Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mahtob's memoir is part psychological thriller, part a lesson in forgiveness, peace and gratitude

So, you remember the 1990s Sally Field movie Not Without My Daughter about Betty Mahmoody, the American woman who defied the odds and fled Iran with her daughter after being held hostage by her violent, radicalized Iranian husband? Mahtob Mahmoody is that daughter. It turns out she's as intelligent, resourceful, resilient and  as her mother.

Mahmoody's moving memoir, My Name is Mahtob (I totally did not mean to use that much alliteration) -- begins with the harrowing story through an exceptionally bright 5-year-old's eyes. The account is gripping. I found myself both appalled at the behavior of Mahtob's father and Iranian relatives and cheering for those decent strangers that were willing to help Betty and her daughter escape.

Believe it or not, the movie-story is only the first quarter of the book. It's a tense quarter, and the tension doesn't actually subside, as Mahtob reveals that her "free" life in America was still under the cloud of fear that her father or his cronies would come for revenge. In particular, Mahtob's haunting experiences of multiple break-ins at her college apartment kept this narrative firmly in the realm of psychological thriller for me.

But more than the jaw-dropping details of the author's life, what captivates me is her drive to make her life matter. As I read this book-- and I blew through it over a period of 24 hours-- I couldn't help but feel this was a story of spiritual warfare. As Betty becomes more active in championing the rights of other parents whose spouses have kidnapped their children internationally, she sends Mahtob, under the alias of Mandy Smith, to a close-knit Lutheran boarding school, where wise and loving teachers lead Mahtob to a deep Christian faith. I half-wondered if embracing Christian faith was the spirited girl's way to spite her father and his religion. But as I read, I saw that Mahtob's love of Jesus is deep and transformative.

Though Mahtob would not be blamed for shunning her Persian heritage, she chooses, with the encouragement of her mother, to keep certain customs and cuisine as part of her identity. And though her early traumas trigger an aggressive and life-threatening illness, the author chooses thankfulness over bitterness, making a practice of noticing things that make her joyful each day. Though no one would blame her if she viewed old Iranian or Muslim friends with suspicion, she chooses love and not hate. More importantly, she tells her story in a way that encourages readers not to hate. And while her father continued to pursue her through scare tactics, and even stubbornly refused to admit any wrongdoing, Mahtob chooses to forgive him and wish him well, even without agreeing to meet him again.

This is a powerful story... and I'm a firm believer in stories as the key to breaking down walls we humans erect over racial, ethnic, political and religious differences. While My Name Is Mahtob reveals the depths of evil inspired by religious and political zeal, it primarily sends a message of peace, forgiveness and gratitude. And if these are things you could use more of in your life, I highly recommend this book!

*I received this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for my honest review.*

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