Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Until We are Free - My Fight for Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi is a human rights activist from Iran - and the first Muslim female to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  This book is the story of her life of fighting for the rights of women, political activists, Bahai and other oppressed minorities in Iran.

Prior to the Iranian revolution, Ebadi was a judge.  When the Shah was overthrown the new Islamic regime stripped all women of their judgeships, feeling women were too emotional to make legal decisions.  Ebadi didn't let this deter her - she took up the cause of human rights law, working through the courts and political channels to try to uphold the rights of the oppressed.  She went about it in a very intelligent and systematic way, even using Islam to her advantage in arguing her cases.  Because she would never back down, she became a regular target of the Islamic regime - they tried everything to intimidate her.  Her situation worsened with the "election" of Ahmadinejad - she was stopped from appearing in court, holding events, speaking her mind and even spent some time in Evin prison.  However, the government stopped short of killing her or permanently imprisoning her - likely because it feared the international backlash of treating a Nobel prize winner in this way.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad's second term, Ebadi was traveling outside the country (she would not be intimidated into abandoning speaking on the world stage - even when her daughter was used as a pawn).  She has not been able to return to Iran due to threats against her and she continues her work from the UK and the US (she has one daughter living in each country).  After she left the country and continued to speak out against the regime, the government used her husband to try to silence her, eventually wearing him down and breaking up what was a very solid marriage.  She does hold out some hope of improvement under Rouhani, but it sounds like there is still a long way to go.

The book is well written, easy to read and highly educational.  While I was aware of the oppressive regime in Iran, it was still eye opening to hear it from the perspective of someone who has lived through it.  Some of the stories she tells are unimaginable.  I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in international human rights.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tuil

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  I found the story itself really interesting.  Sam Tahar is a very successful New York litigator who seems to have it all - great job, rich wife with connections into all aspects of society, plenty of affairs...  The only problem is it is all based on a lie.  Sam is really Samir Tahar - raised a poor Muslim in a Paris slum.  He works hard and does well in law school but when he is unable to get a job, he changes the name on his resume to Sam and is immediately hired by a Jewish lawyer in Paris who assumes he is also Jewish.

Sam lets the assumption continue and, when he is asked to move to New York and open an office there, he carries it further.  He adopts the past of a law school friend, Samuel Baron, who really is Jewish and manages to marry into one of New York's elite Jewish families.

The only thing Samir was unable to take from Samuel was the woman he most wanted, Nina.  Samir and Nina have a brief affair during law school (while Samuel is off burying his parents which tells you a lot about Samir's empathy).  When Samuel returns he is devastated and attempts suicide so Nina chooses him over Samir.  At the start of the book they are barely getting by.  Everything changes when they read about Samir and realize what he has done.  They decide to contact him - Samuel wants to test Nina's resolve.  This ends up having disastrous consequences for all three.  But, surprisingly, though Samir lets his guard down in order to be with Nina, she is not the ultimate cause of his downfall - but I don't want to give the book away so I will not describe the events that lead to his life unravelling (and Samuel's simultaneous rise in fortunes).

What I didn't like about the book was the writing style.  I found it very pompous - one of my pet peeves is footnotes in fiction and these were used liberally.  There were also many passages where alternate thoughts were expressed with back slashes.  I just found it annoying - like the author was attempting to show off her wide vocabulary.  I will give credit to the translator - if the author's annoying pomposity could come through in translation, I think the translator must be top notch.  I don't remember, but I must have heard about this book in the New York Times as it is exactly the kind of writing style the Times always praises; like the book editors must show how smart they are by relating to this "high brow" writing.

In the end I don't strongly recommend this book.  I made it through because I wanted to see how Tahar's life unravelled but I wouldn't say I truly enjoyed the read.