In December 2006, Iranian-born American academic Haleh Esfandiari was robbed at knifepoint in Tehran. Bereft of baggage and identification, she was thrown into a sinister tangle of bureaucracy and suspicion that would fundamentally test her divided loyalties.
Esfandiari had a privileged childhood and a successful career; she was utterly unprepared to confront the Intelligence Ministry, Iran’s sinister secret service. Accused of plotting a velvet revolution through her cultural work at Washington-based think tank the Wilson Center, she was subjected to gruelling interrogations and incarceration at the infamous Evin prison.
Still, Esfandiari avoids melodrama or pleas for sympathy, calmly setting her psychological torment in the wider context of the despair and anger caused by years of destructive foreign policy. She splices history and socio-politics, criticising in equal measure the US’s chequered past (an account smeared with references to the Contras, Saddam Hussein and the ‘axis of evil’) and the extremism of the iron-fisted Iranian regime. Yet despite claiming her ‘scars will never heal’, she maintains a fierce loyalty to the Iran of her childhood memories. In the wake of Obama’s calls for tougher sanctions against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iran’s reciprocal refusal to partake in discussions, this intimate account is as valuable as it’s readable.