Book Review: Not Without My Daughter

Hey guys, I’m alive. The blog is too! And here are my thoughts about a book I just finished reading. Why should you read my review of a book, you ask? Because I’m awesome and you value my opinion!  😛 Or because randomness rules!  🙂  Keep coming back to my page- I intend to blog more frequently now.

Not Without My Daughter- Betty Mahmoody and William Hoffer

Great title…and premise for sure. The book is based on a true story about an American lady (Betty) and her 5 year old daughter (Mahtob)- their fight to escape from  Iran, where they are held hostage by Dr. Mahmoody (also known as Moody), who is Betty’s husband and Mahtob’s father .

The book starts with the family visiting Tehran, Iran from America for two weeks to meet Moody’s family. But we already know that things are going to turn for the worst. Political and religious pressures mount and Moody announces, just as they’re about to return to the US, that they will never be going back. He holds the mother and daughter duo against their consent, subjecting them to a wide range of physical and emotional violence. This autobiographical work focuses on the mother’s efforts of coping up with this life, building a secret network in Tehran, and eventually escaping over the Iranian border into Turkey with her daughter. It also portrays beautifully a mother’s love for her daughter, and how despite having many chances to escape her wretched situation without her daughter, she chooses to continue living there until the opportunity to take her daughter along presents itself.

I thought the book was an interesting read. In fact, I could barely put it down. I already knew that she managed to escape and that too, not without her daughter! But still, I had a hard time putting it down. In that sense it was fast, and exciting, and let me peer into a culture (Iranian), that I do not know all that much about. However, I couldn’t help but think that many of her observations were either biased and judgmental, or even concocted to sensationalize the story.

Even though Betty was married to an Iranian, it felt as though she did not really know anything about the country, or any other country for that matter. She upholds the American and the “western” as she calls it, way of life as the most hygienic, liberating and moral way to live. As a disclaimer, we must understand that this was in the 80’s, and maybe Americans didn’t have much exposure to the outside world yet. And that this lady was from a small town in the mid-west and probably politically and culturally conservative.

She talks about people in Iran having a bath only once a year. And about how “filthy” their kitchens and food were. About how no one cared about washing hands or body odour or the upkeep of their homes. If it were indeed that bad, Iranians would be having epidemic after epidemic of disease and death- but we know that did not happen. It sounded like any other poor or developing country to me. Having lived in the US and India (which is technically a third world country), I can see how some Americans could perceive anything that is not American as either anti-American, or just a bad way of living. Just like some Indians, on first moving to the US, are surprised and at times not happy with the way of life. But what ticks me off about the book is the way she puts it forth- with a sense of downright contempt for the country, the culture and the people. The only reason I can cut her some slack for portraying it that way is that her ordeal probably made her hate the place and everything about it.

In my opinion however, a lot of the details in the book were purposefully crafted to portray squalor and cruelty, and garner sympathy for the protagonist and her daughter, so that their attempts to escape were justified. There are some inconsistencies in the book- for example, there is one mention about Moody’s new wife, and then this topic is not broached at all and Moody is shown to be living with Betty and Mahtob alone, which makes this new marriage sound like it was made up for the sake of the story. But I believe that even without these details, if a person is being made to live somewhere against their will, their desire to escape is perfectly justified.

Moreover, there is a lot of controversy around the book and the actual story. People who knew Betty in Iran (the ones she describes as her friends), have come out and said that many of the details about Betty’s living conditions were inaccurate. Also, her husband (Dr. Mahmoody) wrote a book some twenty years later titled, Without My Daughter, in which he has detailed how the story portrayed in Betty’s book was far from the truth, and how he had spent several years wanting to connect with his daughter whom he loved. I have not read this book. But I believe that experiences are all about perspective. So his account might as well be true, or at least bring us closer to the whole picture, but we’ll never know.

What we do know is that irrespective of the details, this is the story about a broken family. Where everything was perfect on the surface, but troubles were brewing within. About estranged spouses. About a girl who had to grow up without the love of her father. And even about insensitivity to people and fanaticism. And though the end leaves you with a sense of happiness for the protagonist, it also leaves you with a sense of melancholy about life in general.

Read it…

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Not Without My Daughter

  1. This was made into a successful Hollywood movie starring Sally Field, a successful Telugu movie – anthahpuram, and a not so successful Hindi movie (Shakti), the latter two by Krishnavamsi. Didn’t read the book.

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