Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace Prize: One Woman's Struggle at the Crossroads of History by Shirin Ebadi

# Category:
Biography/Personal Memoirs/Current Affairs

# Format: Hardcover, 256 pages

# Publisher: Knopf Canada

# Pub Date: April 5, 2006

Iran to me is such a fascinating and complex country. Being the only Persians in the region, speaking Farsi and practising the Shiite form of Islam has meant that the Iranians don't identify with their neighbours very much which gives them a strong and complex self identity. So when Random House asked if I would like to read Shirin Ebadi's ( the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2003) memoir I jumped at the chance to learn more about the lady and her beloved Iran.

Shirin Ebadi was a young woman judge in Iran when the Islamic Revolution took place. Tired of the Shah and his western ways, she became a staunch supporter of the revolution but was bitterly disappointed when shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, he brought with him sweeping radical changes which eliminated the existing Iranian legal code and introduced sharia or Islamic law. As per the Shariah Law a woman was declared insubordinate to her husband. Around the same time the regime decided that women were unfit to serve as judges. Ebadi found herself as a clerk in the court over which she had once presided as a Judge.

In this powerful and gripping memoir Shirin Ebadi recounts the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolution and the descent of Iran into a madness no one anticipated. She also vividly describes the horrors of the long Iran-Iraq War where Iran lost some 500,000 Iranians, her description of Saddam's Hussain's cruelty against the people of Iran sent shivers up my spine. I found it interesting that she claims the war is one of the main reasons why Iranians are so distrustful of the Americans.

pic courtesy: Random House Canada

According to Ebedi, one of the biggest consequences of the revolution was the brain drain that Iran suffered. After Khomeini came to power millions of educated and wealthy Iranians left for foreign shores, splitting almost every family in half. Shirin, her husband and children decided not to leave Iran and she has found it difficult to forgive (my assumption) those that left. Her thoughts on emigration spoke volumes to me.

After the war, the regime allowed women to take up law again, but Shirin opted instead to become a champion for women's rights. The second half of the book takes us through that period of her life, including her imprisonment, the execution of her bro-in-law, the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize and the courageous way she exposed Iran's brutal regime by fighting for justice for Zahra Kazemi's family (Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian-Canadian photographer arrested in Tehran for taking pictures and who died in the custody of Iranian offcials - her death made big news in Canada) and many,many others.

If you like stories of strong and gutsy women who believe in exposing wrong even at the cost of their lives; if you're curious about Iran and life there before and during the revolution (especially where it concerns women) and if you want to be inspired by a courageous life, you might be interested in this book. Do let me know if you would like me to send you my copy.

And with that, ciao until the weekend folks!

A clarification: As I read, I got the impression that the author couldn't forgive the friends that left, (although that was certainly not the word she used). She felt like they had deserted her and abandoned Iran. She was both, angry and sad at losing her friends. In her words, "...when someone leaves Iran, it's as though that person has died to me."
And years later when her friends travelled back to Iran for short visits, this is what she had to say
"...we still spoke Farsi, the same blood still ran through our veins,but they were living on a different planet than I was. In reality, I had lost my friends."


karmic said...

As always I loved your review. You encapsulated the long career of Shirin Ebedi her life and her passion very well. I am familiar with her work and the work she did for Zahra Kazemi's family.

I do sort of take issue with her not being able to forgive those who left Iran. Not everyone can stay and fight as she did, but then again every one has a different perspective.

I would also like to mention and hope that the actions of people like Shirin against the clerics does not mean that they are necessarily pro American. They may just want the freedom to decide for themselves what lives they want to lead and not be dictate by clerics.(It is sort of tangential to your review..sorry)

I do love stories of strong and gutsy women ( I am surrounded by a few in real life too). I would love to read this book, would it be possible for you to lend me your copy? Thanks. I promise to finish reading it as soon as I can. :)

Are you gone till the weekend or just that your next post is on the weekend?

Laura said...

I read about this book somewhere and thought it sounded right up my alley. I could not remember the title and now here it is!!!! Adding it to my Amazon wishlist so I can remember it for my next shopping spree!!!! Your reviews are stupendous and this one was most excellent! Thank you!
p.s. I am trying to post a new entry on my blog tonight but am having trouble with blogger!

Laura said...

Oh, I just remembered something..in regards to the nonfiction books I HAVE to mention...

Two Lives by Vikram Seth!!!!!

Absolutely amazing!

Booklogged said...

What a great review, Lotus. This will be the first book on my list for the nonfiction challenge.

Sugarlips said...

I second Sanjay :) always love your
reviews :) I'm finishing up "Reading Lolita in Tehran" so will try to read this one after that sounds very interesting :)

We will miss u :(

Stay Beautiful..!!

Lotus Reads said...

hi Sanjay Thank you for your comment. You always contribute new and valuable insights. I'd love your perspective on the book, so if you send me your address, I'd be very happy to put it in the mail for you (and you don't need to return it - feel free to keep it or pass it on). Today, when I have time, I'll be looking for Shirin Ebadi on NPR, I'm sure she's done a couple of interviews...I'd love to learn even more about her. To answer your question, I won't be offline altogether, but will be scarce because it's that dreaded exam time around our house!

Hi Laura I know! Blogger was crazy last night. I was finding it so hard to correct my draft - so I finally posted as is, errors and all. Awww, thank you for your kind words, I visited your blog last night and will do so again today. I listened to "Two Lives" on audio and I agree, it's an amazing read. I now want to read "An Equal Music". "The Golden Gate" will be quite the read, too. Imagine a whole book done in sonnets!

Good thinking booklogged! This will make a perfect book for the non-fiction challenge, wish I had thought to wait! :) BTW, Deepa Mehta's "Water" has been given the Oscar nod, it's in the final five nominated for best foreign picture award. Thought you might like to know! :)

Hellllo Sugarlips I'm dying to hear your thoughts on "Reading Lolita in Tehran"! Seen any good movies lately? I watched Lil' Ms. Sunshine with the kids yesterday - I was quite surprised it has been nominated for an Oscar!

karmic said...

Lotus.. It is very kind of you to lend me the book. However I am not sure I want to keep it. :)
So may I propose a swap? I do have "An Equal Music" by Vikram Seth. We can exchange the two and return them when done reading. Sounds fair? :)

Dont' get stressed out with the kids exams. My sis always gets stressed out when her son's exams come around and he is like 18 now.

Lotus Reads said...

Love the idea, Sanjay, a swap would be perfect because I really am keen to read "An Equal Music", thanks!

lol, I my kid's 15 and I never got stressed out earlier but grade 10 Math is driving us nuts!

karmic said...

Cool. will e-mail you my address later today.
Good luck with grade 10 Math. :)

gautami tripathy said...

BTW, you have been tagged, angel dear!

Anonymous said...

Loved your review.Also, as usual, Sanjay's input. I have this book on hold at the library. There are loads on the waiting list ahead of me, so could be quite a wait.I have wanted to read it for quite some time. I am facinated by Iran, it's culture and it's people. I also have a copy of "Neither East Nor West" to read, I am told it is really good. Have you read it.

BTW, good luck to your daughter with her exams:)

Lotus Reads said...

LOL Gautami Thanks! I'm at your blog now...I will do this on the weekend (if we survive the exams!!!)

Hi Sylvia I'm so glad you mentioned "Neither East Nor West", do you know it's THE book that got me interested in Iran? I have given it a permenant spot on my bookshelf which is saying a lot because you know with bookcrossing and all, my books are always on the move. It's a wonderful book...you will enjoy it I am sure! Sylvia, how did you enjoy "Hero's Walk"? I noticed you have finished reading it.

Thanks so much for the wishes - will pass them on to my daughter!

Sai said...

Fantastic REview!!! Women like Ebadi are so inspiring.

Like Sanjay, I do take an exception to her not being able to forgive people who left. Most do it for their families and to give a better life to their children. It does not mean that they are not patriotic or don't care. It is just the choices that they make given the circumstances and available opportunities!

FH said...

Intersesting book! I would love to read this!Great review,Lotus!:)

ML said...

An excellent review, as always, Lotus! I want to read this book and will put it on my list of TBR.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Sai I got the impression that the author couldn't forgive the friends that left (although that was certainly not the word she used). She felt like they had deserted her and abandoned Iran. She was both, angry and sad at losing her friends. In her words, "...when someone leaves Iran, it's as though that person has died to me." And she says that because even when those friends returned they were not the same. She had lost the friend she knew...she still loved them, but she had lost them.

Thanks Asha & ML You won't regret reading this book!

Anonymous said...

Lotus - I am amazed by your reviews and the fact that you read so much! How do you find the time to read - do you read at bedtime, or do you actually find other time during the day to devote to devouring a good book?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely loved "Hero's Walk". I will try to do a review later today, or tomorrow.

jenclair said...

Couldn't comment last night for some reason, but thanks for the review of this book. Another one for understanding different viewpoints.

Daniel Allen said...

Sugarlips' comment above reminds me that I need to read "Reading Lolita in Tehran". But first, I need to read "Lolita." :)

(here via Lotus's comment in my LJ)

Laura said...

People! I now HAVE to read:

Hero's Walk


Neither East, Nor West.

These books look really, really good!

Does anyone have anything to say about An Unsuitable Boy by Vikram Seth???????

Anonymous said...

Excellent review...now I have another book to add to my wishlist! I love reading stories about strong women, and this one sounds very,very good.


Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus,
That was such a powerful review. You know how much I love books about oppressed women who rise up. I am glad she became a champion of women's rights rather than returning to her original place as a judge. One cannot experience the horrors that she and her countrymen did and return to their previous lives. I know quite a few Iranian women who talk very freely of this time. One woman's father was in jail for many years. Tortured. They fled the country as did other educated Iranians as you had mentioned. They seem so proud of their land and miss it very much. Some of them haven't been back since the late 1970's. It's such an unfortunate time for them. Thanks for the review Lotus, it was wonderful

Nyssaneala said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. It's interesting what she has to say about Iran's "brain drain", and especially her thoughts on the acceptance of foreign degrees for those that seek protection in other countries.

I have worked with dozens of Iranian refugees, and almost all of them are educated professionals: academics, journalists, lawyers, novelists, doctors, etc. This is in contrast to many of my other clients, who largely come from rural areas. But in Iran, persecution seems to be largely targeted at educated professionals. (well, that and the Kurdish pop).

Sadly, I only know one Iranian who has been able to practice his chosen profession in his country of refuge (Australia), as a journalist. His wife is also a journalist, and unfortunately she has only been able to find employment at a deli.

If you enjoyed Neither East nor West, you should check out one of Christiane Bird's other books: "A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts". It's about the Kurdish populatios in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

I have added you to my blogroll as well!

Praveen Krishnan said...

Nice Review! Truly captivating and point driven. Biographies are very interesting since it gives a perfect idea of what the person is going through in life. I had no idea about this book. I think I should grab a copy of it from the library when free (hope that happens soon!)

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Lotus, wonderful as always and this will be one of my non-fiction books I will be reading this summer. Good luck with exams.


Terri the terrific said...

Lotus, I've been lurking around your blogs a really long time. I came over from Lulu's, intrigued by your name. Until you posted your photo, I really thought you were Indian. I keep hoping one of these days you'll write more about your life in India.

Once the kids leave home for college, I want to curl up in an old armchair and read each and every book you mention here.

Sugarlips said...

I'll definitely tell you about "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and I keep my nose in few books at a time lol...I go by the mood :) so I'm also reading "Interpreter of Maladies" & "That summer in Paris" :)

Stay Beautiful...!!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Anon I think I know who you might be, but I don't know for sure! :) I read when I can - sometimes when there is a lull in the ER I will take out my book and read there, too! I have no fixed times or patterns.

Thanks for letting us know Syliva, I am very curious about the book because it's the only Rau Badami I haven't read!

Hi Jenclair Yes, blogger was acting up last night. Thank you so much for stopping by, like you say, this is a helpful book for understanding Iran.

Hi da I stopped by your blog because you were one of the few bloggers to have posted on Shirin Ebadi's book. I have read "Lolita" but wasn't so impressed.

Hi Laura! I haven't read "A Suitable Boy" yet, but I have an abridged version on audio and can't wait to take a listen. "Neither East Nor West" is a truly wonderful book for anyone seeking to know Iran.

hi Wendy Read it and be inspired! Thanks for stopping by!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Beenzzz Thank you for your lovely comment. I know that social and women's issues are very close to your heart and that you will really appreciate Shrin Ebadi's inspirational story. My heart bleeds for the Iranians, or anyone who has felt forced to leave their country. It's one thing to make a deliberate choice to leave (like our families did) but it's quite another thing to have little or no choice.

Hi Nyssaneala So glad to see you here. You're right, this regime sought out the underdog and made life a living hell for the elite. As a result the educated and wealthy Iranians are now in Europe, India or our side of the world. Your job sounds so interesting, do you work with one of the Immigration departments?

Hi Praveen I hope your library has a copy, this is a good book! Ebadi is a very interesting person. I'd love to know her views on Iran and it's nuclear ambitions - would love to know where she stands.

Thank you, I hope you enjoy it dear Beloved!

Rupa said...

Hi there - I'm anon, don't think we know each other (??). You work in the ER and you sneak in some reading - I'm very impressed!! BTW - I read Climbing the Mango Trees and Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow and really liked both. In fact, I made Madhur's kheema last night - I felt like I was in Kanpur with her family!

Lotus Reads said...

hi Terri Welcome! I'm so happy to have you here! I am Indian (Punjabi, I believe our ancestors were from Balochistan), but I don't blame you for thinking otherwise! Thank you for reading and enjoying my posts on India - did you grow up there too? Do you have long to wait before your kids are in college? :)

HiSugarlips I used to do that, too (read several books at one time), but for some reason I can't seem to do it anymore. lol

Hi, jkr Welcome! No, we don't know each other, I was so sure you were someone else! :)) The hospital I'm at is a small, local one so the ER isn't anything like the big city hospitals and we often have quiet periods which the staff use to catch up on paperwork (since I'm a volunteer and have no paperwork,I choose to read!). We seem to have similar tastes in reading. I'm glad you're in the process of setting up a blog....I look forward to reading your posts.

Houseowner said...


just as i was getting a wee-bit green from your impending meeting with Vikram chandra, i discover kiran desai is going to be doing a reading in Chennai monday! That is really exciting!


Houseowner said...


just as i was getting a wee-bit green from your impending meeting with Vikram chandra, i discover kiran desai is going to be doing a reading in Chennai monday! now, isnt that exciting!
I think i'll play sacred games after i learn about the inheritance of loss... I've been keeping the book for months now... gotta read it fore monday...


Happy Reader said...

You got me intrigued with that wonderful review!! I've already added this to my TBR pile.. I love visiting your blog and I check it more often than I check my emails :)
Keep up the good work!

violainvilnius said...

Not entirely convinced that Iran is the only place where 'Persians' hang out....Tajikistan, just up the road north east has Tajik as its state language (not so you'd notice since many documents in that poor country are in Russian). Tajik is very close to Farsi, and written either in Farsi script (beautiful) or cyrillic (ie Russian). The Tajiks consider themselves very linked to the Persians (though looking at them, with faces from Turkic to Chinese, and ditto north to south, they are the result of some Soviet getting out a map and drawing some borders around a fictional nation).

Re Vikram Seth, read my review at http://violainvilnius.blogspot.com/search?q=seth. It comes and goes a bit; mixture of trivia, deep thinking and interesting and funny stuff! Not one of his best books, I fear.

Nyssaneala said...

When I was in Australia, I worked for a small NGO that helped community-based asylum seekers that have applied for a refugee protection visa.

Here in the US., I work for a refugee resettlement agency that helps refugees in their first year after arrival (we are one of the orgs that meets them when they step off the plane in whatever city they have been resettled in). We receive state and federal funding, but are not a gov. agency. Right now, that largely consists of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, and Meshkatian Turks. Most of the Iranians I met and worked with was in Australia.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a very chilling read. What an awful thing to happen-to be a clerk where one once was a judge. It would be like cleaning toilets in a mansion you once owned.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, ramya Great to see you here! Oh, yes, do go to the Kiran Desai reading, she's always a lot of fun. I saw her read at the Internationa Festival of Authors here in Toronto and I loved every minute of it. I can't wait for you to read "Sacred Games", it's getting rave reviews.

Hi Chitts! What a wonderful thing to say, thank you!!! I took a quick peek at your blog "Book Closet" and just drooled at all those wonderful book reviews. I am going to come back for a much longer visit. Going to bookmark you, too, if that's OK. Again, thanks for the visit and the nice comment!

violain A big welcome and thank you so much for the information! Truth be told, I know very little about Tajikistan or the Tajiks, but it was cool to find out that Tajik is close to Farsi. Must to be lovely to listen to. You've got me interested in reading up more on their (the Tajiks) history. Thanks very much! THanks also for pointing me to the Vikram Seth review - I'll be over soon.

Nyssaneala It's awesome what you do! I have read about organizations like yours and I know you do a huge amount of work to resettle the refugees and very successfully too. I used to know someone who volunteered as a host for newcomers and refugees in Chicago and I was so impressed by what she did I vowed to register for a similar program here in Toronto, but, being the queen of procrastination, I haven't done it yet. Two books I have bought and yet to read: "Human Cargo" by Caroline Moorehead and "Lost Boys of Sudan". I'm sure you've read both.

Angela That's exactly right! The elite were kicked around after the regime change and that's why so many of them opted to leave Iran.

Nyssaneala said...

Actually, I haven't read either yet, although I've been meaning too. I've just gone through an almost year long phase of not being able to read anything remotely connected to my job (unless I had to read it for work, of course!). Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming!

Happy Reader said...

Thanks for stopping by!! Believe it or not, I got so inspired by your blog that I wanted to create my own and I'd feel honored if you bookmark me :) I can't wait to read your comments on my blog.

Lotus Reads said...

Nyssaneala I so relate! Before I joined the ER as a volunteer I would devour books in the medical or science genre, but oft late I find that they don't excite me anymore.

Chitts I just had the opportunity to pay you a longer visit and I'm so glad I did! I've put "Night" at the top of my list and will pounce on the opportunity to read it. You're doing a great job with your blog, thanks so much for pointing me to it!

violainvilnius said...

Thanks for your nice comments on my Istanbul diary. It was a fantastic weekend!

It's a long time since I read Seth's 'Equal Music'. I remember loving it, partly because I am deeply into that kind of music, too. Otherwise I cannot remember a great deal about it.

There's a great book about Central Asia and the history of the last 80 years, by Monica Whitlock 'Beyond the Oxus'. A fantastic history of people of countries created by strokes of pens, and in the case of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, fleeing across the border river in both directions at different times. I see she has written another book on the same topic since.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello Violain You are quite welcome, but honestly, I feel grateful you posted on it - it was a treat to read a first person account on Turkey, I enjoyed it immensely.

Thank you for the headsup on "Beyond the Oxus". Once the challenges are over, I plan to sink my teeth into books on the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. There's been so much change in those regions, I really need to catch up on what's been happening there and why. Thank you very much for the recommendation!

Da Mommy said...

wow, what a gutsy lady! I do think it is alot for her to judge other people's hearts and actions the way she did. As someone said earlier, different people have different perspectives on things...not everyone has the same calling or even the same drive to fight something. Hence fight or FLIGHT. Some people must flight I think. I'm a fighter myself.

CG said...

I will have to visit amazon.com to find this book it really sounds too interesting not to read it. I will go on and browse through your blog it's marvelous!

Anonymous said...

sigh. wonderful review. hey, when are you going to take a vacation??? you're making the rest of us look bad, you know?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi da Mommy and welcome! I really don't know what I would have done in a situation such as the one that faced Iranians during the revolution. My guess is that I would moved to safer, more welcoming pastures, especially if I had children.

Thank you for the kind words carra, I'm excited about your blog too!

Ooops, I just did it again, sweet nocturne sorry! :) Actually, a vacation of sorts might be coming up. I want to go to the South-Asian Lit. Festival in Chicago in April. Wanna come?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lotus!

first of all, i must admit, i'm feeling jealous of you, for this book is also one i have been hopelessly searching for in the one large book store around (crossword)... may i request you to send it to me whenever other friends are thru with it? I would be more than happy to send you anything you may wish to have from Bombay..

Your review was simple and nice,... though i wished it was more elaborated... :)

Thanks for sharing this..

Anonymous said...

yes, right, here's the salt - rub it in good. :) have a great trip and have a ton of fun. i'd settle for a pedicure - my feet are killing me.

paris parfait said...

A great review of a really fascinating book. I've seen her interviewed a few times in Europe - fascinating woman.

Lotus Reads said...

Neda I was so hoping you could have joined in the discussions of the book, I would have valued your input a lot. I will ask Sylvia to send the book back to me after she finishes reading it and when hub comes to Bombay next, I can ask him to mail it to you. Does that sound ok?

Nocturne We will go have a pedicure together - a girl's afternoon out!

Paris-Parfait Lovely to see you and thanks!

amna said...

eeek! i would love to attend the lit. festival in chicago..how exciting!

I have been wanting to read that book since a while now. One of the first novels that I read by an Irani writer was Lipstick Jihad (have you read it?) and I loved it. been hooked onto Irani films and books since the.
Unfortunately, things have been so crazy busy for me, I really haven't had much time to read *gasp*
its my thesis - its taking up way too much time!
I love how you're reviewing books!

Lotus Reads said...

Pandora, I'm so excited to see you here! It's been such a long time. How do I access your blog? Or do you have an e-mail I can reach you at? I so want to keep in touch with you!

NJ said...

Hi Lotus!.. I finally found this book here in Singapore! am half way thru.. will talk to you once over with it...