A memoir about solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison conjures up nightmarish images of severe body blows and gruesome acts that don’t make for bedtime reading. However, celebrated author and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo’s take on surviving imprisonment in 2006 is in fact a hopeful, thoughtful celebration of the life force that sustained him during his ordeal.
Jahanbegloo’s memoir is ultimately a tale of survival, a tribute to the rich cultural and philosophical heritage that accrue to a lifetime of learning and study. The author’s spiritual and intellectual foundation sustains him in his bleakest moments of despair, loneliness, and longing for his wife and child. Equally important, his reflections remind us that beyond the bloated political rhetoric about Iran, there remains in the country a highly sophisticated culture full of inspired dissidents who seek a transformative future, a generation engaged in “a permanent struggle for creativity.”
Each chapter focuses on a moment in prison that serves as a jumping-off point for reflections on Jahanbegloo’s cosmopolitan life, including a tender section on his ongoing love affair with books that underscores the power of words to transform lives and subvert tyranny. The author’s obvious intelligence is shared generously and modestly, complete with countless literary references that will inspire readers to seek out the sources he cites. He also fearlessly undertakes the work of the best philosophers: he tests theses about the nature of evil and violence, life and death, and posits his conclusions.
Jahanbegloo is also incredibly honest about his own frailties and struggles as he searches for meaning in isolation and the irrationality of his interrogators. He refuses to be seen as a hero, but willingly concocts an outlandish story to please his jailers and speed his release, while naming no names or causing anyone harm.
Now a professor at Toronto’s York University, the Iranian-born author does not hesitate to critique Canadian society and the illusory benefits of multiculturalism, extending his legacy of speaking clear and palpable truths to our own compromised and cynical society.
Despite his ordeal, Jahanbegloo chooses forgiveness and a refusal of hate as the only path forward. Like Sartre and others who have lived under dictatorships, he recognizes that freedom can only truly be understood in repressive circumstances.