Frustrated your state-appointed math teacher refuses to teach math and instead spends the entire time dispensing propaganda you walk out of class. Afterwards security forces, fearing your’re a dangerous student radical throw you in prison and the guards beat you to a pulp. Before you know it a kangaroo court convicts you of treason and sentences you to death. Minutes before you’re about to be shot by a firing squad one of the prison guards rushes over with news your sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. Relieved you won’t be shot, nevertheless you’re still facing a lifetime behind bars. Later you learn your life was spared because the guard has fallen in love with you and used his political connections to call off your execution. He also wants you to marry him, and if you don’t he’ll harm your family.
By the way, you’re only 16 years old.
Marina Nemat’s 2007 memoir Prisoner of Tehran is one of those books I’ve known about for a decade but never got around to reading. Despite my longtime fascination with Iran I could never bring myself to read Prisoner of Tehran, preferring to walk right by it whenever I spotted a copy on the shelf at the public library. Then during one of my weekend library visits I finally grabbed it. Prisoner of Tehran isn’t a bad book, but a sad one because nobody, least of all a 16 year old should ever go through what the author did.
In 1982 when Nemat was imprisoned Iran’s theocratic regime ruled the country with an iron hand by stifling dissent, jailing enemies of the state – perceived or otherwise – and executing thousands regardless of age or gender. In most civilized countries Nemat’s walkout would earned her a trip to the principal’s office. In Iran under the Ayatollah such treasonous acts were punishable by death. Saved from the firing squad but still a prisoner and left with little choice but to marry the guard who rescued her, the 16 year old’s future looked grim.
Like I said, Prisoner of Tehran isn’t a bad book, just a sad one. And like many sad books at times it’s not easy to read. But it’s a well-written account of a story that needs to be told. So don’t be afraid to read it.