the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

One Woman’s Struggle in Iran by Nasrin Parvaz


I was very interested to read this memoir particularly as I travelled through Iran in 1981 as part of an overland journey from London to Kathmandu. Just one year later, political activist Nasrin Parvaz and many other women were imprisoned by the Islamic state for demanding freedom and equality in Iran.

Nasrin and I are roughly the same age. I was twenty when I set out on my travels, she was arrested by the regime’s secret police at the age of twenty-one. My journey was one of culture and learning, hers was of torture, deprivation and hardship. But before I share my thoughts about Nasrin’s memoir, let me describe the situation for me at the time.

It was on 20 January 1981 that fifty-two American hostages were released from the US Embassy in Tehran. They had been held for 444 days by a group of Iranian college students who supported the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah.  None of our group of travellers held American passports but it was impossible to obtain transit visas in London, so we were advised to apply for them once in Paris. Again, no visas were issued. Without the ability to proceed through Iran, our journey would be curtailed. It was then decided that all passengers from the two buses travelling in convoy would hand our passports over to Doug, the bus company’s courier. We all chipped in to cover the cost of his flight to Delhi where visas we issued to us all. 

Nasrin, a member of a socialist party was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the Iranian regime’s secret police in 1982. She spent eight years in jail where she endured physical and mental torture and periods of solitary confinement. She was denied medical treatment and kept under the threat of execution. Throughout, she refused to recant and confess to charges against her as an infidel.

In order to drive through Iran, a revolutionary guard travelled on board the lead bus and directed the driver to pass through Tehran. Here people were friendly and waved to us through the windows. In country areas whenever our bus parked it was ambushed by angry mobs. They thought we were Americans. They pounded and rocked the bus until we moved on. It was only possible to go outside safely in unpopulated areas. This included climbing the desert lighthouse near Bam in Southern Iran.

Desert Lighthouse Iran0001

Although travelling through Iran was dangerous and scary, many of the places on our journey were remote and beautiful. These experiences contrast drastically with those of Nasrin, who was forced to wear a blindfold and chador in captivity.  She suffered numerous interrogations and episodes of torture but never gave away information relating to her comrades. In one of the most chilling descriptions of intimidation, the women were forced to sit in constructions that represented their own graves and not allowed to move. From Nasrim’s memoir, it seems that friendships  developed in prison enabled her to survive and glimpses of sky and other small gifts of nature brought joy.

Nasrin gives a frank account of her time in Iran’s prison system which has opened my eyes to the extremes that can be endured and overcome. It is a testament to her resilience and that of others who remained resolute and refused to recant their beliefs. Nasrin survived and I celebrate her ability to share these experiences from which we can all learn. I recommend this memoir to you.

I received an advance copy of One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, a prison memoir from Victorina Press to inform this post. The memoir is available to pre-order from Victorina Press and Waterstones.


Looking through the window: ideas for writing

view to the north

I live in Dorchester, the county town of Dorset. This is one of the views from my house. Even on a winter’s day the outlook is, well, pleasing. Fortunately, the window in the study is set too high in the wall to cause a distraction when I’m writing at my desk. But it is lovely to stare at the water meadows whenever I’m taking a break. Thomas Hardy describes the town in The Mayor of Casterbridge as standing, ‘clean-cut and distinct, like a cheeseboard on a green table-cloth’. I imagine it is this view to the north that is the cloth. 

view to the east

If I turn my head to the right, the view is completely different. Look carefully and you’ll notice the razor wire on top of the wall. This is Dorchester Prison, a Victorian building that holds 250 male prisoners: half on remand, the other half convicted prisoners, including some serving life prison sentences.  

With two such different views, looking through the window always helps in generating ideas for writing.  While the country views assist with the description of place,  it’s looking at the prison that pricks my curiosity.  In the summer I can hear shouts as the prisoners communicate through the open windows of their cells. And walking through the town, the prison officers are distinctive in their black uniforms. When I tell people I live next door to a prison, they wonder why I haven’t taken up crime writing. It’s never too late, I think.