A harrowing memoir of imprisonment and torture under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As a little boy, Asadi kissed the hand of the Ayatollah Khomeini, just prior to the cleric’s exile from Iran. Khomeini returned in 1979, as leader of a revolution Asadi vigorously supported. By then this thoroughly secular intellectual had already been imprisoned three times for political agitation against the Shah. During one stretch, Asadi, a navy veteran and trained journalist, formed a jailhouse friendship with the deeply religious Ali Khamenei, who would later become the country’s Supreme Leader. Asadi taught his cellmate how to interpret newspaper content and how to read “between the lines.” Seeking to consolidate their power, the religious fundamentalists who ran the regime incarcerated thousands, accusing them of plotting against the revolution. In 27 chapters, each styled as an epistle to his torturer, Brother Hamid, who later became an ambassador for Iran, Asadi recounts his life, his political disillusionment and especially the unspeakable mental, spiritual and physical scarring he suffered in Tehran’s Moshtarak and Evin prisons. Living among rats and cockroaches, forced to wear a blindfold in his captors’ presence, Asadi was ordered to walk on all fours, to bark like a dog and to eat his own excrement. Suffering from broken teeth, chronic headaches, shoulder pain (from being strung up) and regular bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and beaten regularly on the soles of his feet, he attempted suicide at least twice. After supplying under brutal duress the “confession” to spying his tormentors required, he barely avoided execution and was finally released in 1989. With moving stories about fellow prisoners, biting commentary on the religious dictates imposed by his jailers and meditations on the soul-destroying effect of false confessions and the special cruelty of his ideological, authoritarian interrogators, Asadi’s simple prose attracts even as the facts he reports repel. A trip to Moscow in 1980 had already soured him on communism. Six years in prison turned him against the fanatics his wife once described as “the sandals of despotism.” Now in exile in Paris, he has rejected politics entirely, declaring, “I…freed myself from myself.”
A horrifying glimpse of the decades-long nightmare still afflicting the people of Iran.