An acclaimed Iranian novelist’s harrowing account of the decade she spent in and out of prisons in post-revolutionary Tehran.
When Parsipur (Women Without Men, 1998, etc.) returned to Iran from France in 1980, she knew the country she had fled was in turmoil. She remained on the political sidelines, reading newspapers and magazines from the different factions vying for power just to stay informed. Her democratic neutrality did not save her, however. In 1981, she was jailed after the revolutionary guards who ransacked her home discovered a letter she had written but not sent that expressed her misgivings about the political situation in Iran. With a self-possessed simplicity that cuts straight to the heart, Parsipur details the nearly five years of what would be the first of three incarcerations. Fundamentalist Islamic dress and religious rituals were de rigueur for all prisoners, and solitary confinement or death awaited “nonconformists” like Parsipur. Kindness existed, but barbaric behavior among both inmates and the keepers with whom they often colluded was as much the norm as torture and random executions. “Fear had created monsters willing to do anything and go against any principal to survive,” she writes. What Parsipur found most disturbing of all was the fact that most of the prisoners and “officials” were barely out of their teens. After her release, her activities as a writer—and in particular, her novelistic writings on female virginity—led to two subsequent arrests and incarcerations. Harried to the point of illness and eventual mental collapse by the Iranian morality police, Parsipur left the country permanently.
Stark and haunting, this book stands as a powerful testament to not only the devastations of an era, but to the integrity and courage of an extraordinary woman.