Rating: 5 / 5
Maziar Bahari left his pregnant fiancee Paola in London to cover the Iranian presidential election, assuring her that he would return in a few days. As an Iranian citizen, this election is important to the country, but also hits Bahari on a personal note. His father and older sister had previously been imprisoned in Iran due to political unrest, and the general consensus is that reformist and popular candidate Mousavi will defeat reining president Ahmadinejad. The day of the election, however, there are rumors that Ahmadinejad will win due to corruption, lost ballots, and other ploys devised by Ahmadinejad’s party. The unrest caused by Ahmadinejad’s re-election has caused Iranians to gather in the streets for peaceful protests, however, journalists such as Bahari are soon arrested and imprisoned, accused of being a spy for Western civilizations. Bahari spends the next three months in Iranian’s most notorious prison, Evin, subject to daily beatings and torture, while his fiancee, family, friends, and media acquaintances work tirelessly to free him.
Then They Came For Me is a moving account of one man’s captivity and his courage during a harrowing time. I recently read A House in the Sky, which documents Amanda Lindhout’s time in captivity in Somalia. While A House in the Sky was good, it lacked the authenticity and heart and soul that was brimming in Then They Came for Me. There were so many aspects to Bahari’s memoir that were compelling, from the propaganda machine that the Iranian government was spinning with respect to so called “media spies” to the ridiculous accusations levied against Bahari. The most shocking aspect is the fact that Maziar is an Iranian citizen. It is one thing to be imprisoned in a foreign country and accused of being a spy, but Maziar was born and raised in Iran, and in fact, his mother was living in Iran. One piece of evidence the government used against Bahari was his presence on a segment of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The accusations and evidence levied against Bahari are patently absurd, and if it didn’t happen in real life, the ridiculousness of it all would be comedic.
Then They Came For Me is a fantastic and educational memoir. It is easy to stereotype the Middle East as a region that is constantly in political unrest and turmoil, but with his book, Bahari does an impressive job laying the groundwork to help the reader understand Iran’s political history, and the events that led to his imprisonment. I was immediately drawn into Bahari’s story, but it is hard not to be, especially when the second page of the prologue contains this:
He was at least six foot two and fat, with thick glasses. Later, his glasses would confuse me. I had associated glasses with professor, intellectuals. Not torturers.
I can’t say enough about Then They Came For Me. It was gut-wrenching, harrowing, but also hopeful and inspiring. Bahari has done a great job shedding light on a country that has no formal diplomatic relations with America.