Pink Shoes and a prison cell in “My Life as a Traitor”


My girlfriend has been filling up our DVR with movies that she feels she should watch and kind of wants to watch, but is never in the mood to watch. It’s hard to get excited about Boys Don’t Cry and Hotel Rwanda because, even though she knows they’re good, they’re so incredibly depressing. I just stumbled across a book that triggered a similar conflict for me. It sounds fascinating and well-written, but convincing myself to read it is going to take a little effort. The book in question is My Life as a Traitor, by Zarah Ghahramani (with Robert Hillman).

My Life as a Traitor is the story of Ghahramani’s 29 days in Iran’s Evin Prison, which is notorious for its political prisoner wing. (This place is no Larkhall.) When she was 20 years old (in 2001), the relatively privileged Ghahramani was arrested after taking part in a student protest about the strict dress code and the general rigidity of the mullahs. (She had been protesting dress codes since she was six years old and drawn to forbidden pink shoes.)

Afterward, she was stopped by a car while walking, and was taken to Evin, interrogated, and locked in a 6-by-5 cell. She was beaten twice, but was never taken to the secret torture room and was eventually released in good physical condition. She seems to have come out of it well. She left the country, continued her education and wrote the memoir.

Mentally, it seems the ordeal was quite harrowing. When asked in an interview whether she regretted participating in the protest, she replied:

“You regret being born. You face reality. Before, I thought I could save the world. But when you sit in that room, you realize you don’t have any power. They can bring you down with interrogation, slap you down, and you hate what you’ve done.”

Again, fascinating story. Inspiring woman. But a wee bit depressing. It does, however, remind me to appreciate the freedom I frequently take for granted. I’m not a huge fan of the current U.S. administration, and I’m certainly not impressed with their respect for civil liberties. But I’m not even a little bit worried about being arrested and tortured. And I remember that when my college roommate and her compatriots played out their Vietnam War protest fantasies by taking over the Administration building to protest the Gulf War (the nexus between the UCLA administration and the Gulf War was lost on me), they knew they were only risking a misdemeanor charge and a possible small fine. So, the idea of protesting when you can face serious consequences is sobering.


For the record, Ghahramani moved to Australia after her ordeal to avoid both the possibility of re-arrest and the accompanying suffering of her family.

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