Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat

  Marina Nemat was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up enjoying school, friends and summers at her family’s cottage on the Caspian Sea.  That all changed in 1979 when the Shah of Iran was exiled and the Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of Iran.   At the age of 16, fed up with an endless barrage of political propaganda, she leads her classmates in a strike to get her calculus teacher to actually teach calculus.  She soon finds herself imprisoned in Evin prison along with hundreds of other young girls, a political prisoner, tortured and sentenced to death.  Ali, one of the interrogators, sees something special in Marina and intervenes in her death sentence.  The catch?  She must convert to Islam (she’s Christian) and marry him or he will have her family and boyfriend tortured and possibly killed. 

The book reads like a novel, but in fact it is all true.  Marina eventually escapes Iran (and Ali) and emigrates to Canada where for years she suppresses her memories of Evin and the many friends she saw tortured and murdered there.  A news story in 2003 about the torture, rape and murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi  inside the walls of Evin prison helps Marina find the courage to write her story. 

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12 thoughts on “Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat

  1. Thank you Leana for showing me another side of the issue. I admit that I did wonder about some of the interactions between Marina and the interrogators and her ability to leave the prison and return with him, but I thought that he must have been in such a position of authority that he could do things that others would not be allowed to do. I suppose only Marina knows the full truth of what happened to her and what she saw, but yours is a reminder that there is always more than one side to an issue. Thanks again.

  2. After accessing the link you provided, Leana, I read the letter protesting the facts of Nemat’s memoir. Can you give me some titles of books that have been translated from Farsi into English that would more accurately reflect the true experience of a survivor of Evin?

    I had originally found Nemat’s memoir interesting, but after reading your post, I would really like to read more on the subject. Thanks.

  3. Glad that you are interested in the truth.

    This is a resource for real documents about the Evin prison:

    http://www.abfiran.org/english/library-120.php

    From Scream to Scream is a documentary about the Evin prison.

    While not exactly about experience in prison, the film Persepolis is great, I hope you’ll have an occasion to watch it. I have heard the memoir by the same name is excellent.

  4. I read the excerpt by Parvaneh Alizadeh (Look, It’s Real). I wish the whole thing was available on the website. I think I will try to locate From Scream to Scream and Persepolis and watch them. Thank you Leana. 🙂

  5. I have just read the book “prisoner of Tehran”, although when you think about it some of the situations like being driven away from her execution, could be far fetched but I think she must have gone through some sort of experience in Evin to write this book!!
    Something I didn’t get was that she said that her husband’s parents were both from Hungray so why her surname is Nemat, an Iranian surname and is also nother maiden name!?
    Hopefuly there is an explanation!

  6. After re-reading a few sections of the book, I can only offer a couple of hypotheses to answer your question, Nica. One is simply expressed by Nemat in the introduction, that to protect people, Nemat changed their names, and it’s entirely possible that she and her family changed their names upon arrival in Canada. There is no indication that either her family or Andre’s family have left Iran, so to protect them, “Nemat” may be an assumed name.

    Another reason could simply be that even though Andre’s parents were Hungarian, they could have had a Middle Eastern surname. Hungary has a rich history of being on the borderland between the Germanic and Turkish empires and the surnames of their populace could reflect both the eastern and western cultures much as American surnames reflect our individual heritages. After the war, Andre’s father returned from India not to go to another non-communist European country, but to stay in Iran. This tells me that he must have felt very comfortable with the culture in Iran, and it’s possible that this was because of an ethnic heritage. It could have also been something so mundane as that was the only country in which he could obtain citizenship after the war.

    I will say you are a sharp reader, because even on my second (rather brief) re-read, I was unable to find Andre’s surname mentioned anywhere. What a great question!

  7. A friend of mine told me about the discussion going on here and I decided to say something to make a few things clear. This letter that is mentioned and is written by a group of 25 ex-political prisoners is purely political propaganda. You shouldn’t believe everything that is just posted on the web. Do you know these people? How do you know they do not have an agenda and that they are telling the truth? There were thousands of political prisoners in Evin. Why have only 25 signed this letter? All these people have very close connections to far-left and far-right political groups and have something to prove. If you check Persian blogs, you will see that they see themselves as heroes and call me a traitor for marrying my interrogator at the age of 17. Who did I betray? Only one of the people who has signed this letter, Soudabeh Ardavan, claims that she new me in the prison; that she was very briefly with me in 246. And she says that I had married my interrogator and that she sees me as a traitor, that she hates me. She never says I hurt anyone or did anything wrong. these people have protested the publication of my book, as they say themselves in the letter, because it is different from their experience. Doesn’t this qualify as intolerance? I encourage everyone who has been in Evin to write their memoirs. Evin was a horrific place and no one can say they know everything about it. And let me also mention that name calling is not a productive thing to do. Do these people have any proof that I have lied? They don’t or they would have put it forward.

    In regard to my last name: it is not Persian. There is a Persian word that sounds very similar to it, but they are entirely different. Nemat was lost in translation. It is really Nemeth, which is Hungarian and is my husband’s last name and means “German” in Hungarian, This is another example of why it is dangerous to draw conclusions if we don’t have enough information.

    All the best to all and thank you for reading my book,

    Marina Nemat

  8. Marina thank you for taking the time to respond. As I stated before, there is always more than one side to an issue. I’m sure every person who experienced the horrors of Evin has a different story to tell. I respect your courage in telling yours. Thanks again and best wishes.

  9. Marina,

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much your book has changed my life! I am so grateful for what I have and since I have read your book, I have been constantly thinking of ways I can help others in my life, and I think of you and everyone else there no matter what I do now! Thankyou so much Marina, your book has taught me so much and I am so glad that you are safe and finally have the life you always dreamed of. Your courage and determination amazes me and I only wish I could be like you. You are my idol Marina, and I will never forget you. God bless you and your family and God Bless all those innocent souls who have died, may they rest in peace.

  10. hi the last time that u wrote on this site was a few months ago now marina. i have just read ur book only took me a day and i still cant stop crying it was heartbreaking really was i keep huggin my children and my husband i was fine up to the part were ali died and u lost ur baby im married to an arab and have also lost children i can feel ur pain on the children part of course i have no idea of ur life and how u lived it i only know that what i have read… can i just say and please dont take it the wrong way but seriously when i read that ali died it broke my heart it really did i was crying soo much sounds crazy dont it just from a book … but i could just feel is pain and his love for u however he went about getting u he did it and im sure he did it to protect u and because he did that twice for u ur the person that u r today his family treated u amazingly and im sure hes happy now that ur happy at last … just remember to thank god for ali because im sure inside he was ur angel he protected u from dieing he put u first … sorry just my opoion but i feel really emotional i wish i could go and put flowers on his grave ill pray for his soul .. thanks for reading and good luck with everything marina god bless u sweetie and ur family xx

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