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Robbed in Iran and imprisoned for over 100 days for suspected espionage, this is the true story of one woman's shocking ordeal in the country she called home.
The morning of 30 December 2006 began routinely for Haleh Esfandiari. The Iranian-American academic was due to return home to the United States after visiting her ailing mother in Tehran. She got into a taxi to the airport, and was driven by the driver who she always used when in Iran. Fifteen minutes later, Haleh was robbed at knife point by three men, who threatened to kill her. Her baggage, two passports and identification cards were all stolen.
Without her documentation, Haleh was unable to leave Iran. What appeared to be an ordinary theft was almost certainly a stage-managed robbery by agents of Iran's Intelligence Ministry, conducted to keep Haleh in the country. This was the beginning of her eight-month Iranian saga - starting with endless hours of interrogation, intimidation and threat, and ending with her release from prison after over 100 days in solitary confinement.
Revealing, gripping and, at times, alarming, Haleh Esfandiari's ordeal acts as a microcosm of Iran's difficulties in dealing with the outside world and the modernity that the country only half-embraces.
‘Haleh Esfandiari’s personal narrative begins with a horrific event, one that transformed her beloved country of birth into a prison, but it is also an account of that country’s rich and complex history and culture, revealing not just the repressive and inflexible nature of the Islamic regime, but its failure to subdue the Iranian people’s spirit of resistance, or their belief in their democratic aspirations.’ AZAR NAFISI
‘From the threads of history and personal experience, Haleh Esfandiari has woven 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 ALBRIGHT
‘I have long admired and respected Haleh Esfandiari, but never so much as after reading her memoir. The story of Iran’s complex relationship with the United States mirrors the extraordinary and compelling events of her own life. She has beautifully interwoven autobiography and history in a testament to her fortitude and spirit.’ LEE HAMILTON, President, Woodrow Wilson Center
‘History is full of unlikely heroes and heroines: ordinary people who show phenomenal courage when their lives take unexpected turns. Haleh Esfandiari is one of them. An Iranian-American scholar whose love for both her native and adopted countries led to her arrest and incarceration in Tehran’s dreaded Evin prison, Haleh writes movingly of her ordeal with a lack of bitterness that is astonishing. Caught, as she notes, in the crossfire of a decades-long undeclared war between Washington and Tehran, she faces her accusers with dignity and emerges as an even more eloquent advocate for mutual understanding.’ BARBARA SLAVIN
About the author
Haleh Esfandiari is an Iranian-American academic and Director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Iranian politics and democratic developments in the Middle East are amongst her areas of expertise and she frequently lectures on these topics.
December 30, 2006, was the night Esfandiari's nightmare began. Traveling by car to the Tehran airport, following a visit with her elderly mother, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., was robbed. The 67-year-old felt lucky, not to have been injured in what she initially thought was a simple snatching of her belongings, including her passport. A few friends warned of more dire consequences. Esfandiari (Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran's Islamic Revolution) did not realize that upon returning to her childhood home, she was entering a maelstrom, "fueled by the long-standing animosity between Tehran and Washington" which contributed to her eight-month interrogation, four of which were spent in Evin Prison in solitary confinement. Most disconcerting was the shattering of Esfandiari's feelings for her native land: "I felt the country I had cherished all my life was no longer mine. I had loved Iran with a passion.... Yet these horrible people had made me feel alien in my own homeland." In this engaging memoir, 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.