My Life as a Traitor

An Iranian Memoir

By Zarah Ghahramani; Robert Hillman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374217303, 256pp.)

Publication Date: December 26, 2007

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description

At the age of twenty, an Iranian student named Zarah Ghahramani was swept off the streets of Tehran and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side in conditions of legendary brutality. Her crime, she asserts, was in wanting to slide back her headscarf to feel the sun on a few inches of her hair. That modest desire led her to a political activism fueled by the fearless idealism of the young. Her parents begged her to be prudent, but even they could not have imagined the horrors she faced in prison. She underwent psychological and physical torture, hanging on to sanity by scratching messages to fellow prisoners on the latrine door. She fought despair by recalling her idyllic childhood in a sprawling and affectionate family that prized tolerance and freedom of thought. After a show trial, Ghahramani was driven deep into the desert outside Tehran, uncertain if she was to be executed or freed. There she was abandoned to begin the long walk back to reclaim herself. In prose of astonishing dignity and force, Ghahramani recounts the ways in which power seduces and deforms. A richly textured memoir that celebrates a triumph of the individual over the state, My Life as a Traitor is an affecting addition to the literature of struggle and dissent. Zarah Ghahramani was born in Tehran in 1981. After her release from prison, she moved to Australia. My Life as a Traitor is her first book. 

Robert Hillman is a journalist and novelist who has traveled widely in the Middle East. A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
At the age of twenty, an Iranian student named Zarah Ghahramani was taken from the streets of Tehran to the notoriously brutal Evin Prison, where criminals and political dissidents were held side by side. A desire for freedom as modest as sliding back her headscarf to feel the sun on her hair had compelled her to join a group of university students covertly organizing peaceful campus protests. Ghahramani was fueled by youthful idealism, and though her parents encouraged her to be prudent, she underestimated the severity of the penalties imposed by the fundamentalist regime running her country.

She underwent psychological and physical torture, hanging on to sanity by scratching messages to fellow prisoners on the latrine door. She fought despair by recalling her idyllic childhood in a sprawling and affectionate family that prized tolerance and freedom of thought. After a show trial, Ghahramani was driven deep into the desert outside Tehran, uncertain if she was to be executed or freed. There she was abandoned to begin the long walk back to rebuild herself in a world in which she had no trust in her country's goverment and where she would continue to challenge fundamentalist injustice as she sought to reclaim her own liberty. "A testimony of surviving senseless persecution, imprisonment, torture, and the loss of years of one’s youth with one’s spirits intact. With deep insights into the meaning of suffering and the futility of hate and thoughts of revenge, the young author, just out of her teens, withstands all psychological and physical abuse and comes out, despite the loss of her faith in authority figures and her country, wise and mature. Her defiance served her well. Read with this in mind, the book is truly an inspiration."—Erika Loeffler Friedl, author of Women of Deh Koh: Lives in an Iranian Village

"A celebration of human courage under duress and a savage indictment of the oppressive regime of Iran. It shocks, angers, saddens, and inspires."—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

"My Life as a Traitor is an important and revealing book about a culture and a country that figures hugely in modern geopolitics. It is the inner journey of one young woman, of her fear, pride, courage, and ultimate survival in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison. But it is also a coming-of-age story that haunts and provokes; beautifully written and disturbingly unforgettable. It will stand beside Solzhenitysn and Primo Levi as a book that shows exactly how human beings survive in the face of true evil."—Janine di Giovanni, author of Madness Visible: A Memoir of War

"A must read for anyone interested in understanding the complex nation that is Iran."—Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

"My Life as a Traitor is both shocking and inspiring: a graphic portrayal of the horrors that are unleashed when the idealism of youth challenges the dogmatism of zealots. Zarah Ghahramani has written a very human story of bravery and fear in the face of violence; her story is one of longing for beauty and freedom. Zarah's memoir of her time in Iran's infamous Evin prison is unforgettable in its portrayal of brutality, but it sings with a young woman's love of life and liberty."—Louise Brown, author of The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan’s Ancient Pleasure District
"The second-year Iranian college student in 2001 knew that making that speech meant trouble, but she had no real expectation of being kidnapped in the heart of Tehran and hustled off to the notorious Evin Prison. Eventually, the 20-year-old Ghahramani is sentenced to 30 days and a few days—and several beatings—later is dumped in a vacant countryside to make her way home. Scenes from a happy family life (crippled by the Iran-Iraq war) and a spirited adolescence (cut short by a repressive regime) alternate with the prison experiences in this multilayered account. Ghahramani, daughter of a Muslim father and Zoroastrian mother, both Kurdish, dips with brevity and grace into personal family history and public political history. Graphic and powerful as her treatment of torturous imprisonment is, Ghahramani retains an irrepressible lightness, perhaps born of knowing that [a] sense of justice can always benefit from a complementary sense of the ridiculous. Her painfully acquired knowledge of how easy it is to reduce a human being to the level of animal does not keep her from wondering if I'll ever be pretty again. Nothing, however, dilutes the bare bones prison experience. Her straightforward style, elegant in its simplicity, has resonance and appeal beyond a mere record."—Publishers Weekly




About the Author

Zarah Ghahramani was born in Tehran in 1981. After her release from prison, she moved to Australia. My Life as a Traitor is her first book. Robert Hillman is a journalist and novelist who has traveled widely in the Middle East.




Praise For My Life as a Traitor

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2008

My Life as a Traitor is a riveting story. It is a celebration of human courage under duress and a savage indictment of the oppressive regime of Iran. It shocks, angers, saddens, and inspires.’ – Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

"...a testimony of surviving senseless persecution, imprisonment, torture, and the loss of years of one’s youth with one’s spirits intact. With deep insights into the meaning of suffering and the futility of hate and thoughts of revenge, the young author, just out of her teens, withstands all psychological and physical abuse and comes out, despite the loss of her faith in authority figures and her country, wise and mature. Her defiance served her well. Read with this in mind, the book is truly an inspiration."    —Erika Loeffler Friedl, author of Women of Deh Koh:  Lives in an Iranian Village

My Life as a Traitor is an important and revealing book about a culture and a country that figures hugely in modern geopolitics. It is the inner journey of one young woman, of her fear, pride, courage, and ultimate survival in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison. But it is also a coming-of-age story that haunts and provokes; beautifully written and disturbingly unforgettable. It will stand beside Solzhenitysn and Primo Levi as a book that shows exactly how human beings survive in the face of true evil.”  —Janine di Giovanni, author of Madness Visible: A Memoir of War

"A compelling story...a must read for anyone interested in understanding the complex nation that is Iran."--Firoozeh Dumas, author  of Funny in Farsi:A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

My Life as a Traitor is both shocking and inspiring: a graphic portrayal of the horrors that are unleashed when the idealism of youth challenges the dogmatism of zealots. Zarah Ghahramani has written a very human story of bravery and fear in the face of violence; her story is one of longing for beauty and freedom. Zarah's memoir of her time in Iran's infamous Evin prison is unforgettable in its portrayal of brutality, but it sings with a young woman's love of life and liberty.”   --Louise Brown, author of The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan’s Ancient Pleasure District

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