On January 25, 1983, at about nine o’clock in the evening, my father and twenty-one of his friends were led onto a snowy soccer pitch in Amol, a small town by the Caspian Sea. There, the Iranian government executed them by firing squad following a three-week trial, which was held in Tehran’s Evin prison, several hours to the south. For my father, his trial and death came after months in solitary confinement following his arrest on July 11, 1982.
The summer felt long that year, I’m told. Three and a half years out from the 1979 Iranian Revolution, under the new Islamic regime, Iran’s citizens were subject to the Jafari version of Sharia law. It was Ramadan, and the normal scents of food stalls roasting corn and fat red beet bulbs were replaced by the smells of sweat, sewage, and dirt. The government required women to wear hijab and everyone except pregnant women, nursing mothers, small children, the elderly, and the infirm to fast. Iranian women, wrapped in black sheet-like chadors, held the fabric ends in front of their mouths as they walked along the sidewalks. The very religious believe that if even a grain of dust passes a person’s lips, her fast breaks. From suhur until iftar, any person caught sneaking a bite or a sip or a smoke in public could expect to lose his job or be arrested. Some still took their meals at home in secret, or in the company of people they trusted, but it was a risk. Inquisitive neighbors might report the offenders to the authorities. So every night after sunset, people’s faces would relax, and Tehran’s streets filled with food sellers once again.
In our apartment above the city, the morning of July 11 began more or less normally. In that summer of 1982, we lived in a safe house, a living quarters no one knew about, because my family was in hiding. My mother, my father, and my youngest aunt, Astefe, who had been staying with us for several months, went about their daily routines. I was just shy of three. Most likely, I was playing while my mother prepared my breakfast, warm bread spread with salty feta cheese and honey. My father might have been sitting with me. One of my parents would have cleaned and dressed me. It’s only in the past few years—through a series of interviews with my parents’ family and friends—that I’ve started to appreciate just how improvised, precarious, and ultimately doomed our family’s situation was.
My father and mother met in 1969, when they were students at the University of California, Berkeley. They were both active in a campus group called the Iranian Student Association, and soon they joined the growing anti-shah student movement organized by Iranian students studying in the United States and Europe. From 1969 until 1979, my parents, their friends, and fellow reform-minded activists campaigned tirelessly to remove the shah of Iran from power and stymie America’s influence in their home country. In the early 1970s—around the time the American student left began to lose its way—the Iranian student movement picked up speed. Young anti-shah activists were everywhere, in the press and on the streets, protesting against everything from the Vietnam War to the secret bombings in Cambodia to Kent State. Most of the participants in the Iranian student movement identified with the Communists, who were the most effective, secular organizers of anti-imperialist action outside of Iran.
During this period, the most militant among the Iranian anti-shah activists began to form small, clandestine groups, which worked within the broader movement. One of these groups, its philosophy shaped by Mao Tse-tung and China’s Cultural Revolution, was established by a handful of activists from Berkeley. The group’s founders recruited my father to join them. My father, in turn, recruited my mother. My parents spent the next ten years writing revolutionary newspapers, chaining themselves to the Statue of Liberty, and getting tear-gassed in front of the White House. By 1979, they were professional activists who believed their life’s work was to build the foundation for a future Iranian revolution.
When the revolution happened, the shah went into exile, and Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran, my parents raced back to Iran joyfully. Planes out of California, New York, and Europe were filled with Iranian students, activists, and revolutionaries, leftists and Islamists both, singing revolutionary anthems. They were euphoric and full of hope for the country’s future. When they landed on Iranian soil, my mother said that the leftists fell to their knees and kissed the tarmac, while the Islamists hailed both Allah and Khomeini. Ten months after my parents landed in Tehran, I was born—a child of the revolution.
As Iran groped for political stability, my mother remembered new newspapers starting up daily, spouting various political philosophies, while people gathered on the streets to debate the country’s future. But as quickly as the moment came, it passed. Leftists who, like my parents, had supported Ayatollah Khomeini and his circle during the revolution were horrified once the Islamists’ power solidified and they realized they would have even less influence in this increasingly despotic and repressive regime than in the previous one. Pushing against the Islamic Republic of Iran meant reverting to familiar tactics: protesting, distributing anti-government literature, secret meetings. These had little or no effect and were exceptionally dangerous. No longer just a group of young activists outside the country calling for reform, many of the leftists were older, with families. This time they were working against the regime while living inside the country.
The revolutionary guards—referred to familiarly as baradar-ah, or the “brothers”—regularly rounded up dissenters, with no evidence to justify their detention. If those suspected, when tried without due process, were found guilty, they would be sent to Evin Prison for months or years of reeducation efforts. (The prison was nicknamed the University of Evin.) They would face relentless interrogation. People not sentenced to prison were often executed.
When they landed on Iranian soil, the leftists fell to their knees and kissed the tarmac, my mother said, while the Islamists hailed both Allah and Khomeini.
Nonetheless, until the summer of 1981, my father remained part of the leadership of an underground leftist opposition group. My mother was a less active member, but stayed affiliated with the organization until a small faction calling themselves Sarbedaran-e Jangal gained authority. The Sarbedaran—which means “head in a noose,” to symbolize its members’ absolute commitment to their cause—spent the summer of 1981 drawing up plans for a violent uprising meant to directly challenge the regime and inspire Iranians around the country to join in a popular resistance movement.
But the Sarbedaran didn’t have experience with organized resistance; their knowledge was theoretical, and although some had insurgency training, most did not. In any case, it was unlikely that such a small number of revolutionaries (estimates range from 100 to 250) could challenge the government in any significant or lasting way. My parents thought the plan reckless, dangerous, and destined to fail, and my mother left the group. My father opposed the plan, and in an attempt to assuage his fears, members of the Sarbedaran blindfolded him, took him to their jungle encampments, and kept him there two days—he wasn’t convinced. They had to wait until the rains stopped before they took him home, where he was removed from his leadership position. The uprising went ahead.
On January 25, 1982, in the town of Amol, the Sarbedaran’s small cadre of leftist revolutionaries challenged the Islamic regime. The villagers didn’t join the leftists as was hoped; instead, they allied themselves with the government’s forces. (Some years later, in fact, a statue was erected inside the city to commemorate the bravery of the Amol villagers’ “public resistance against the Communist guerillas.”) Many members of the Sarbedaran were killed in the skirmish, and those who didn’t die were captured. For months, there was no official news about what happened. No one knew who had survived and been arrested. Nearly everyone who had held any position of importance within the organization went into hiding. My father hid, so my mother and I hid with him, and by the summer of 1982, we had moved into the safe house.
After the Amol uprising, I stayed with my father most days, while my mother worked. He would spend hours telling me fantastic stories, and as he told them, he would draw matching pictures in a notebook, which I still have. When I wasn’t with him, my father would fill his days sculpting and painting. He’d make children’s toys that had secret compartments perfect for passing messages—just the pastime for a revolutionary family. He built nesting boxes made of blond wood that held together without nails. On each box, he painted delicate pink peonies. I still have the boxes hidden in my closet. As a child, I thought them the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I still think they are wonderful, and I am constantly afraid something will happen to them, and they will disappear.
On July 11, 1982, my father had a political meeting, so I was to spend the morning with my mother at the language school she had opened with her friend at the friend’s apartment. After she finished teaching her morning classes, my mother and I were to meet my father and a rotating cast of family members for lunch at my grandparents’ apartment. Before she left the apartment, my mother wrapped herself in her loose overcoat, knotted a scarf under her chin to hide her tight curls, and went to find my father and say goodbye. She found him looking out of a window onto downtown Tehran. In profile, his usually calm face was pensive, his broad shoulders strained and hunched downward, pushing toward each other. My mother reached for him. She told me that she was constantly reaching for him, unable to keep her hands off him.
My father had been quiet all morning, preoccupied. He was to meet two friends who had been among the leadership of the opposition group until the rise of Sarbedaran. They knew the captured militants must have given up names of the group members who had stayed behind in Tehran, but whose? Had they given up the people who had left the group, like my mother? My father knew she was tired of hiding. She was pregnant with their second child, my little brother, and she wanted to get on with their lives. Years later she told her sister that she remembered one day when she and my father had sat together and watched me play. It was a simple moment, small and private—the kind of moment every family has.
She asked him then, Have you thought about what will happen to her if we’re arrested?
Not long after, she said, for the first time since they had returned to Iran, my father asked friends how to find a smuggler to slip us out of the country. It was a small gesture, but it showed her that he was getting ready to leave the opposition group for good.
But my father was still conflicted. Would he be able to live with himself if he fled Iran and others were arrested? Could he abandon his group when the stakes were so high? Who was he responsible for? The young revolutionaries who had trusted him—or the family who loved him? Which one—the organization or his family—needed him more? And which of us did he need more?
That morning my mother wrapped her arms around his waist. She placed her cheek against his back. He seemed so vulnerable, she thought, with only a pane of glass and several apartment stories between him and the mad world below.
I’ll see you at your parents’ for lunch, she said to him. She took my hand, opened the door of the apartment building, and we stepped out onto the sidewalk. Waves of black-clad women moved over the pavement like molten tar rushing down the city’s streets. The crowd swallowed us up and carried us along.
Not long after we left, my father left the apartment dressed in the same gray trousers and light blue button-down shirt he had worn to his thirty-eighth birthday party the week before. He had gained weight during his months in hiding, and the shirt buttons had started to strain against his soft middle. He had a full beard, and his blue-green eyes shone beneath long arched brows. No one in my family knows exactly where the meeting was held, but it must have been the same place this group always met, because the guards were waiting for them. For some reason—inertia, perhaps, or simple negligence—they hadn’t changed the location.
Here the story gets hazier: Some people say they saw the revolutionary guards arrest my father on the street as he waited to cross; others told me that the guards came into the meeting place and arrested the men together—catching them in the act, as it were. But everyone I spoke to agrees that the revolutionary guards weren’t alone. They had brought along their informant—the member of the Sarbedaran who was behind the Amol uprising—to identify my father and the others. The man pointed to my father and told the authorities his name and his former title in the group. The guards, armed with automatic weapons, pulled my father’s arms behind his back and bound his hands together at the wrist with rope.
Just before noon, my mother left her friend’s apartment. She had enrolled several new students in her language school, and she wanted to tell my father about them. She smiled as we walked. The school might actually work, she thought. It might become a real job with a steady income.
When my mother and I arrived at my grandparents’ apartment, my father wasn’t there. Other family members filtered through the apartment, coming and going. Someone prepared lunch, and the television blared the World Cup final: Italy versus West Germany. My grandmother moved from room to room, talking at my grandfather in monologue as she finished packing for their week-long trip to visit their youngest son, his wife, and their newborn daughter in Mashhad, a city in northeastern Iran. Minutes went by. No one except my mother noticed how late my father was. When lunch was ready, they did notice. They waited. Still he didn’t come. Their train was scheduled to leave that afternoon. Reluctantly, they ate without him. He’s late, my mother said through clenched teeth, he’s late.
Maybe he stopped somewhere to watch the match? Astefe offered. No one except my mother knew that he had gone to a meeting that morning. She kept an eye on the door and an ear out for the phone. On the television, soccer players raced up and down the pitch.
Why don’t you come with us to the train station? Astefe suggested—anything to calm my mother and keep me occupied. My mother agreed.
In the car, my grandmother remembered she had forgotten to water the plants before she left. She asked Astefe to return to the apartment and water them, and then run upstairs and leave the keys with our cousin’s husband, Ali. At the station, my grandparents got out of the car and made their way through the throng.
The afternoon was hot and the car had no air conditioning. My mother and aunt had rolled down the windows, but the air wasn’t moving and the stop and start of traffic was pushing waves of sour exhaust inside. On the sidewalks, children with blackened fingers tried to sell rolled pieces of Hafiz’s poetry—penny fortunes—to passersby. Astefe remembers that I was sitting quietly in the back as my mother drove her back to my grandparents’ apartment.
Don’t wait for me, my aunt said, go on home. Omar’s probably home. I’ll just walk or take a cab. I’ll be there soon.
As my aunt turned the key in the lock of the heavy steel door of the building, my mother pulled away. Astefe walked up three flights of stairs, unlocked the door, and stepped into the large living room. Behind a long couch, the third doorway from the front door was Astefe’s old room. It had a twin-sized bed, a chest of drawers, and a telephone that was unplugged. The line had been recently serviced, so the jack had been pulled and hung lifeless from the wall. The next room was the one my parents had stayed in when they first arrived back in Iran in 1979, until after I was born. After we had moved out, it was where I would sleep when dinners went on a long while, or when my grandmother took care of me while my parents were out. My toys were piled in the corners, though that afternoon my crib was empty.
Astefe took off her headscarf and her overcoat before she walked into the kitchen, found the watering can, and began to make her way around the apartment, pouring enough water to moisten each plant just so. She would have been careful not to miss a pot. At about four o’clock, she finished. She gathered her things and prepared to leave, shrugging into her long, faded green roopoosh. Astefe busied herself arranging the beige silk scarf my father had given her. When the government had announced it would force women to wear hijab, my father had painted flowers onto women’s headscarves and given them out, one by one, to family members. That afternoon she tied the ends of this scarf under her chin and reached for her keys. The intercom buzzed. She answered.
It’s me, my father said. His voice sounded scratched and far away as it filtered through the call box into the receiver at his sister’s ear.
I’m with the brothers, he said. My aunt laughed.
Sure you are, she said. Sure you’re with the brothers.
She was about to buzz my father into the building when she remembered that it was a signal to hide anything in the house that was forbidden.
This is what we’ve planned for, she thought.
She placed the receiver on the table and moved through each room to make sure there were no outlawed newspapers, pamphlets, or books in the open. If there was anything to hide, she didn’t see it. She picked up the receiver again.
Okay, she said, I’ll be right down.
She grabbed the keys to the front door of the building and ran upstairs. She knocked quietly on our cousins’ door. Ali answered, opening the door wide with a warm smile. She cut him off before he could speak.
Omar is here, she said, keeping her voice low. He says he’s with the guards. I don’t know what’s going on. If you don’t hear from me, wait a little while and then come down.
Then she hurried downstairs. As she pulled the heavy front door open, she saw her brother standing with his hands behind his back, as if he were waiting for the bus. It took a second for the scene to rush into focus. His hands were tied; his face resigned. He was surrounded by four revolutionary guards, each one holding an automatic weapon, at least one gun pointing at my father’s back.
My aunt stepped back from the door to invite the men into the building. My father and the armed brothers entered. Inside the apartment, she offered the officers refreshments.
Some tea? she asked. Or water?
It is Ramadan, they said. We are fasting.
He was surrounded by four revolutionary guards, each holding an automatic weapon, at least one pointing at my father’s back.
The guards, each with a layer of dark stubble covering his face, sat my father down on the couch and began looking into the rooms. She couldn’t tell them apart. One of them asked where my parents’ bedroom was. My father must have told them that this was where we lived. Astefe pointed toward the room with the crib. While one guard stayed in the living room with Astefe and my father, the other guards worked their way from room to room, collecting and pocketing the family’s passports—for some reason, everyone kept their passports at my grandparents’ home—bric-a-brac, and random items of value like my grandfather’s stamp and coin collections. Weeks later, as my aunts, uncle, cousin, mother, and I were preparing to escape Iran over the Zagros Mountains into Turkey, mostly by horseback and on foot, we had to secure fake passports and identification papers. Once we arrived in Istanbul, my mother and I were able to have our American passports replaced, but the rest of the family was stuck. But that was all to come.
When the guards had taken whatever they wanted, they came back to the living room. One guard looked at my aunt, but asked my father, Who is she?
She’s young, my father said. She’s just in high school.
The guard turned to Astefe and asked, Where’s Leila and the child?
She’s teaching, my aunt lied—my mother, of course, wasn’t teaching. She was with me back in our apartment waiting for either my aunt or my father to come home.
She’ll be back soon, Astefe said.
The brothers arranged themselves around the living room. They placed their weapons across their laps. The party of six—four guards, my aunt, and my father—sat together quietly and waited for Leila. My aunt noticed a warm light coming through the kitchen window. It was, she estimated, five o’clock in the afternoon when the phone rang.
My father was sitting close to his sister on one of the couches; his hands, still tied behind his back, forced him to slouch forward. His body was tense. Astefe tried to read his expression—it wasn’t shock, exactly. It was, she realized, defeat.
No one moved for a moment. It rang again and the guards told my aunt to answer it. Astefe stood up and crossed the room; she lifted the handset and spoke into the phone.
Is that Leila? the guards asked.
After a beat, Astefe shook her head, No.
She replaced the phone on the cradle and returned to her seat by my father.
Was that Leila? my father asked Astefe under his breath.
She shook her head.
Several blocks away, my mother began to pace our apartment. It was after six, and my father still hadn’t come home. Astefe wasn’t back yet. I was playing with my doll. My mother sat on the floor near me and stared at the carpet trying to figure out what to do. We didn’t have a phone or a television; no one could reach us with news. The only sounds were my humming, her own heartbeats, and the noise of traffic from the streets below. She couldn’t stay still anymore. She threw on her roopoosh and hijab. She took my hand and left the apartment for the phone booth down the street.
She dialed my grandparents’ number, waited for the line to catch, the ring to sound, and someone to answer. The phone rang and rang. Just when she was about to hang up, she heard the soft click of the receiver being lifted.
Hello? she said, Hello? Astefe? Is that you? Why are you so late?
Everything’s okay, my aunt said. We’re okay.
Behind my aunt’s back, the guards were calling out, Is that Leila? Is it Leila?
My aunt nodded.
Where can we listen? they asked.
With her free hand, she pointed them toward her old room. As they all rushed to reassemble the unplugged extension, my mother kept talking.
Where are you? she asked. What’s going on? What’s taking so long?
Everything’s okay, my aunt said, the brothers are here.
For who? my mother asked. Who did they come for? For you? For Omar?
They’re not here for me, my aunt said. Everything’s okay. Go and drop the children at your mother’s house, then come over.
My aunt hung up. My mother stood in the phone booth, one hand pressing the handset to her ear, the other gripping mine. My aunt thinks the call came just after eight. I should have been asleep.
By the time the guards had the phone working, the call was over. They walked back into the living room, their guns at their sides.
That was Leila? they asked. What did she say?
She’s on her way, my aunt said.
The six adults again settled back into their seats. Astefe pushed herself closer to my father and whispered. I told her what you said, I told her to take the children to her mother’s.
My father’s body relaxed. It was a code: my mother’s mother lived in California. One last message from my father to my mother. She was to stay away; take me, and get out of the country.
The guards got up and began to search the rooms again, more out of boredom than anything else. My father leaned toward my aunt to tell her about the informant.
The government has a list of names, my father said, they’re going to start arresting everyone on the list. Tell people to get out.
From inside one of the bedrooms, a guard shouted for my father and aunt to be quiet.
They drew apart.
My mother walked out of the phone booth and half-pulled me behind her as she hurried back to our apartment.
She looked at the plates piled in the sink and the toys scattered over the floor. She grabbed a plastic bag and stuffed in my birth certificate, my father’s green card, her college transcripts, whatever she could find. She grabbed a change of clothes for me and threw that in over the pile of papers. She picked me up and left the apartment. She walked down to the street, and then after a while she stopped to think. She had to get her bearings and figure out where we could go.
She went over the people she knew who lived close by and who might take on the risk of letting us in, and she decided to walk to my father’s cousin’s house. Esmet opened the door, dressed for a dinner party—the sun had set and people were gathering for iftar—with her husband, Jafar, standing behind her. They looked at my mother, holding on to me with one hand, and with the other, the bag filled with children’s clothes and papers.
They have Omar, my mother said.
My mother told them what she knew, which wasn’t a lot: she was desperate to know what was happening. Esmet and Jafar offered to go to my grandparents’ apartment and act as if they were dropping in for a quick visit, a tea and a biscuit to break the fast with the family.
As Esmet and Jafar were leaving my mother and me, our cousin, Ali—the one who lived upstairs—knocked on my grandparents’ apartment door. When the guard answered, Ali apologized for disturbing the guards. He said politely that he was there to see his family.
Who is this? the guard asked my aunt.
He lives upstairs, she said.
The guard stepped back and Ali walked in, nodding to each guard in turn before saying hello to my aunt and father.
I just came down to say a quick hello, he said as he took one of the empty seats in the living room.
No one responded or said anything worth remembering. Time passed. It was about nine in the evening. The intercom for the front door sounded. Everyone looked up. My father and aunt had been so certain my mother had gotten the message.
Warily, my aunt lifted the receiver for the front door.
Hello? she said.
Hello! Esmet’s voice called out. My aunt buzzed her in.
It is our other cousin, my aunt told the guard. We’ve missed iftar, I think.
She opened the door for Esmet and Jafar and invited them to have a seat in the living room. The couple joined the group in the living room. My aunt excused herself to the kitchen to make tea. She set the tray for eight people and laid out a plate of fruit and sweets. They all sipped tea from my grandparents’ delicate glass teacups.
The guards aren’t vicious, Astefe thought. They haven’t hit us or yelled. They’ve been civilized about it, really. Then she thought, Oh God, this is it. It is all over. It is all done.
It was midnight before the guards gave up. They pulled my father from the couch and gave him a moment to say goodbye to his sister. My aunt and father held each other. For the first time that night, Astefe cried.
After the siblings parted, the guards led my father down the stairs and onto the street. It would be more than a month before we had any news of him—a Radio Tehran news report in the hotel in Turkey, the first time the government publicly acknowledged that they had him.
My aunt closed the door behind them. She turned and looked at her cousins; the four of them listened to the footsteps and then the sound of the heavy front door closing.
Let’s go see Leila, Esmet said.
Early August, 1982. The sun rose quickly over the great sharp peaks of the Alborz Mountains. It was another hot day. My mother was stretched on the outdoor chaise, looking over the sloped garden grounds toward the wall that separated her from Evin prison. That morning, as happened every morning, the Muslim call to prayer sounded from the other side. It blasted through speakers so large that they were visible above the garden wall. The chaise shook. As the call faded, the prisoners began to pray. Thousands bent forward, then sat back on their haunches, calling to God.
My mother was now seven months pregnant with my little brother. Her ankles were swollen. The hemorrhoids that had forced her into bed rest during her first pregnancy had returned to needle her in the second. Her brown eyes were rimmed red behind thick eyeglasses. It had been weeks since she had slept through the night. She was trying to decide if we should leave Iran and go to California, where her mother lived and where she herself had lived from the age of ten until she was thirty-one. She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay and to give birth to my brother in Tehran. She wanted to be near my father, who was on the other side of the garden wall, but it was hard finding a safe place where she and I could live for more than a few days at a time. Friends, acquaintances, and, in this particular case, a near-stranger, took us in at huge risk to themselves. We had been in hiding for weeks, and each day my mother put off making a decision, her belly grew out, wide and heavy. If we were going to leave Iran before my brother was born, we would have to do it in the next few days.
My mother got to her feet and carefully picked her way past the ancient gnarled oak tree and across the small stream that snaked over the garden’s surface. As she made her way toward the wall, the prayers became louder and louder, pushing up and over the stone, the noise filling up the space around her body. She walked the wall’s length slowly, concentrating on the voices just a thousand feet from her. The prisoners began to chant fidelity to Ayatollah Khomeini.
Imam Khomeini, to pay for our crimes, we have to become a wall in front of the fighters at the front, the voices, men’s and women’s, intoned. Down with the U.S. . . . down with the Mojahadin . . . with the help of God’s party, the prison has become a university . . . Imam Khomeini, God be with you. We don’t have anything against you in our hearts . . .
Before the prisoners’ chorus finished, before the bright morning became a thick-aired August day, my mother tried to hear any one of her friends imprisoned in Evin. They must be there, some part of the chorus. They must be. She wouldn’t think about what else might be happening to them. She strained to hear the voice that mattered most amongst the cacophony. As the voices began to fade, she listened for my father. Since arriving at this house with the garden, this had become her ritual. After weeks in hiding, she couldn’t be sure where in the prison my father was being held. She couldn’t have known that he wasn’t allowed outside to pray with the other prisoners.
My father was weeks into his solitary confinement. He was being held in Section 209. Among Iran’s political activists, the section was an open secret, a prison within a prison. It was built at the foot of the mountain and stretched several stories underground. The sound of interrogators slicing at the soles of prisoners’ feet with cables traveled easily from the basement to the prisoners’ cells on the upper levels. Deep into the night, the prisoners would hear screams through the floors, punctuated by moments of quiet, as though broadcast over muffled speakers.
In those pauses, my father might have listened as air filled his lungs, then followed the sound as he expelled the air from his nostrils. On that morning, while my mother was walking in the garden, my father lay in his cell and believed my mother and I were far away. He believed we were on our way to California, or perhaps he thought we had already arrived in Berkeley, where he and she had met and planned for revolution. He didn’t know that she was still making her choice.
Author’s note: Because my father died in 1983 and my mother in 2010, I have reconstructed their story over two years of researching and reporting. I relied on several taped interviews with my mother, between 1991 and 1992, by my aunt Mahnaz Afkhami for her 1994 book, Women in Exile. My mother’s chapter in the same book proved invaluable. I also relied on my mother’s never-aired interview with the StoryCorps program, taped in 2008, and several of my brother’s interviews with her in 2009 and 2010. To supplement my mother’s version of events, I conducted interviews with our family and their friends and acquaintances and slogged through a great deal of research. The prisoners’ chant is drawn from Andrew Veitch’s December 14, 1983, article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Some names have been changed.