Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody – a book about an American mother who agrees to take her 4 year old daughter to Iran for a two week holiday as her Iranian husband’s family have never seen her. Three years later she lives a repressed life dominated by a brutish husband, and has to find a way to escape with her daughter…..
The book created a storm when it was first published and apparently did not improve the already tense relationship between Iran and America. Our group thought ‘Not Without my Daughter’ was a great read, throwing up many issues to discuss.
We had a very lively discussion about the protagonist Betty’s plight. Some admired her inner strength to keep perservering in very difficult circumstances. Betty showed courage and great patience and determination to save herself and her daughter from a very dangerous situation.
Others felt she displayed ignorance about places outside mid West America. At no point did she display any interest in her husbands culture either whilst in the US or later in Iran. She was very happy to enjoy the better standard of living that she enjoyed as his wife in the US, and did not show very much curiosity about his background whilst living with him there. Perhaps it is too much to ask that she should show some interest in Iranian culture whilst in Iran and in the circumstances. It was also felt that she should not have left her two sons by her previous marriage behind, and the impact on them was not brought out.
Betty portrays her husband’s family as ignorant and intolerant with a strong antipathy for America and disgusting hygiene. It was thought that his family were probably lower middle class, as they did not have high level access to officials, or a particularly privileged way of life by Western standards. (However, they did have access to petty officials e.g. passport/visa office when he gets her a visa to leave the country without her daughter).
Whilst still in America, her husband, is excited by the fall of the Shah, and joins a group of expatriates who want to support the Ayatollah. Work in the US becomes more difficult for him as a result. This generated lots of discussion about radicalisation. He finds himself in the invidious position of feeling neither American or Iranian. His Iranian relative lives with them for some time in America, and was disrespectful and dirty … shades of things to come!
There was also much discussion about the way Betty was treated, not just by her husband, but by his family. Mans inhumanity to man. The women did not feel able to stop him beating her up. This was portrayed as an indication of how little power they had, but also that they had little sympathy with Betty. It was pointed out that moderate Muslims would not treat their wives in this way and there are many interpretations of being Muslim.
Her sense of isolation came through strongly. There were very few people who could or would help her. The other American lady she meets also married to a Muslim seemed happy or resigned to her lot. It was felt that she might live in better circumstances in that she and her husband had a house of their own.
Betty’s husband had no employment in Iran for quite a time after returning. Even when he did get a doctors post it seemed very insecure until he started his private clinic.
The book created a storm when it was first published and apparently did not improve the already tense relationship between Iran and America. The books linguistic style was painful at times. It was more noticeable at the beginning when Betty’s plight did not provide such a distraction from the prose!
Post script: interestingly her husband wrote a book called ‘Lost Without my Daughter’ 20 years later. His profile reads as follows:
Dr Sayed Mahmoody was an aristocratic Iranian by birth, and was raised by his sister after being orphaned when he was eight years old. After qualifying as a doctor, he worked in America for more than twenty years (1961-1984) and established a successful practice. He never remarried after Betty left him, and worked full-time as an anaesthetist and university lecturer in Tehran. Dr Mahmoody passed away unexpectedly in August 2010