13 September 2003

Book Review: Not Without My Daughter, by Betty Mahmoody, *****

'You are here for the rest of your life. Do you understand? You are not leaving Iran. You are here until you die.'

Betty Mahmoody and her husband, Dr Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody ('Moody'), came to Iran from the USA to meet Moody's family. With them was their four-year-old daughter, Mahtob. Appalled by the squalor of their living conditions, horrified by what she saw of a country where women are merely chattels and Westerners are despised, Betty soon became desperate to return to the States. But Moody, and his often vicious family, had other plans. Mother and daughter became prisoners of an alien culture, hostages of an increasingly tyrannical and violent man.
Betty began to try to arrange an escape. Evading Moody's sinister spy network, she secretly met sympathisers opposed to Khomeini's savage regime. But every scheme that was suggested to her meant leaving Mahtob behind for ever. Eventually, Betty was given the name of a man who would plan their perilous route out of Iran, a journey that few women or children had ever made. Their nightmare attempt to return home began in a bewildering snowstorm...

This is the harrowing story of an American mother trying to escape from the strictures of the Iranian family where her Iranian husband wants to keep her with their daughter. The book has provoked emotional reactions because of its potrayal of Iranian society. I think it must be read with some detachment and a cool head, even though the story itself is anything but cool.

On the one hand, it must be emphasized that not all Iranians are like this husband, of course. The book makes too many generalizations about Iranian society based on this one experience. Most Iranians I have met, in Iran and outside, are reasonable, hospitable, welcoming, open minded and very critical of the Islamic regime. On the other hand, this is not a unique case. Many others like it have been documented and the problems for women in the Islamic society are real. It is not for nothing that Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace prize in 2003. See her book if you are interested in this topic.

This is a great book for what it is: the gripping story of one family, though, sadly, not an uncommon story. But it is not a universal paradigm for all Iran either.

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