As far as the ruling Islamic clerics in Iran were concerned, Zarah Ghahramani was a traitor. The Tehran University student made a speech on reform in school, attended political meetings and took part in protests. As a result, in 2001, she was grabed on the street and taken to Evin prison, which is notorious for its political prisoners' wing. Ghahramani, who was 20 when that happened, gives an unflinching account of the interrogation and beatings which followed and concludes that pain will break anyone. This is not a tale of unwavering strength and resistance to torture. Yet it is a tale of courage. The courage it takes to lay brare one's fears and frailties in the face of physical and mental punishment. Interspersed with these harrowing episodes are her memories of growing up in a privileged household against the changing political backdrop, her passion for the Farsi language and falling in love. 'Young women in vestments that reach from the crown of their heads to their toes fall in love in the same way, by the same process, roused by the same emotions, as young women all over the world,' she writes. If the Iran on television and in newspaper reports seems foreign and unknowable, books such as Persepolis, Reading Lolita In Tehran and My Life As A Traitor illuminate the country and her people, one story at a time.