UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Penguin Books

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir

Author vividly describes the horrors of imprisonment in Revolutionary Iran

By Chantal Braganza

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
By Marina Nemat
Penguin Canada ($18.00)

By the age of 20, Marina Nemat had lived through an ordeal most North Americans couldn’t imagine. Imprisoned at 16, she was tortured, forced to marry and denounce her Christian faith, and widowed before fleeing to Canada. Though remarkable, her story isn’t much different from those of thousands of political prisoners who lived in Iran in the lead-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. What makes her story incredible is not only her strength in living through it, but her courage to experience it again by telling the tale.

A Russian Orthodox Christian raised in the bustling downtown core of Tehran, Nemat describes an idyllic childhood filled with bike rides, books and summers by the Caspian Sea. But when the revolution changes the political winds of her country, Nemat’s outspokenness puts her at risk. A spat with her calculus teacher over the school curriculum gets her arrested and sent to Evin prison, notorious for its brutal treatment of inmates. She is questioned, whipped and sentenced to death. Ali, a love-stricken guard, offers a way out, but for a price: she must convert to Islam and marry him. What follows is a two-year struggle with her faith, sanity and preconceived notions about good and evil.

Simple and incisive, Nemat’s writing spares no detail when describing the horrors she and her prison mates endured. At times, these details are hard to swallow. At others, they seem improbable. Nemat herself admits that memory has a funny way of blocking, sharpening or merging events as time goes by. But this makes Prisoner of Tehran no less important a read.

Last June, the world watched Iran erupt over the disputed results of its 10th presidential election. The protests and street riots reminded many of the Islamic Revolution, which happened only 30 years ago. In that time, there’s been little public discussion about the millions of lives affected by that upheaval. Maybe the memories are too painful to put on paper. It certainly wasn’t easy for Nemat. 

Author's photo
Chantal Braganza is a writer and editor in Toronto. Her blog posts will appear every second Friday of the month.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image