Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari


Haleh was born in Iran to an Austrian mother. She moved to the USA to teach with her husband and got American citizenship, but returns to Iran frequently to take care of her elderly mom. At the end of her most recent visit, she says good bye to her mom and heads off to the airport when her taxi is run off the road and she is robbed. The robbers take both Haleh's Iranian and American passport plus all of her belongings but don't touch anything of the taxi driver's. As Haleh determines what is required to get new passports re-printed, she soon learns that's the least of her worries. The Intelligence Ministry has decided that Heleh is trying to organize a revolution in Iran and interrogate her. Nothing she says can deter them from these thoughts.

Weeks turn in to months as Heleh answers these questions. The academic work she has done in the USA is very suspicious to the Ministry. They keep asking her the same questions over and over. Heleh has a few contacts that try to help her and she finds out that two factions within the government are in disagreement about her. One wants to let her go, one thinks she's hiding information. The latter wins and Heleh is put in solitary confinement in jail. Her husband, back in the USA, launches a full-fledged media offensive. If the information Heleh is providing isn't enough to get her released, the perhaps pressure from other influential people will.

As Heleh explains what happens to her, some background on Iran's history also needs to be provided to explain how the country got to the point where it's accusing dual citizens of revolution. While this information is helpful and necessary to paint the picture, Heleh provided way too much of it. There was about 35 pages at the beginning of the book describing Heleh's past and Iran's past. It was pretty dry and I found myself skimming.

What happened to Heleh, how she overcame it, and the impact to her family is the meat of this story. It's a shocking story about how an innocent grandmother can be treated.

First Line: "The early hours of December 30, 2006, began for me like any day when I would depart Tehran for the United States."


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