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Amazon :An incisive, unforgettable book


5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Prisons of Iran, A Great Read, July 16, 2010

By  Susan C. Bentler “Madam Book Nerd” (Alexandrai , VA) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Letters to My Torturer: Love, Revolution, and Imprisonment in Iran (Hardcover)

I must stop immediately and praise this book as highly as I possibly can. Journalist Houshang Asadi has a pedigree of experience that came of age alongside the Iranian revolution of 1979. As a man who fairly represents the archtypal experience of 20th century Iran, he has written an incisive, unforgettable book that panders to none and fastens to the truth more definitively than any restraining device ever will.

As a member of the Baha’i Faith, I’ve heard some chilling tales of abuse and persecution from survivors of Iranian prisons. Having read both historical account and contemporary report, I’ve often wondered why the phenomenon of torture in Iranian culture has not been scrutinized by some of the great Iranian scholars currently writing. Mr. Asadi has begun a much needed conversation from a high vantage point and has set the bar for future discussion of this topic.

Torture was consistently, heinously, almost inexorably applied by Iran’s imperial governments of the past and is now used by the IRI system to intimidate and coerce its citizenry. Houshang Asadi is to be praised for allowing his readers to see into the squalid humanity and the more humorous nature of his interrogator’s personality, the so-called “Brother Hamid.” According to the book, “Brother Hamid” is later spotted as an overweight Iranian ambassador to a certain Central Asian nation.

A deep love of country underlies “Letters to My Torturer” as Asadi notes the suffering of those alongside him. The author lets us see the immediate and long term devastation of this post-revolutionary experience without edging into self-pity or vengeance. Mr. Asadi was incarcerated (which sadly in Iran, infers torture) under the Shah and the IRI. While imprisoned as editor and political leftist by SAVAK, the feared intelligence service of the Shah, he shared a cell with a 37-year-old cleric named Khamenei, now the infamous “Supreme Leader” of Iran. One can’t help but be fascinated as the then unknown cleric is described cheekily satirizing his prison guards or weeping unabashedly when Asadi is transferred from the cell. The relationship between the two men continued after prison until the IRI decided to virtually eliminate all other forms of perceived opposition.

At one point in the book, Asadi explains how, unbeknownst to his wife and friends, he joined SAVAK unoffically as a Tudeh party operative, working as a double agent to gain intellience on the Shah’s pervasive service. After the revolution, in order to diffuse suspicions, his newspaper ran a public notice explaining Asadi’s relationship to SAVAK in hopes of stemming the ire of the IRI who were actively consolidating their power. Needless to say, the attempt failed and the author began a terrifying sojourn through the IRI’s prison system.

In one reminiscence, Asadi describes coming across a damning poem posted at a university campus about this SAVAK involvement and encounters a young Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, not realizing that he is facing the man the poem satirizes, claims to the author, to have been tortured by the author! Amazing!

Asadi’s narrative moves easily back and forth from the past (not all of it grim, either) to the terrible moments of torture. Apparently, Mr. Asadi expected to be released quickly. Iranian leftists in the early eighties thought themselves to be acknowledged allies of Khomenei’s regime. That illusion ended abruptly as political arrests escalated through the eighties and executions abounded.

While the subject matter of torture itself is disturbing, anyone holding their breath for democracy in Iran should read this account for its inspired, hard-wrung humanity. Mr. Asadi makes clear that the wounds of his experience linger painfully as he lives in exile, an exile shared by many of the brightest Iranians who seek to escape a similar threat of incarceration and its torture.

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