October 18, 2013

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody

It's hard to believe that this was non-fiction.  It was so horrific that you didn't want it to be real.  But it is, and it is a very alarming view of what can happen when culture's crash and the relative power that women have in other countries.

Betty Mahmoody had an unsuccessful first marriage that gave her two sons.  She wasn't looking for more when she met an Iranian doctor nicknamed Moody (if that isn't foreshadowing I don't know what is).  Despite herself she fell in love and they eventually married, and had a daughter named Mahtob.  All wasn't perfect in their marriage and when a proposed trip to his home country came about, Betty had to agree.  What began as a two week trip turned into a nightmare that lasted almost two years.  Once in Iran, Moody trapped Betty and Mahtob there and began trying to make them follow Islamic laws regarding women and beating them when they didn't do what he wanted.  Desperate for escape, Betty found herself in a country that required the permission of her husband before she could do anything.

Was everyone believable in this book?  I certainly think so.  When people complain that this book presents a biased view of Iran and Iranian men it's important to look at the fact that Betty did not encounter a large amount of people while she was in Iran.  And it would make sense that Moody would only allow her to interact with people who thought the same was as him.  The majority of people she met outside of his influence were ones that were willing to help her.  So I think that that shows she didn't believe all people in Iran were like Moody and his family.  Betty herself reaccounts some harrowing details which must have been very painful to share.  I find her brave and admire that she didn't take the easy way out and leave her daughter behind.  She did everything she could, and suffered much, to guarantee she and her daughter's return to America.  Moody is obviously not presented in a positive light in this book, although Betty does share all the positive things that made her fall in love with him in the first place.  He sounds like a typical abuser; wonderful until he has full control and then tyrannical.

If you're sensitive to harsh topics and violence, this is not a book for you.  Betty tells all and she suffers a number of beatings and a lot of oppression by both her husband and some of his family.  As said before, some will say this is not a fair book to Iran and its culture, but we aren't talking about what the entire country did to Betty, just a subset and most of those from one family.  With the cultural differences and the patriarchal society, it's true enough to say that this happened the way it did because of where Betty was.  She could have been abused in America, but not as easily kept prisoner.  I thought the pace of the book was done quite well and while most of it was done in a standard timeline, bits and pieces and flashbacks went back to show signs of Moody becoming unstable even while still in the States and why Betty made the choice she did to go to Iran with him.

I can't quite call this book inspiring because it is horrific.  But it shows a brave woman and the fight she had to keep her daughter.  Should this book warn away marriages to men from Islamic countries?  I don't think so, but the reader should bear in mind that other cultures have different rules, although really, it's the individual that can become an abuser regardless of what country they hail from.

Not Without My Daughter
Copyright 1987
420 pages