How fitting to be reading this memoir as the ides of March blow in, a windy day outside in the sun on my deck, several days after a fellow Facebook friend who is also part American/part Iranian posted Happy Nowruz on his page. I knew Jason's memoir was out and I knew its outcome, but I rushed to buy it from Amazon (my local bookstore is closing), not thinking how the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, would figure in the happy part of Jason's story.
Jason writes in a reporter's straight-forward style with not much embellishment. He writes from the heart. It is part suspense story, part love story; devotion to family and country; love at first sight ... It is achingly, unbearably true.
Jason's strong commitment to and love for his wife weaves throughout the memoir like the tender, tentative threads that bind a couple together in a new marriage. His love for Iran and his desire to make it work as a reporter in the Tehran bureau of the Washington Post seems like blind devotion to the reader who knows the outcome--that it's a bad relationship about to end, just for singing its praises and sharing its culture with the rest of the world. Through journalism. Well, mostly singing its praises in the kind of special interest pieces about food and culture that Jason was drawn to--good journalists have to be objective.
I appreciate how Jason structured his memoir to shift from his days in prison, to his earlier life in San Rafael, California (great description of his own father and Persian rug business); I enjoyed the description of his days before being imprisoned or more aptly termed: taken hostage. I recognized how one could revile but form a connection with one's captors; that his humor, honesty, IQ, hope for a positive outcome, and ability to be a good person in the face of everything contrary got him through it.
The prison part seemed to me as if it were written in a different, earlier time, similar to what I saw occur when I lived in Iran during 1978 during the prelude to the Iranian Revolution. The injustice of being held in prison with no due process; to deal with interrogators who had a certain agenda in their position as a servant to the Islamic Republic, who in their dislike, or their superiors' dislike for Americans, could accuse them of ridiculous deeds but also revel in their stories. Who held the prisoners' fate in their hands. Ridiculous deeds included Jason's attempt to introduce farming avocados in Iran as perceived by the interrogators as something shady, as "'spionage", as they would say--having difficulty with "es", and "th", and "w's" and "v's". In 1978, when the anti-American sentiment was flowing, I used to think: if you hate us so much, why the fascination with our stories, our Hollywood actors, New York City, and California? I did not truly believe that the people hated us. Yet NYC was vonderful to them. And also, when an Iranian who has lived all his or her life makes it to the United States, are they disappointed? (I used to wonder and still do). This was Jason's worry about his Iranian wife. Will it be boring if it is not the frenetic pace of Tehran? I wondered if the refugee my family helped from Iran had felt that, if he had built it up in his mind to be something that it was not. Or did he settle into the parts that he liked, making it something that he is?
I was also so relieved to read that Jason was not physically tortured [I had heard stories of Evin Prison], though obviously being held against your will is mental torture, which in turn can be physical. I believe Jason used his wit to survive. For those of us less fortunate to have wit or humor, we'd be in big trouble. While he was in prison, and while I was marketing my book, Unrest, I found this cool website from a travel company outside of Iran with great music encouraging travel to Iran and also trying to dispel everyone's fear that it is unsafe. After Jason was released (and I jumped for joy!) I went back to my post and added a few bits of cautionary commentary that it could be unsafe for people who travel there, or live there, and are American or part American. You just never know. And especially for journalists now in this crazy world we live in, you just never know.
Prisoner, by Jason Rezaian -- an interesting read I devoured in less than a day. An Anthony Bourdain book (!), an Imprint of Harpers/CollinsPublishers