Written by a Sydney doctor who fled Iran to escape death by hanging, this book is guaranteed to make any reader angry. Iran, the first nation to issue a declaration of human rights in 550BC, making it an ancient cradle of civilisation, underwent a fundamentalist Islamic revolution in 1979 that re-established seventh-century Islamic rules in its constitution, turning the country into a nest of fanaticism and intolerance.
Kooshyar Karimi was an unusual Iranian, as he had deep sympathy for women who had become pregnant outside marriage or were not virgins when they married. Transgressions such these made them the potential targets of honour killings by their own male family members or victims of public stonings. The author’s abhorrence for the way men in Iran treated their own sisters – and still do – is clearly outlined in this book. The story is not so much about Leila’s secret (that she was pregnant) but more about Karimi’s compassion and his bravery in continuing to perform abortions and even restore virginities, sometimes in appalling conditions and at great personal risk.
He has changed names and locations to protect individuals, but the details of the lives he chronicles are still appalling. Unmarried women are only briefly allowed out from the home and they are subservient to fathers and brothers. And the sharia law practice of sighah, rarely entered into willingly by women, allows a man to have paid sex with a woman for a specified time, ranging from hours to years, often accompanied by threats.
Read it and be angry. Then be grateful that we live in Australia.
5 stars – Viking
Reviewed by Jennifer Somerville