Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"My Prison, My Home" by Haleh Esfandiari

Iran is a fascinating country with a rich history and culture dating back to Persian times. It was the center of literature and commerce for many centuries. Jews and Arabs lived side by side in relative peace. What happened?

In this book Ms. Esfandiari explores the cultural past and political turmoil that led to the Iranian Revolution in 1978 and to the rise of the Islamic state that Iran has become. Interwoven with this history is the authors own story of imprisonment at Evin Prison in Tehran for 4 months in 2007.

After visiting her 93 year old mother for the New Year, Ms. Esfandiari is headed back to the airport at dawn on December 31, 2006 for a flight home to Washington, D.C. when her taxi is pulled over by Iranian Police. They take her passports, identity cards and personal papers, leaving her shaken by the side of the road.

What ensues after is a labyrinth of lies and deception as she is first questioned and then detained at Evin for 4 months. The Iranian government has taken note of the fact that the author works at a Washington "think tank", the Woodrow Wilson Center. They are convinced that she is a main link in a plot to overthrow the Iranian government.

Being married to a Jewish man only complicates matters for her as she endures relentless questioning at the hands of skilled "interrogators" who will stop at nothing to extract a "confession" from her. The main problem is that she has nothing to confess.

The book is well written and quickly paced. The author alternates between historical background on the past and current regimes in Iran and her own personal story. As the founding Director of the Woodrow Wilson Centers Middle East Program she paints a clear and accurate picture of Iran today and how it came to be the way it is.

Drawing upon her wealth of knowledge she lays bare the mistakes made by both the hard line clerics inside Iran as well as the misconceptions of the United States in dealing with the current political turmoil that has beset Iran for over 35 years.

This is an engaging book that will inform the reader and make it easier to understand the issues that define Iran in the 21st Century.

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