MY LIFE AS A TRAITOR by Zarah Ghahramani


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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 García 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 Tehran suburb 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-21730-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007


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