Review: Escape from Iran: The Re-enslavement of Women and the Death of Modern Music
Author: T.Mike Walker
Publisher: Outskirts Press
T.Mike Walker sets Escape from Iran: The Re-enslavement of Women and the Death of Modern Music in Iran during the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution.
A young American music student, Ara Vartan, who is of Christian Armenian heritage, journeys from his home in California to pursue further studies in Persian music in Iran. While in hiding for six months in Kul, a small mountain village in Iran, Ara is awakened by his roommate Khorso, who is a member of the Baha'it religion, tells him they must immediately flee as the Kurds have seized control of the village and are requesting independence from the Central Government in Tehran.
Along with his other personal items, Ara packs a finely crafted Persian santir (a stringed instrument of trapezoidal shape played with light hammers held in the hands) and sets off for Sanandaj with Khorso. The instrument was given to him by his beloved music teacher as a gift for his fellow countrymen exiled in America, and when he plays it for them they will hear their country sing again through Ara.
In Sanandaj Ara and Khorso purchase the last bus tickets on a crowded overnight bus to Isfahan and during the night they are subjected to searches by para-military groups but are lucky up to now to still be alive. Ara is also traveling as an illegal alien as the date stamped on his student visa expired six months ago. In Isfahan the two friends separate, Ara takes a bus to Tehran, where he plans to reach the American consulate, and Khorso to his home town, Shiraz promising each other that one day they would meet again in Berkeley, California.
While on the bus to Tehran, Ara meets a beautiful Iranian woman, Kereshmae Nasraddin, who has recently lost her husband and who turns out to be an activist for women's rights who feels betrayed by the Mullahs. Bitterly she tells Ara that women's rights have been thrown back one hundred years. She is determined to organize, educate and demonstrate, which might cost her own life as well as her supporters. Ara is also petrified that if he were to be caught and questioned they would never believe his story that he is a music student and he would falsely be accused of being an American spy.
Unfortunately, the couple are unable to reach Tehran before curfew and their worst nightmares transpire, when they are questioned and captured by the Pasdaran (the army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution). To save their lives, the couple pretend to be husband and wife,which, as we continue the read does come about but not without a mixed bag of difficult dilemmas, conflicts and complex choices that the couple are forced to face.
Fortunately for Ara, he is saved from certain death when an old Iranian friend of his from his days at Berkeley, Dr. Mostafa Bazaari, shows up. Apparently, Ara was Mostafa's personal secretary in Lebanon and helped him edit a book he co-authored. As it turns out, Mostafa holds an important position as Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs, and although in the meantime, he is able to protect Ara, he advises him to forget about Kereshmae, whom he knows to be an activist fighting against the Mullah's rule.
Ara refuses to heed his friend's advice and continues with his passionate relationship with Kereshmae and even enters into a legal marriage with her. When Kereshmae finds out that Mostafa is Ara's friend, she is horrified telling Ara that he was the one who killed many leaders of her cousin's political party.
Ara does not believe Kereshmae and still maintains his faith in his friend, and to show his loyalty to him agrees to accompany him in his negotiations with the Sunni Kurds in Western Iran. It is here where a fierce battle ensues and Ara saves Mostafa from certain death while at the same time he suffers severe body injuries.
As the yarn continues, it seems as if Ara's life consists of always running from one conflict to another trying to save his life. He questions himself if he learned anything in his life that would help him in the next life, if he actually did believe in life after death.
Without doubt, the novel is a mesmerizing read where we have two principal characters that leap off the page and sit at your table describing messy complications involving a Christian American caught up in a revolution that does not concern him and an Iranian woman who feels betrayed by those who claim to have been fighting for a better life. And for the most part Walker manages to keep the couple's ultimate fate ambiguous as he continually places them in a web of interlacing events where, as they confess to each other, they are “tuned to different scales.”