My Prison, My Home
One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran
By Haleh Esfandiari
(Ecco, Hardcover, 9780061583278, 240pp.)
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
List Price: $25.99*
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At the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran, a man in a checkered shirt sits down in an easy chair. He removes several documents from his pocket and hands one to Haleh Esfandiari, a sixty-seven-year-old Iranian American grandmother he has interrogated and detained for what seems to be an endless number of weeks. This is your arrest warrant and we are taking you to Evin Prison," he says.
This stunning arrest was the culmination of a chain of events set into motion in the early-morning hours of December 31, 2006—a day that began like any other but presaged the end of Esfandiari's regular visits to her elderly mother in Iran, and her return to the United States. That morning, the driver arrived on time. Her mother held the Quran over her head for blessing and luck. From the car, Haleh waved good-bye. She checked for her passport and plane ticket. But as the taxi neared the airport, a sedan forced them to pull over. Three men, armed with knives, threatened her and her driver while going through her pockets and stealing her belongings—including her travel documents. She was left unharmed but would not fly home to the States that day. An ordinary robbery," Esfandiari insisted to friends and family. She took steps to secure a new passport and book a new flight. But it would not be until eight months later that she would leave Iran.
Esfandiari became the victim of the far-fetched belief on the part of Iran's Intelligence Ministry that she, a scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., was part of an American conspiracy for regime change" in Iran. In haunting prose and vivid detail, Esfandiari recounts how the Intelligence Ministry subsequently ordered a search of her mother's apartment; put her through hours, then weeks, of interrogation; tapped her phone calls, forcing her to speak in code to her husband and mother; and finally detained her at the notorious Evin Prison, where she would spend 105 days in solitary confinement.
Through her ordeal, Esfandiari came face-to-face with the state of affairs between Iran and the United States—and witnessed firsthand how fear and paranoia could create a government that would take her captive. Weaving her personal story of capture and release with her extensive knowledge of Iran, My Prison, My Home is at once a mesmerizing story of survival and a clear-eyed portrait of Iran today and how it came to be.
Haleh Esfandiari is a distinguished Iranian American public intellectual. The founding director of the Woodrow Wilson Centers Middle East Program, she is the former deputy secretary general of the Womens Organization of Iran and has taught at Princeton University. She has worked in Iran as a journalist and is the author of Reconstructed Lives: Women and Irans Islamic Revolution. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Shaul Bakhash, a professor at George Mason University.
“[A] profoundly moving memoir . . . this is above all, a story of faith—in the human capacity to withstand mistreatment and in what people working together against tyranny can accomplish.”
“Compelling....’My Prison, My Home’ goes well beyond the headlines by deftly weaving personal narrative with a political history of modern Iran.”
“A chilling rendition of the deep enmeshment of the personal and the political... how interlocked we all are in this world.... [A] finely wrought . . . a window on a terrible and terrifying world and the trial by fire that some... are forced to endure.”
“Esfandiari recounts in measured, at times chilling, detail her journey into the bowels of the Iranian intelligence apparatus. Neither the fear nor the fury that she undoubtedly felt compromise the clarity of her observations . . . there is an unmistakable and persistent dignity.”
-New York Times Book Review
“This is an engaging book that will inform the reader and make it easier to understand the issues that define Iran in the 21st Century. ”
“[Esfandiari] goes well beyond the headlines by deftly weaving personal narrative with a political history of modern Iran...”
“Esfandiari’s Kafkaesque tale of entrapment and imprisonment gives readers a shocking lesson in the horrors of Iran’s government. And her refusal to break under strict confinement and false charges . . . is inspiring and powerful.”
-New York Post
“A masterful memoir...an intimate tale of bravery in the face of ignorance set against the larger tragedy of U.S.-Iran relations. Esfandiari’s story—timely, suspenseful and artfully told—will fascinate experts and general readers alike.”
-Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997–2001
“Gripping...[Esfandiari’s] book lays bare the paranoid mind-set of a regime convinced that any internal protest is part of a Western plot to organize a so-called “velvet revolution” like the mass revolts that brought down leaders of some former communist countries.”
“Esfandiari weaves together strands of her family and professional life, the problematic and complex history of American-Iranian relations, along with a reasoned eyewitness account of being held as a political prisoner.”
“Episodes from Esfandiari’s harrowing experience are woven together with insights about the conspiracy-minded Iranian leaders and their difficult relationship with the United States.... Esfandiari’s book will help you understand both why Iranians are so hungry for change, and why its rulers are so afraid of Twitter. ”
“[Obama’s] bedside reading should be Haleh Esfandiari’s brilliant, shattering book ‘My Prison, My Home,’ in which the Wilson Center scholar recounts her own 2007 Evin nightmare.”
-Roger Cohen, New York Times
“Esfandiari’s account of her incarceration in Tehran, her perseverance and finally freedom has wider universal implications.... We need to return time and again to the question she so poignantly poses at the end of her account.: “I owe my freedom to those who took up my cause. What of others?’”
-Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“[Esfandiari] weaves her personal experience with the political and historical background of Iran.... Best are the more personal descriptions: the white rose from a guard... the strength of her mother...how Esfandiari...attempt[s] to maintain some sense of dignity.”
“A memoir of considerable delicacy and sophistication . . . a lucid, concise history of Iran through the twentieth century and into the first years of the twenty-first, and with it an outline of her own remarkable life.... [F]illed with vivid details and facts...powerful.”
-Claire Messud, New York Review of Books
“A powerful addition to the prisoner-as-pawn literature.... Framing this prison story is a well-wrought and poignant memoir: Esfandiari tells of her parents, the Iran of her youth, and her journalistic and scholarly career. Also included are perceptive pages on U.S.-Iranian relations.”
“[A] gripping memoir. . . . Esfandiari writes with an elegant dryness that serves the book well, since she hardly needs to sensationalize her story.”