Review: Prisoner of Tehran-Marina Nemat

This book(a memoir) is set in the times when Ayatollah Khomeini toppled Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s government, the ruler of Iran for many years. Khomeini was imprisoned by the Shah for opposing his reforms and had him exiled from Iran. He then headed a revolution against the Shah which led to the Shah’s exile from Iran after which he took over the government and proceeded to convert Iran into an Islamic country. His government tortured and imprisoned anyone who was against his rule. As his revolution had the basis of Islam, anyone who opposed it was considered to oppose Islam, therefore God and hence did not deserve to live or live well.

At the beginning many people supported him because they were tired of the Shah’s corrupt government and also of Shah and his people constantly filling their own treasury boxes with the money taken from the common people. But after Khomeini came to power, he banned western outfits, made the hizab compulsory, banned western books, condemned boys and girls from being seen together in public and many more things which made the people realize that they were certainly better off without him and his Islamic government. Also in the background was the war against Iraq which started in 1980.

The book starts with the arrest of the 16 year old Marina on January 15, 1982. She is taken to a prison called Evin, which is Tehran’s most notorious prison. Her crimes were walking out of a calculus class after asking the teacher to teach calculus instead of politics and writing a report on a rally where Khomeini’s government fired on innocent people. In prison, she was interrogated, tortured and sentenced to death. At the last moment though, one of the interrogators, Ali, intervenes and stops the execution giving her life imprisonment instead.

Marina meets many of her school friends and other girls like her in prison. The stories of Sarah, Taraneh and Sheida are really heart wrenching.

Ali asks, or rather forces Marina to marry him in exchange of exempting her from the death sentence and in exchange of her parents safety. He also asks her to convert her to Islam. Ali reduces her sentence to 3 years and also manages to put her on the parole list. But not only is she never able to love Ali, but she also has a constant feeling of guilt. The guilt of betraying her parents, her love Andre, her cellmates, her friends and also her faith.

Marina shows amazing courage in the midst of all this chaos. It is difficult to believe that a person who has seen so much hatred and destruction in the name of Islam, to still have faith in God. But it is this faith that pulls her out of it all and keeps her sane.

This book is a very sad reminder of what is or was happening around a certain part of the world when we were comfortably sleeping in our beds or going about our normal duties. Read this to know about a time and place so different from what most of us have lived and also marvel at the courage of a woman called Marina Nemat.

10 thoughts on “Review: Prisoner of Tehran-Marina Nemat

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  1. Huw: I liked the book, but you have to read Mayada on similar lines. It’s a masterpiece. But the good thing with ‘Prisoner of Tehran’ is that the author explains the history in very easy words, without going into too many details.

    Eva: I like to space out books too, I wanted to read a chick-lit after this one, but I realized I didn’t have any.


  2. wow! this sounds like an amazing read! i have never heard of this book before.. thanks for the wonderful review. I read “Blood of Flowers” recently.. which is a fiction based in Iran..and loved that as well.. have you read that one??


  3. Ramya, yes, it’s a good read, almost like a thriller.

    No, I haven’t read Blood of Flowers. Thsi is the first time I have read about it. I love reading books from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
    I’ll certainly look this up.


  4. This does sound like a powerful book and one that belongs on my wish list. It is so sad that things like this go on in the world. It’s important to get the message out though, through books like this. Perhaps the more people are aware of it, the more something will be done to try and stop it.


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