Click here to read reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott's take on My Life as a Traitor.
Zarah Ghahramani’s autobiography tells the story of her time in prison in Iran for her crimes against the state. Ghahramani was born in 1981, two years after the Shah was deposed and the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, turning Iran into an Islamic Republic. She was also the daughter of an Iranian Army officer who served under the Shah. When the Shah fell and escaped into exile, Ghahramani’s father and family could have done the same, but her father decided not to leave their home. Luckily for him and his family, he was not a high-ranking general or too well-connected to the Shah’s government and was able to continue to live in Iran without being imprisoned or persecuted. Ghahramani’s parents were well-educated, cultured people who passed their pride of being Iranian on to their children.
In the Ghahramani family home, their opposition to the Islamic Republic was kept a quiet secret. The children grew up hearing that Iran had a glorious history and culture before the mullahs took over. Ghahramani’s mother was not only Iranian; she was of the Zoroastrian religion which was a religion of Persia, the previous name for Iran. Her mother taught Zarah and her siblings about this religion, and her father taught them about and practiced Islam. The Ghahramani family could be considered an enlightened family since they were tolerant of other religions and cultures, but this enlightenment eventually got Zarah into trouble with the government.
Ghahramani attended Tehran University where she studied literature and joined a group of professors and students who got together to talk about politics and cultural issues. Eventually this group started leading protests against the government, and Zarah became an admirer and friend of the professor/leader of the group. The group members probably knew that they were being observed by the police but seemed to have let caution fly off in the wind. Ultimately Zarah was picked up off of the streets and taken to the notorious Evin Prison to be interrogated.
The interrogators and guards did not treat her - or anyone incarcerated there - with respect, shaming the Islamic Republic by their actions and hypocrisy. Zarah was kept in a small prison cell and treated her like an animal. Of course, her keepers considered her and the other prisoners to be criminals and would probably have treated animals better than they did the prisoners. Whenever she was taken anywhere outside of her cell, she had to wear a blindfold and a headscarf. Sometimes when she was interrogated the blindfold would be removed; other times it was left on to harass her. Sometimes she was beaten, and other times she was left alone for a extended periods to rattle her. She was asked many questions but often did not have an answer to give her interrogators. Many times she was called a bitch, a spy, a traitor.
Ghahramani relives her time as a political prisoner for the reader, when she was almost driven to insanity because she did not know what day or time it was. Nor did she know know exactly what the interrogators wanted, and they would not tell her exactly why she was there. The reader gets the impression that she felt betrayed by the guards and interrogators because she was not being treated properly as a Muslim woman. Her rights as a Muslim woman were taken away from her, and she was being treated as a dog or, worse, as a whore. Her interrogators and captors most likely would not treat other Muslim women with respect, either. The horror of her story is at being at the mercy of others who did not care if she lived or died.
The reader is kept mystified throughout as to what will eventually happen to Zarah, if she will get out of prison and regain her freedom
(although it should be obvious that she did get out, since she is telling this story and this is a nonfiction book). She does not, though, tell the whole story of how she was able to get away from the prison and then out of Iran (she now lives in Australia). Nor does she tell what has happened to her family or their whereabouts either - they would be in danger now since she has revealed their secrets.
Ghahramani also tells of life in Iran before she was picked up. She tells about the horrible war with Iraq, where many young men died as sacrificial lambs, about the horrible bombings of Tehran and other places in Iran by Iraq. She discusses how Iran was a great nation and a great culture. Iran, once known as Persia, had a great history - it was an ancient empire with an astounding culture. The once-great nation of Iran today is being wasted by the mullahs and their supporters, but Ghahramani believes that Iran could again be a great nation.
This is Ghahramani’s first book, and it is very good. Informative about life in Iran, especially for those who oppose the Islamic Revolution and the mullahs, this book is highly recommended to those interested in Iran, prisons, torture, interrogations, and the like.