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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir

My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir - Zarah Ghahramani Courtesy of The Literary Snob*May Contain Minor Spoilers*From the beginning, I wanted to hate this book. Essentially promoted as “a young girl is tortured by Iranian zealots,” I suspected nothing more than page after page of anti-Iranian propaganda. I hear enough about how evil every other political state is, I don’t more.It didn’t take long into this memoir, however, to realize that this author was not going to take this angle. Yes, there was the occassional condemnation of the Iranian government, but it was dealt out equally with reminders that similar dictators exist throughout the world in every country. So, I no longer disliked My Life As A Traitor for what it wasn’t. However, I did discover other reasons why this book was disappointing.My primary complaint regarding this book was the author herself. I am not trying to belittle her experience, because I believe what she experienced was tramatic. At the same time, however, the very fact that she agreed to write this book, and that it is written from the supposed perception of a tortured revolutionary was, in itself, belittling to many who have come before and experienced true horror. Yes, she is placed in a terror-stricken prison. Yes, she was hit many times and beat on a couple occasions. Sure, most of us have no idea what this is like and, for many of us, this may be a fear we’ll never experience. But in the end, Ghahramani was imprisoned for thirty days. She was physically intact. She had not been raped. What exactly was her point in writing this book? If someone wants to read a book about the consequences of being a revolutionary, then there are hundreds of other titles more effective.To the authors credit, she openly admits many of her flaws. After every hit, every bruise, she concerns herself with her physical appearance; yet, she repeatedly admits her vanity. She spends much of the book lamenting over her cut hair, but again she accepts that this worry is her vanity speaking. She doesn’t understand how she could end up in a place like this, but she acknowledges that she has viewed herself as a Persian Princess much of her life. But knowing these things about herself makes me wonder why she still felt this story worth telling. Perhaps it was the self-important princess mentality showing through.Even Ghahramani’s methods of describing her torture seemed reduced to naive statements unreflective of the abuse she implies. At one point, she describes herself as “shaking all over, like a child compelled to watch a horror movie.” This is what she compares her torture to? Being in Evin prison is like a child watching It? And this wasn’t the only time that she made such meaningless parallels. My idea of an Iranian revolutionary was unfortunately dilluted. This is where I would’ve loved to know what part the co-writer, Robert Hillman, played in the writing of this book. Unfortunately, no where in the book does it even mention Hillman. Perhaps it is easier to blame him for some of these absurdities.Ghahramani is a very strong and intelligent young woman. And I can understand why some readers enjoy this book because they see someone strong cracking under the pressure—it’s reassuring. Despite how my rant may imply otherwise, I actually respect the author for admitting her flaws and for being an example of how weak most of us really are. I can respect it, but that doesn’t mean I want to read a memoir about it. Isn’t that why I read fiction? Are there not already thousands of classical works of literature that showcase how weak humanity is? I don’t want that in non-fiction; it doesn’t resonate the same way. When I pick up a non-fiction piece I want to learn or to be inspired. Unfortunately, I was not inspired by the author’s weakness.But, I did learn many things. And this is where My Life As A Traitor gains whatever credibility it has. Ghahramani’s knowledge helps propel the book past a simple narrative of her prison experience. Chapters alternate between her prison experience, and insights into Persian and Iranian cultures. From these chapters, I was given a better understanding of Persian culture, language, philosophy, education, and history. And though the average reader may find these parts of the book to be boring, I personally found them to be the most successful.My Life As A Traitor is not a bad book, but it just wasn’t very memorable for me. Though I expected to hate it, in the end what I felt was closer to apathy–not for the author’s story, but for the book itself.