My Name is Mahtob
Church Times Bookshop £13.50
THE title should be thought of as spoken with insistence. Mahtob Mahmoody’s mother, Betty, told the story of their escape from the violence of a fanatical Iranian husband in the book Not Without My Daughter, subsequently made into a film. The need to understand and forgive her father — who under the indoctrination of the Iranian Revolution went from mild-mannered, gregarious academic to political extremist and “monster” — inspired this account viewed through Mahtoby’s own lens.
“We climbed the same mountains, literally and figuratively . . . but our experiences were immeasurably different and understandably so,” she says, writing later in the book of the freedom she ultimately found with friends and colleagues in being “not Mahtob, the Not Without My Daughter daughter. I was just Mahtob, a normal person with an interesting story.”
It is a vivid and fluent account of the escape and of the years into adulthood, always on high alert for fear of discovery and her father’s retribution. She has only admiration for her mother’s determination that she should not become cold and cynical, and no regrets about her going public with their story: it provided security, and gave her mother a platform for activism against child-kidnapping.
She would not allow herself to love her father — who persisted in trying to re-establish a relationship with her — but a “gradually softening heart”, and being taught “the incredible redeeming power of love” at the Lutheran school that she attended in Salem, made her able ultimately to forgive him, to feel “sad for my dad and the poor choices he made, sad that he squandered his life in such a way, sad that this man had let dysfunction rule his life”.
There is nothing saccharine or saintly about all this. Anger frequently surfaces in a candid account of a complex childhood and adolescence that was also marred by lupus. Mahtob and her mother remain neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Iranian, but “pro-freedom”. Her father died in 2009. Whether he was callous or simply delusional no longer matters: her decision to exclude him from her life has been, she feels, wholly vindicated. The book is a very good read.