Betty Mahmoody was married to an Iranian doctor who was practicing medicine in the United States. They went to visit his family in Tehran, Iran in 1984, just six years after the Shah of Iran had been overthrown by revolution and Iran had become an Islamic theocracy, with an Islamic cleric at its head who oversees the President and Parliament to ensure that the government is operating in accordance with Islamic law.
Toward the end of their two week visit, Betty’s husband Sayyed informed her they would be staying in Iran. The rest of the book chronicles Betty’s resistance to this decision and her struggle to find a way to leave Iran with her daughter, Mahtob, who was four years old at the time.
The book did well in this country but sold particularly well in Europe, where cross-cultural marriages are more common, and where conflicts regarding individual rights can surface. Betty soon found out that under Islamic law, she was an Iranian citizen by marrying an Iranian, and her husband had control over her and their child.
The book is fairly long but realistic, as over the 18 months before Betty and Mahtob’s escape, we see Betty trying different tactics and succumbing at times to depression, despair and even apathy. Her husband keeps her a virtual prisoner, beats her and for a time even keeps her from being with her daughter.
A film was made of the book, which was criticized for being anti-Iranian. You do see the culture from Betty’s eyes, and she finds some habits of Iranian housewives lacking in hygiene, although it is not clear that this is widespread. She does find friends and helpers, both Iranian and foreign.
Sayyed Mahmoody died in 2009, never seeing his daughter again, who refused any contact with him. He documented his side of the story with a book and with a video made with Finnish journalists. He denied that he had been abusive towards Betty and maintained that she had agreed to move to Iran, so that he, as a doctor, could give medical help during the Iran-Iraqi war.
Betty Mahmoody has received a lot of thanks from abused women who found similarities in their situations to hers, although they were not in a foreign country as she was. It’s a book to make you think about marriage and people’s expectations of marriage, regardless of what culture they live in.