Not Without My Daughter - Book Review
Every once in a while you come across a book that makes you think and pray to God for giving you a decent and comfortable life. This is one such book. The book is the true and harrowing story of an American woman who was married to an Iranian Doctor practicing in America. After the Shah left Iran following the revolution, this doctor husband, Moody, decides to return to his homeland, Iran.
Since his wife is not keen on living in Iran he swears on the Koran that he is only taking them on a two week vacation after which they will resume their lives in America. Once the two weeks are over, he reneges on the promise leaving his wife distraught. The trouble is his Visa has expired and since he is trapped in Iran he refuses to let his wife and daughter return to America without him.
Suspecting her every move, he turns into a madman who obsessively guards his wife and daughter. He uses physical violence and social isolation as tools to break her will. He refuses to allow her to return home to her father who is undergoing treatment for cancer. He uses members of his family to spy on all her activities. The sheer mental torture she goes through is depicted very well in the book.
Against all these odds, Betty, his American wife still manages to attain some degree of freedom in Iran. She pretends to comply with his wishes and makes him believe she is resigned to living in Iran. She makes friends who lead her to others who can help her. Eventually she does make it out of Iran back to America to be able to tell her tale via this book. She spent almost two years against her will in Iran returning on 7 February 1986 to America.
The whole story is illuminating for those looking for an insight into the condition of women in Islamic countries. The absolute obedience and strict dress code that they must follow. The demands made on them and extracted as a right by males of the family are frightening. What is even more scary is that it is happening not in some distant long ago time, but now in the present that we live in.
The cultural differences become stark as we review these living conditions in comparison to the Christian or even Hindu way of life. The general bonding of women also comes to the front from various experiences that she has. After all if men are that overbearing and powerful it is up to the women to comfort each other and make life a bit more bearable.
For me the story held special significance due to its time frame. My father was part of the United Nations Military Observer Group for Iraq and Iran. While it was not a posting on which he could have his family with him, we did visit him for a week in 1989. This means I visited Iran precisely three years after Betty had left it.
The war described so vividly in the narrative had come to an end, but the signs of destruction were everywhere. When you walked down the avenue to “India House” you could see chador clad women scuttling about like frightened mice. The Pasdar were still a major threat to them, but more and more educated people from the Shah’s regime who had gone into hiding were making a come back.
I remember one Taxi driver who drove us to the market actually was a helicopter pilot in the Shah’s reign and he loved Hindi film songs. I remember that “India House” was rented out by an ex Ambassador who was now retired and even when his wife knew it was me at the door, she would not open her door across the landing to me till she was properly covered in her black chador.
I remember going to an amusement park and not being allowed to share the same roller coaster car with my dad as men and women had to be seated in separate cars. I remember seeing the giant posters of Allutolah Khomeini all over the place like some ominous reminder to watch your behavior.
And most of all I remember running onto the Air India Flight back home and stripping off the scarf and black gown that had been made for me in lieu of a burkha. The sheer joy of getting away was unmistakable. I still feel bad for any woman who has to live under these oppressive conditions and am glad that I was born in a country as liberal as India.
Humanity comprises of all kinds of people and depending on if they can help or hinder your cause you will classify them as good or bad. This was an interesting read that really made me think. Highly recommended.