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Book Review: Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (3/5)

23 Dec

I’ve had this book on my radar for years. I was visiting family near Alpena, MI in 2013 and was told that the ‘Not Without My Daughter’ house was down the street. I looked into it and was fascinated/horrified by Betty’s story. I added the book to my TBR and the movie to my ‘watch’ list but it’s taken me ages to get to it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody

Summary from Goodreads:

In August 1984, Michigan housewife Betty Mahmoody accompanied her husband to his native Iran for a two-week vacation that turned into a permanent stay. To her horror, she found herself and her four-year-old daughter, Mahtob, virtual prisoners of a man rededicated to his Shiite Moslem faith, in a land where women are near-slaves and Americans despised. Their only hope for escape lay in a dangerous underground that would not take her child.

I have very mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, I feel horrible for Betty. She was kidnapped by a man she trusted and kept away from her family for over a year. She was hurt, physically and emotionally. She lost her freedoms and had no one to turn to she could trust. However, this book was written in retrospect and her bias against Islam is glaring and I kept getting frustrated with some of her depictions in the book. The most memorable things are usually going to be horrible so this book was filled with the most horrible memories of a year. I’m not saying there were happy times or good times she skipped, but condensing the bad parts down and putting a hateful voice behind it is going to end in a very dark book with a strong bias.

I think Betty portrayed the people she knew in Iran as she remembered them but I’m not confident they were exactly as described. Her sister-in-law had no redeeming quality at all and I have to think there was one or two good things about her. The people who helped here were the only kind people in the story, never focusing on family members who were understanding or not out-right evil. I do think Betty did a good job of explaining how the Moody changed from when they started dating to when they were in Iran. Though I doubt his actions were so suspicious that she thought they might be trapped; I think that’s hindsight.

There wasn’t really a character I liked. Betty gives such negative descriptions of her in-laws that you don’t like any of them. Those who help her are vaguely described to protect their identities so it’s hard to connect with them. Betty was so negative that she was hard to connect with. Mahtob was too young for me to relate to. Overall, it was hard to like any person in the story.

I found the story very hard to relate to. In college, I dated a Muslim man and had such a different experience that reading this was hard for me. I had people warn me against dating someone from a conservative Muslim country and how it could never turn into anything serious. I wonder now if the cultural influence of this book had anything to do with that. My experience was overwhelmingly positive, with someone who was very respectful and caring and who I never felt forced me or pressured me to do anything or wear anything different from what I wanted to do. The reader has to remember this is one woman’s story, this isn’t a reflection of the whole culture.

Betty Mahmoody
Image via YouTube

Betty’s escape was well drawn and I liked the detail she gave. It must have been terrifying to not understand what’s being said around you as you go through the crazy, illegal, and deadly steps she took to escape the country. I felt she was very brave but I also appreciated the bravery of the men and women who helped her through such a dangerous experience. They deserve their own books.

Betty’s initial time at her sister-in-law’s house was very hard to read. She was so angry, upset, and hopeless that there was little to focus on in the story. She wasn’t leaving the house or scheming or doing anything worth focusing on. It was a bit of a slug to get through at the beginning before you got into her plans and attempts to escape.

Betty’s dedication to Mahtob is what drives this book. Many people tell her to save herself and leave Mahtob but she recognizes that Moody is not a competent father and she knows that if she leaves Mahtob, she’ll grow up in his terrible family in Iran. She’s seen unhappy Mahtob is with that life already and refuses to subject her daughter to more pain and misery. That mother-love is what makes the book so moving.

Writer’s Takeaway: There is a lot of bias in Betty’s voice. As a reader, you sympathize with her because she describes the miserable parts of her experience with such clarity and you get her feelings and reactions. I’m not saying I enjoyed it, but it’s effective. You come out of this book wanting to give Betty a year of her life back. You want good things or her and Mahtob. You come out hating Moody. However she did it, it works.

Overall, the book was compelling, but I didn’t find the writing very good and a lot of things seemed to be retrospective rather than current which was frustrating. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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