Prisoner of Tehran (Review)

Book cover for "Prisoner of Tehran" by Marina Nemat.Title: Prisoner of Tehran

Author: Marina Nemat

Publication Year: 2007

Pages: 336

Genre: Memoir

Source: CBC podcast Between the Covers

This is the second audiobook that I’ve listened to in the past couple weeks, but I’m not quite as impressed as I was with the last one.

Prisoner of Tehran is the memoir of a woman now living in Canada, but who was a prisoner in the notorious Evin prison in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Marina starts narrating her story by explaining that no one, not even her husband or family, know about her story from in prison, and that she wants to write it down. In terms of style, the overall arc of the story is chronological, told primarily in anecdotes, but there are also frequent times where she “remembers” (flashes back to) times from her childhood or earlier on in her life. She never comes back to the present once the frame of the story has been introduced right at the beginning.

For the most part, I enjoyed the way that Nemat told her story, especially how she details the way she felt at different points in her life and this experience, and how things changed for her over time. Many of the hardships that she endured were re-told in such a way that you almost felt like you were there with her, inside her skin, experiencing the Islamic Revolution for yourself. You could feel the fear and uncertainty.

At other times, though, the narrative was confusing and convoluted. It wasn’t always clear right away when Nemat went back or forward in time, making it somewhat difficult to figure out the exact chronology of events. That usually wasn’t too hard, though. What was more jolting was the language in many places – it was almost as if the author was trying too hard to make this into a literary memoir. The way that images, relationships or events/experiences were described was sometimes way over the top. An example of this is when Nemat is describing the first time she saw Andre, the organist at her church: she says that he looked familiar, playing up front, and then she says “I realized – I was looking at the clothed version of Michelangelo’s David”.

Really? Is that seriously the first thing that comes to mind when you see a beautiful man?

There are other instances like this, where things are described in ways that are just … off. It would throw me off of the flow of the story, because I would find myself trying to figure out why it was written that way, what the relevance was besides trying to draw attention to something by making it even more pronounced.

Other than this, though, I really enjoyed this book. I would have loved more detail about certain experiences, where they were glossed over in a sort of time lapse, but it was good how it was. I would definitely recommend this book to pretty much every woman I know, especially ones who are interested in Iran or the Middle East. I also loved the connection to Canada, given that Nemat was living in Aurora (north of Toronto) when she wrote this book, and this is where she immigrated to from Iran in the early 1990s. Not much about her life in Canada, but interesting to learn about the lives (and hardships) of people who we cross paths with every day of our lives without even thinking about it.


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