Last month, the UBC picked Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat, and I (along with many of the girls) was excited to sink my teeth into it. This memoir tells the story of Marina Nemat, a young, Christian girl, living through the Iranian Revolution as a political prisoner in Iran’s most notorious prison.
During the rise of a revolution against the Shah’s regime, Marina found herself an outsider in her community which was quickly segregating into different groups, motivated by various political ideals. Once the Shah’s regime was exiled, Iran became an Islamic Republic and life changed quickly and drastically for the people of Iran. Marina, a critical thinker and a lover of the (Western) arts found herself at odds with the newly imposed rules and regulations.
When Marina accidentally organizes a strike against her calculus teacher that is supported by her entire class, her name ends up on a list of government enemies and she, like many of her friends, is arrested and taken as a political prisoner to Evin.
When one prison guard becomes enamoured with her, Marina’s life is spared, despite the death sentence that she has been handed. From here, her relationship with this guard, Ali, changes the course of her life in prison.
Unlike the back cover of the book, which gives away the entire story, I won’t continue to focus on the plot of the novel. The premise was enough to pique my curiosity, but the story ultimately kept me gripped until the last page. Nemat’s story is heartbreaking in many ways, but her courage and unfaltering faith were inspiring.
This memoir generated a very positive review amongst the UBC, averaging a 4.25/4.5 rating. Most of the club really enjoyed the book, with only one member rating it lower than a 4. We felt that Nemat did a wonderful job of telling her story in a way that had us invested in her outcome, but some members weren’t thrilled by the end of the novel because they felt that it left too many loose ends. Julia did inform us that Nemat’s second book, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, does speak more to her later life and ties up some of the questions that we still had.
Aside from that small critique, I think that overall, this novel was so widely received because it transported us to a place where life is so drastically different from our own. For many of us, this memoir was our first foray into life (especially, for a woman) in the Middle East and it painted such an extraordinary picture of this society and culture. While I was aware of some of the difficulties that are associated to living under an Islamic regime, hearing Nemat describe the drastic change between her life under the Shah compared to her life under Islam was eye-opening. Reading this memoir made us reflect on how lucky we are, as Canadians, to live freely, without fear of persecution.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
- Did you find Marina’s “character” relateable? Did you feel connected to her journey?
- How would you feel if your way of life changed overnight? Would you protest against the changes, like Marina did?
- How did you feel about Ali? Were you able to like him or did you see him as a monster?
- Why do you think that Marina’s family and friends never asked her about her experience in Evin?
- How did you feel about Marina choosing to marry Andre, despite the high risk of being returned to Evin?